Companies aren’t just racing to bring cargo to the skies, at least one solar-powered startup, Solar Ship, is ready to take on traditionally powered industry stalwart, Lockheed Martin in a 21st century battle of the airships! In an effort to demonstrate how airships can safely and sustainably move cargo to and from remote areas, Solar Ship has proposed a global race that will pit its solar-powered Wolverine aircraft against Lockheed Martin’s P-791 hybrid airship.
The two stage race will first travel 2,175 miles from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Kampala, Uganda, along the so-called Peace and Freedom Route to promote peace in the oft conflict-stricken region. In the second leg of the proposed race Lockheed and Solar Ship would travel 13,670 miles from Palmdale, CA, to the Arctic and then south across the African continent.
The objective of the challenge is to bring light to the benefits of using airships for cargo. These aircraft use the propulsion of an airplane and the buoyancy of a blimp to transport cargo between long distances—like a cargo ship of the skies. Their buoyancy means less energy is used to propel the airships than needed for conventional aircraft.
Both airships are designed with remote access and long flight capabilities in mind. Powered by 100 percent solar electricity, the Solar Ship has short takeoff and landing abilities perfect for delivering critical supplies to populations cutoff from traditional transportation routes due to lack of infrastructure or in disaster and conflict zones. It utilizes static lift and buoyant gas to carry large capacity loads over long distances without consuming fossil fuels. Its use of solar to provide energy to its propellers means it can fly long distances without needing to refuel.
Lockheed’s P-791 airship, initially launched in 2006, burns less than one tenth the fuel of a helicopter per ton. Blending innovations of airship and hovercraft technology, the P-791 lands on three hover pads, or an air cushion landing system (ACLS), that create a cushion of air allowing it to float to the ground. With the ability to land almost anywhere, the airship can hover over water and the ground friction free.
“The ACLS looks like giant inflatable doughnuts on the bottom of a large blimp, and it makes the challenge of accessing remote regions around the globe a thing of the past. One of the biggest challenges to traditional cargo airship operations is how and where you park the airship,” said hybrid design program manager, Dr. Bob Boyd. “It’s very expensive and time consuming to develop infrastructure in remote areas around the world. The ACLS allows the Hybrid Airship to access these isolated regions without needing to build any runway or roads.”
These airships show how emerging technologies—and sometimes re-emerging technologies—are being combined with solar and the skies in incredible new ways. Companies are also experimenting with ways to bring more connectivity to remote locations using novel technologies with solar power. For instance, Google launched a series of solar powered internet balloons that act as WiFi antennas 12 miles above New Zealand to bring the internet to farmers in remote areas in 2013. Similarly, Facebook is researching and developing ways to implement solar-powered drones that can fly continuously above 65,000 feet in order to bring the internet to more parts of the world.Tweet