Lockheed Martin might be known for building sharp-edged supersonic aircraft like the F-35 joint strike fighter, but the aerospace giant has also been focusing on lumbering models that look like flying marshmallows and could not keep up with the family car on the highway.
The company is among a number of manufacturers developing helium-filled airships for transporting cargo and passengers to remote areas that are inaccessible to airplanes and trucks
While images of the Goodyear Blimp or even the Hindenburg zeppelin might come to mind, the airship that Lockheed is developing is a workhorse, not a promotional tool like many blimps. It can carry 47,000 pounds and has a range of 1,400 nautical miles. Sure, it’s slow – cruising at just 60 knots. But speed is often less important than lifting capacity.
Why not use a helicopter? Well, rotorcraft burn lots of fuel and are often hampered by limited range. They are also potentially dangerous compared with airships, which can remain airborne even if their engines fail. Their built-in buoyancy also means they don’t need long airfields to land and take off.
Lockheed says more than two-thirds of the world’s land area and more than half its population lack direct access to paved roads. Airships can keep this absence of infrastructure from isolating communities, while operating quietly and cutting fuel consumption.
Here’s Lockheed Martin’s airship concept in action: