It’s not news that cargo planes aren’t the greenest way to transport heavy loads, but some companies are working on other ways to send goods through the air. Could blimps make a comeback as a greener cargo carrier? Speaking to an audience at the World Forum on Enterprise and the Environment in Oxford, England, scientist David King recently predicted that helium-powered ships could be carrying freight within a decade.
Boeing is working with Canada’s SkyHook International on the JHL-40 or “Jess Heavy Lifter”, a helium-filled airship with helicopter rotor systems that will help lift up attached cargo. The blimp will be designed to carry 40 tons as far as 200 miles before needing to refuel, or 800 miles without cargo and could be in the air by 2014 (assuming it doesn’t get mothballed or canceled before then, as several similar projects have in the past).
Blimps are unlikely to replace most airships, since they travel rather slowly. They could be used, however, to help transport goods to and from remote regions. Some models could have lifts for attaching and removing cargo without touching down, which could enable them to bring goods or humanitarian aid to areas without accessible roads or airports.
Other uses for the Heavy Lifter could be slightly ironic. Boeing and SkyHook plan to target the logging, mining and energy industries, offering a way to be greener by reducing their need to build roads in isolated areas.
It will be interesting to see how these blimps perform. If they succeed, some parts of the world could start looking like a more peaceful version of one of those old airship films.