Straightline in Alaskan airship deal
An aviation company based near Wolverhampton is part of a deal to take next generation hybrid airships to Alaska, to enable work on hard-to-reach sites.
The deal has been welcomed by Alaskan political leaders and will see the world's first heavy-lift hybrid airship – Lockheed Martin's LMH-1 – working in America's largest and least populated state from 2019.
Straightline Aviation, based at Wolverhampton Business Airport at Bobbington, is buying a dozen airships from Lockheed which it will then lease to companies around the world.
Alaskan-based PRL Logistics – which runs projects for companies in oil and gas, mining, defence, construction and environmental industries – is the first company to sign up to operate one of the airships.
The LMH-1 will have the ability to land on virtually any surface including snow, ice, gravel and even water. These football field sized airships will be able to provide low cost and environmentally friendly solutions for moving freight and personnel to the most isolated regions of Alaska and Northern Canada.
"Lockheed Martin would be proud to have its hybrid airships operating in Alaska," said Rob Weiss, executive vice president and general manager, Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs (better known as the 'Skunk Works').
"Alaska is an ideal location for the hybrid airship to operate. The airship enables access to Alaska's most isolated regions, and is designed to protect the sensitive ecological environment."
Hybrid airships combine the technology of lighter than air aircraft with airplanes, helicopters and hovercraft. Helium provides 80 percent of the lift, and the remaining lift comes from the aerodynamic shape of the aircraft and its four thrust vectoring engines. The airship also features a unique hovercraft-like air cushion landing system that enables taxiing and holds the craft firmly on the ground.
Ron Hyde, founder and CEO of PRL Logistics, said: "PRL's understanding of the complexities of working in Alaska's extremely remote sites, our partnership with Straightline Aviation, whose airship operating experience is unparalleled, means this will be a true game changer. It affordably opens up many projects currently inaccessible without the development of the costly infrastructure required by traditional modes of transportation."
Mike Kendrick, founder and CEO of Straightline Aviation, added: "We are equally thrilled to enter into this alliance with PRL and merge our understanding of airship operations with their unique knowledge of logistics, working in some of the most unforgiving terrain and conditions on the planet. Together we will usher in a new environmentally friendly age of air transport."
Dan Sullivan, Senator from Alaska and a former commissioner for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said: "Alaska is a storehouse of immense natural resource wealth. This combination of technology and innovation will enable access to resources and provide needed benefits to our infrastructure. It is an example of a company operating to provide a transportation solution to meet Alaska's unique challenges."
Peter A Micciche, a senator in Alaska's state legislature, added: "The key to the success of the economy of our great state has always been dependent upon innovation and efficiency. The PRL strategic partnership with the UK's Straightline Aviation serves as a prime example of such innovation.
"Although airships are not new technology, new generation heavy-lift, hybrid airships provide the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of moving critical components to remote locations like those inherent with Alaskan projects.
"I am excited by the potential of a Kenai Peninsula business leaping forward with creative, cost-saving solutions in the oil & gas, mining, construction, disaster management and emergency response sectors in Alaska."
For Alaska, airship operations will be based at the PRL Logistics Operations Center in Kenai, Alaska and supported by other PRL locations throughout the state. PRL's premier Kenai Facility has overland, marine, and aviation access and will also be the base operations centre for the hybrid airship.
Straightline Aviation is purchasing 12 aircraft through Hybrid Enterprises, the exclusive worldwide reseller of Lockheed Martin's Hybrid Airships. The first aircraft are to be delivered in 2019 and will carry up to 22 tons of freight, along with 18 passengers plus crew.
Mr Kendrick used to run Richard Branson's Virgin Airship and Balloon Company, which had 19 airships in use around the world for advertising or promotional work. He was also flight director for Branson's balloon flights.