Straightline Aviation Ltd, based in Bridgnorth, has entered into a letter of intent to buy three hybrid airships from AT2 Aerospace, a Lockheed Martin spin-off company.
The hybrid airships will, the company said, reduce the cost of moving cargo, massively cut carbon emissions, and give access to remote areas.
Straightline revealed there are also options on a further 12 aircraft to be delivered in the first three years of production, growing a fleet of aircraft which will be operated on behalf of customers across the world.
The Shropshire firm, which works with the United Nations to deliver humanitarian services, will act as lead customer of the AT2 hybrid airship and take delivery of the first aircraft in 2026. They will work closely with Dr Bob Boyd, former hybrid airship project leader for Lockheed, and the AT2 team.
AT2, which is comprised of a team of hybrid airship engineers who led the project at Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks, has also agreed to work with Straightline in delivering its Round the World (RTW) nonstop un-refuelled net zero emissions flight, details of which will be announced later this year.
Straightline Aviation CEO, Mark Dorey, said: “This is a much-needed aviation solution to the market. The hybrid is unique in its capabilities to solve transport and logistics issues, in particular reaching remote parts of the world that are not served by conventional air transportation.
"Straightline is working closely with the United Nations to deliver humanitarian services including medical facilities to improve the socio-economic wellbeing of communities that are currently off grid.
“With the hybrid airship’s ability to land anywhere, it eliminates the need for expensive and environmentally damaging airport, road and rail connections providing connectivity in a more sustainable and cost saving manner.”
Straightline’s management team is a highly-regarded go-to airship operator, having commissioned and operated a fleet of 19 airships and 200 aerostats in more than 35 countries.
Chairman Mike Kendrick said: “The introduction of the hybrid airship will be transformative for the aviation industry, vastly reducing the cost of moving cargo, massively reducing carbon emissions, and giving access to remote areas since it can land almost anywhere on unprepared areas including grass, water and ice.
"Importantly it opens the way for true zero emission flight, with the RTW non-stop net zero emission program scheduled to begin flight trials in 2025. It’s what the industry and the planet has been waiting for.”
The AT2 hybrid airship, based on the Lockheed Martin LMH-1 design, will be certified to carry a minimum of a 21 metric ton payload and up to 19 passengers, capable of domestic and international air cargo operations in either VFR (Visual Flight Rules) or IFR (Instrument Flight Rules)conditions.
With the capability to take off or land in open spaces on a variety of terrains including any hard surface, dirt, gravel, grass, snow or water, it also has Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) capability.
The hybrid airship is equipped with avionics, communications, navigational equipment and weather detection systems along with a state-of-the-art flight digital fly-by-wire control system.
A patented Air Cushion Landing System (ACLS) consisting of large air pads, similar to a hovercraft, is used to support the hybrid during landing and take-off and when parked the ACLS airflow is reversed to provide a suction gripping it in place for loading and unloading of cargo and passengers.