back to article Airship 'Sky Tugs' ordered from Lockheed for Canadian oilfields

The famous P-791 prototype airship - built last decade for a military transport programme which eventually came to nothing - is to give birth to new, mighty commercial versions of itself with Canadian financial backing. Alberta-based private company Aviation Capital Enterprises says it has inked a deal with US aerospace …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Did lockheed not consider....

    the evil genius market?

    If I was an evil genius I'd want one.

    1. DavCrav

      Golden Gate Bridge

      You would only get it tied around the Golden Gate Bridge and it explode anyway. Best avoid.

  2. Chad H.

    "Walrus" Project?

    Goo Goo Ga Choo.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      @Chad H.

      You are the egg man?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I can't be the only one longing to see more of these flying around.

    How many others have gazed on those RAF Cardington hangars with a great sense of loss every time they go past?

    I was also amazed to find that US aircraft-carrying derigibles weren't just a work of fantasy fiction - they really could move along fast enough to deploy and retrieve fighter planes in mid-air. Let's have a new golden age of transport blimps.

    1. LINCARD1000

      Never thought...

      ...I would get the opportunity in my lifetime to see large dirigibles flying over-head... they might not be the impressive rigid beasties of yesteryear, but I will take what I can get. Small advertising/passenger blimps might be all well and good, but they do not instill the sense of wonder of the LTA monsters they are talking about now.

      Looking forward to this.

    2. GregC

      Cardington hangars...

      ...are not completely out of use - one evening just last week there was a small, lit-up-from-the-inside, airship flying around. We never get anything on the scale of yesteryear (or these new jobbies, for that matter) of course, but it's still cool when something goes up from there. They get used for a lot of film and telly stuff too.

      1. Jess--


        one of the Cardington Hangars (the tidier one) is quite often used by bands to set up their full concert rig in preparation for a tour, its one of the few indoor places that is big enough to set one up for a long enough period of time to iron out all the bugs.

        its also used as indoor set space for quite a bit of TV / Film work

        also sometimes used by hot air balloon companies to carry out CAA inspections on balloons during bad weather since they are tall enough to have even the largest balloon stood up inside them.

        in short Cardington is very much in use, just not in ways that they were originally intended for

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    They sooooo have to..

    .. paint it green, and stick a big yellow "2" on the back.

    1. Marky W


      That would be F.A.B.

  5. TeeCee Gold badge

    "....having been beaten to the LEMV deal by a British design."

    Gosh, was that Lewis referring in passing to a British military product that beats out the Yank contender?

    Someone tell me it costs twice as much, is going to be years late and won't work before I lose faith....

    1. DavCrav

      Not MoD

      "Someone tell me it costs twice as much, is going to be years late and won't work before I lose faith....

      It's not being built for the MoD, so no problem.

    2. Gasblimper

      LEMV program

      Hi there,

      There are exceptions to every rule and the LEMV program is one of them, as Northrop Grumman and Hybrid Air Vehicles are building three HAV 304's with all the latest remote control, top of the range surveillance equipment and associated ground stations. With the 517 million LEMV contract behind them, Northrop and HAV are now very definitely leaders in the hybrid air vehicle sector and first flight will be late this summer, on budget and on time.

      Regards JB

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Dalek Invasion of Earth

    I understand Davros has ordered a fleet already

    1. Goat Jam

      That's no problem

      just put some stairs on it for disembarking, that'll stop 'em in their tracks.

      I'm sorry, yes, mines the Red Corduroy one. With the scarf. Ta

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      They'll enslave us all and make us walk around in PVC jumpsuits!

      1. Alex 79


        Some of us already walk around in PVC jumpsuits.

        Mine's the PVC one (naturally)

  7. Anonymous Coward


    If that's how stable it is in the promotional video, imagine how it must be to fly in real life, especially with any less-than-perfect weather going on.

    For reference, compare Dale Winton's publicity photo with how he looks wandering down Oxford Street.

  8. Juan Inamillion


    I'd imagine that the one in the vid was empty, which would make it pretty bouncy I'd imagine. Didn't look any worse than Channel crossing hovercraft to me.....

    Love to see one in the air - amazing shape.

  9. Hairy Spod

    technical solutions for the price of a few pints

    I realise the relies on the honesty of the people now hastily making the patents...

    rather than downward motors, how about fitting these machines with a spare couple of gas bottles and a compressor.

    Need extra bouyancy release the valves perhaps to inflate additional airbags on the side above or below.

    Too much bouyancy run the compressors suck some gas out and save it for later.

    I appriciate that kit is heavyish but not in the order of hundreds of tonnes which this thing can carry.

    1. Nexox Enigma

      Doesn't really work

      """rather than downward motors, how about fitting these machines with a spare couple of gas bottles and a compressor."""

      Thermodynamics is unfortunately quite opposed to this idea. I did some quick calculations when ElReg ran that article on the quad rotor blimp chopper contraption, and given probably fuel efficiencies (20% for a turbine, 40% for a diesel, turbine has much better power / weight ratio, though) and energy lost to compression (The gas heats up quite a lot,) plus the increase of potential energy in the form of gas pressure, it won't even sort of work out. Burning liquid fuel makes your airship lighter, and no fuel has an energy density high enough to compress gas efficiently enough to offset it's own mass. So you compress gas and make the situation worse.

      Conservative estimates showed that the quad chopper blimp wouldn't be able to lift the fuel and combined cooling system required for the engine, compressor, and storage bottles, since something like 97% of the fuel energy would exit via exhaust pipe or radiator(s,) requiring lots of fuel and lots of radiators (More radiators for faster compression, assuming you don't want to spend multiple days slowly pulling off cargo as the compressors make progress.) And that doesn't even count the weight of the engine, compressor, storage bottles, or plumbing.

      It's just not possible for too many reasons.

      1. Goat Jam
        Thumb Up

        Given that it is for loading and unloading

        Couldn't they just plug the compressor in with an extension cord? I have a spare one in my shed I think.

  10. Ian Michael Gumby
    Thumb Up

    How efficient are they?

    One potential use case would be to compete with the 'Ice Road Truckers' who bring in supplies to the miners in remote parts of Canada.

    How much would it cost to move 20t of material per nautical km, and how fast could it travel?

    If its price competitive, then it could probably be used to move most of the stuff that's big, but not really too big.

    1. tony2heads

      ice road truckers

      ANYTHING to get that stupid show off TV

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: ice road truckers

        Funny, I have a little button on a small box on my coffee table that makes it go away whenever I press it.

    2. HAV304

      Ice road trucking.

      Hi there,

      The new generation of hybrid air vehicles like the 20T HAV 266 that is under development by Northrop Grumman's partner Hybrid Air Vehicles in England, would not compete with the ice road truckers for the 3 months or so, that the ice roads are open. Those few stormy months would be used for annual maintenance and crew holidays.

      What is really bugging the big players in the mining and oil & gas sectors is that depending on ice roads means they take ages to develop a new mine or field. In the case of a mine they do need supplies and personnel all year, but where the mine is in a very remote location, as most of the remaining sites are, there is no economic way of doing that at present.



  11. Daedalus

    Like wow man

    20 whole tons. That's like .02 Olympic swimming pools, or .5 truckloads. Far out, man.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


        20 / 0.5 = 40, not 4000

    2. Thomas 4

      Don't knock it....

      I could really see one of these things bringing aid to remote locations following a natural disaster. They could even field one with a trained team of doctors and medics on board and have a true Flying Hospital.

    3. Chad H.


      How many Wales-es?

  12. Anonymous Coward

    LTA versus Met

    Northern Canada, that would be the place with blizards, and other fun Met conditions.

    Whilst I personally believe there is a place for LTA transport within comercial and military avaiation, and it would be low impact for the area in question, I do have to question how well thought out the proposed use is.

    LTA's have an inherently large cross section by comparison to the amount of power they have available, which would make it a "fair weather" transport, which I doubt is somthing a high value 24/7/365 oil or mining op is likely to want to rely on.

    1. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

      Well yes, but ...

      >> Northern Canada, that would be the place with blizards, and other fun Met conditions.

      But unlike the Ice Roads and the trucks that use them, this doesn't need the ground to be frozen solid. For that reason it should be able to operate all year round, rather than for just 2 or 3 months during winter. That very much takes the urgency off things and means you can hold off (and presumably park in a big hangar) when the weather is bad.

      When I watch Ice Road Truckers, I think how much we take it for granted that we can get stuff delivered pretty much whenever we want. The idea of having to plan up to a year in advance what parts and materials you are going to want makes me glad I'm not involved in planning operations over there !

    2. HAV304

      Northern Canada

      Hi there,

      The ice roads in Northern Canada are open from between 3 to 4 months during the winter. The main use of a hybrid air vehicle like the HAV 266, would be outside of the period the ice roads are open. The HAV series do not respond to side gusts like an airship and they can even land off the wind as the hoverskirt works with a sideways movement. The basic aerodynamics of a lifting body vehicle are very different to a normal airship and far better in groundhandling terms in particular, which is one reason why the LEMV contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman and Hybrid Air Vehicles for three HAV 304's.


      JB (Airship & Blimp Consultant)

  13. Anonymous Coward

    interesting concept but...

    This vehicle is far too complex and unwieldy to ever make it into production. It will get killed off in the final prototype stage when the technical problems spiral out of control.

    If you need a VTOL aircraft that can lift 20 tonnes, then a MIL Mi26 helicopter is the proven solution.

    1. Spyware

      Heavy lift capabilities this "Blimp" will provide could be used all over the world.

      Many heavy industries are limited in the size of products they can build because of the problems moving them by roads (narrow roads, underpasses and bridges and power lines). This technology would solve those problems and allow engineers working for factories in your area to build new monstrous machines that no one dreamed possible before... and deliver them to the customer in one piece... like factory built homes.

    2. Gasblimper

      Mil 26 Fuel consumption.

      Hi there,

      When loaded the Mil 26 only has a fairly short range and the fuel burn of the two 10 to 12,000 shp turbines is horrendous. The biggest problem in both Northern Canada and Afghanistan in particular is lack of fuel or the serious cost of setting up big fuel dumps to allow the use of heavy lift helicopters.

      Regards JB

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Pink Floyd

    Am I the only one, but does this look remarkably like a Pink Floyd flying pig?

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    IIRC air cushion undercarriages were *developed* in Canada

    I've *dim* memories of a modified De Havilland Canada "Otter" (?) being equipped with a skirt for this. Late 60s, early 70s.

    I'm guessing it's a STOL aircraft with a nice slow landing speed.

    1. ja

      Are you talkin about the AVRO VZ-9V Avrocar?

      More like a modified Hoover than a modified Otter. Beautiful concept but not quite wacky enough to keep the US DoD interested for enough billion$.

      So we started off building Mozzies and Lancs for you Brits and wind up building Sabre engines (Orenda) for the RAF and RCAF before inventing the long lamented CF-105 Arrow. All this in a building originally called "Victory Aircraft" in Malton, Ontario.

      Fortunately sanity prevailed and today we have ... the Metro Toronto Convention Centre ... instead of actual industry.

      You are on the right track though, skirts are intended for lifting!

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We're talkin 'bout Alberta ...

    Nobody criticizes the despoiling of Wilderness in Alberta. That's why Canada GAVE them the freakin land in the first place. ...

    Hmmm how are we going to get rid of all of the native people on that land ... Brilliant! we'll give it to Alberta, they'll kill em all off! and bury the evidence in toxic waste!

  17. Anonymous Coward

    No Wheels?!

    Tell me how smart you feel when one of these comes in a little to hard on landing approach. Let us see how well your cushion of air stops a few hundred tons coming in hard to the ground.

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      Because wheels are well known to survive crash landings unscathed.

      This icon, because we still don't have a facepalm one...

    2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Re; No Wheels -> Please do the math:

      A wheeled undercarriage means you "spread" the force of impact of the couple of square metres of tyres actually touching the ground. Landing on an air cushion you spread the load over the entire air-cushion area, which is many times more than the area of the tyres. This means the impact is much less, as much less pressure needs to be developed to generate the same force to negate the downward motion (i.e. to decelerate).

    3. Gasblimper

      Air Cushions.

      Hi there,

      An air cushion works better than a normal undercart at stopping serious impacts, just ask anyone who has been saved by an air bag in their car. There is also a skid to back up the hoverskirt in an ulitmate case.

      Regards JB

  18. John Aislabie

    Hope springs eternal

    Firstly, the Canadian aircraft given an air cushion landing gear was the DHC Buffalo.

    The persistent dream of airship nuts is that somehow, somewhere, something will overcome the well proven disadvantages. Nothing has done so far and this will not either.

    The payload is piffling for something of this likely expense.

    The operating limitations of weather, wind and precipitation will make this uncertain transport especially over longer distances.

    Storing/parking the thing when it is not in use (most of the time) is a damn nuisance, especially in bad weather.

    Too often their won't be an exact 20 ton load to maximise its potential so they will be faced whether it is worth using it inefficiently for a smaller load.

    The old saw about it being useful in moving outsize objects around the world overlooks the sheer slowness of these things and the required crew manning for weeks long journeys. These outsize objects also require a vastly larger airship of vastly larger cost and even less utility.

    No, the facts are that unmanned long duration flights with small payloads are entirely viable. Short duration manned flights with modest payloads to an undemanding timetable also have a modest demand.

    Outside that it is not workable

    1. Gasblimper

      Hybrid limitations.

      Hi there,

      A hybrid air vehicle like the HAV 304 or 266 will not suffer the same operating limitations as airships because it has a very different mode of operation and very different aerodynamics. It also has far better groundhandling and the limits will be similar to a big helicopter.

      The interest of the military, mining sector and oil and gas folks, is that they all need a long range point to point transport solution. The helicopter or tilit rotor aircraft can do short range tasks, although they use far more fuel, BUT there is no aircraft other than an HAV that can do longer range fuel efficient point to point cargo. That fact has been known for some time, but the Gulf wars and Afghanistan in particular has convinced the US military it needs a new off airport cargo aircraft that does not need to refuel every few hundred miles and does not cost 12,000 dollars per hour to operate like the Osprey. On the civil side the requirement is also the same and the 9 fold increase in one year of the value of rare earth metal ores that are to be found in the remote areas of both Northern Canada and Afghanistan, has some very big players waiting for the first flight of the HAV 304 late this summer, as it will mark the start of a new fuel efficient era for air transport.

      Regards JB

  19. John Aislabie


    The Canadian aircraft with the air cushion landing gear was the DHC Buffalo. The concept was tried initially at a smaller scale on a Lake Buccaneer.

    Although airship zealots dream of their craft somehow overcoming slow speed, weather activity, vast size comparative to payload, awkward ground handling and parking, altitude limitation, relatively fragile structure and sensitive flight handling, the problems cannot be overcome by this or any other craft.

    The old saw about taking outsize structures to unprepared strips in remote places ignores a raft of issues from miserable payload to large crewing problems over a multiday journey.

    Small unmanned payloads airborne for long periods works fine and is viable. Modest payloads on manned craft with relaxed deadlines also commands a modest requirement. The rest is never going to make it.

  20. G_C

    More footage...

    This is a promtional film about one of its early prototypes...

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

      Is it just me?

      Or is this joke not in the best of taste?

      People died in the Hindeburg disaster.

      1. G_C


        I suppose the 'joke alert' tag was misguided and the subtle irony fell flat...

        I was more thinking about 20 tons (or aspiring to 100's of tons) of flamable petrochemical products being transported in such a manner should be questioned... hence the link...

        Sorry for making it look too much like a funny... it would of come across more eliquently verbaly rather than in text...

  21. solaries

    Return of the Dirigible

    I for one would like these airship return to our skies what a way to tour the world all they need is more powerful engines to over come the heavy winds how about mooring them in city centers and easing the pressure of airports. It would be great for a leisurely tour of the world what a relaxing journey through the skies.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    Crash worthiness of the Skytug.

    Hi folks,

    The Skytug is not going to impress the US military any more than the P791 did and one big reason is basic crash worthiness. When you operate in a hostile invironment with new pilots, you have to accept there might be some incidents involving a nose down impact on landing, in particular due to whiteout induced pilot error for example, which has caused a number of helicopter losses. All of the proposed Skytug hovershirts are behind the cabin and a nose down impact will smash the cabin first.

    The HAV 266 from Hybrid Air Vehicles was designed by Roger Munk who has a reputation second to none for building tough airships like the Skyship series that are incredibly crash worthy. The twin hoverskirts on the 266 extend forward of the cabin and will offer a high degree of impact resistance when combined with the structure above them and the fact that the gondola is designed to be pushed into the envelope above it more easily than the twin hoverskirts, it should provide a high degree of protection to the occupants of the gondola.

    In my opinion the folks behing this Skytug design do not have a clue what they are doing and I think the US military agreed with that opinion as they awarded the 517 million dollar LEMV contract to Northrop Grumman and Hybrid Air Vehicles.

    Regards JB

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