The airship finally takes off - Hybrid Air Vehicles has first civil customer


September 6, 2011

The Hybrid Air Vehicles heavy-lifter in Discovery Air livery

The Hybrid Air Vehicles heavy-lifter in Discovery Air livery

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The famous and well documented Hindenburg disaster of 1937, when the hydrogen-filled airship burst into flames whilst attempting to tether to its moorings in New Jersey, killed off the 'lighter-than-air' aircraft industry, as well as 35 unfortunate souls. Since the 1970's however, a determined band of, mostly British, aviation engineers has been battling to design and build a commercially viable 'air vehicle'. Many false starts, experimental craft and research projects followed (funded mostly by the U.S. military) but viability remained elusive, until now.

Hybrid Air Vehicles, a British Company founded in 2007 by the late Roger Munk and a direct descendant of those previously unsuccessful efforts, has recently achieved two massive commercial wins that seem to indicate that the airship has a very rosy future indeed. The clue is in the company name, however. These are not the cigar-shaped gas-filled 'balloons' of yesteryear but hi-tech semi-rigid lifting bodies that rely on vectored thrust from onboard engines and the aero-lift from the body shape for up to 40 percent of their lifting capacity with helium providing the rest. In addition, the use of pontoons on the underside of the hull that feature hovercraft-like skirts and driven fans means that that the aircraft can land on earth, concrete or water without ground crew.

This versatility plus an ability to stay airborne for 21 days and a potential lifting capacity of up to 200 tonnes finally enabled HAV to win a US$517million contract (€370million) in conjunction with Northrop Grumman to supply a Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) to the U.S. Army for deployment in Afghanistan starting in 2012. Whilst the LEMV is a relatively small vehicle designed for surveillance, HAV has now announced a civil customer for their heavy-lift variant.

Discovery Air Innovations of Canada has agreed to purchase a number of vehicles capable of lifting 50 tonnes and making way at 100 knots (185 km/h/115 mph) with the intention of providing cargo services to remote regions of the 'frozen North' at greatly reduced cost. Construction of the first vehicles will start in 2012 with commercial service beginning in Canada in 2014. DAI may buy up to 50 of the vehicles over time depending on how operations progress.

Hybrid Air Vehicles see a large number potential uses for their craft in mapping and geographic monitoring, in humanitarian aid provision, offshore drilling support and, of course, luxury tourism. With these two major contracts in their pocket it looks as if the era of the airship has finally come, again.

About the Author
Vincent Rice Vincent Rice has been an audio-visual design consultant for almost 30 years including six years with Warner Brothers Cinemas. He has designed several large retail installations in London and a dozen major nightclubs across the world from Belfast to Brno to Beruit. An accomplished musician and 3D computer graphics artist, Vince also writes for AV Magazine in the U.K. and the Loudscreen digital signage blog. All articles by Vincent Rice

I thing they should do away with helium for cargo carrying and start using hydrogen again, it can be done much cheaper and safer these days. Use helium for passenger flight only!

Denis Klanac

Many problems as others note. There is an possible alternative. Very heavy lift, aircraft, slow speed, low wing loading, with a novel configuration. It may be much more cost effective and have much broader uses. See


Hi Folks, This new deal between Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd and Discovery Air is great news. A lot of people get airships and HAV's mixed up in performance and handling terms. Airships did have a lot of diadvantages in ground handling in particular, but HAV's were designed by the best of the British designers to overcome those disadvantages with the availability of aerodynamic lift, vectored thrust, bow thruster and twin hoverskirts. The new flatter shape only produces one quarter of the force in a side gust that an airship form does, which in combination with the twin hoverskirts makes them easy to load and unload on the ground without using a mast. Regards JB (Airship & Blimp Consultant)

Trevor Hunt

\"Air Innovations of Canada has agreed to purchase a number of vehicles capable of lifting 50 tonnes and making way at 100 knots (185 km/h/115 mph) with the intention of providing cargo services to remote regions of the \'frozen North\' at greatly reduced cost.\" Can we say goodbye Ice Road Truckers.


I kinda hope that a very version of this craft would be ideal for ferrying organs for transport between hospitals - unmanned and at high speed.

Stephen Lawrence

Just had a fantastic flight in a Zeppelin NT in Friedrichshafen/Germany. I wonder how people think that they can do this without ground-crew? For one thing loading and offloading a Airship is quite a interesting thing. As the helium balances the ship for flight and when there are no people or freight on board the ship has to be loaded with water and lead-bags; when the ship is coming in for a landing and the passengers are changed, in order to keep the weight balance, two of the twelve passengers disembark and immediately two new passengers board the ship and so it goes on until the last ones have left and boarded. I would like to see how this is done with large freight. Guess the ship has to be fastend to the ground when offloading or it will float away......!! Or when loading, same again it has to be fastend to the ground as the helium in the ship will make it float if not balanced. I would like to know how they overcome this problem Jürg Tschepen


Nice idea, but what if some mudjahedin fighter or a drunk hunter takes a pot shot at these craft ?


@Jurg: \"I would like to know how they overcome this problem\"

Read the article again: \"These are not the cigar-shaped gas-filled \'balloons\' of yesteryear but hi-tech semi-rigid lifting bodies that rely on >vectored thrust from onboard engines< and the >aero-lift from the body shape< for up to 40 percent of their lifting capacity with helium providing the rest.\"

Vectored thrust and aerodynamic lift from the body shape keeps it aloft. Minus the thrust and the aero lift it won\'t \"float away.\"

William Lanteigne

@Jurg: \"hi-tech semi-rigid lifting bodies that rely on vectored thrust from onboard engines and the aero-lift from the body shape for up to 40 percent of their lifting capacity\"

Translation: The shape of the thing provides aerodynamic lift (like an airplane wing). When it\'s not moving, it only has 60% lift, not enough to get it off the ground. That does mean no VTOL, but that\'s a fair trade-off for easy loading and unloading and efficient transport. I\'m sure they\'ll put ropes on these things if they are hanging around long term, but for short cargo transfer they should be fine as long as they don\'t get caught in storm winds.

I\'ve been hoping for a few years now to see airships break into the cargo business. I\'m glad to see it finally happening. With the US\'s failing rail system and current unwillingness to invest in upgrading infrastructure, these ships might find a place serving private freight needs here too, and I can only imagine how great a tool this could be for an NGO serving peaceful but remote communities.

Charles Bosse

slow moving target ! something that could be hit with a bottle rocket.. nice

Jay Finke


From their website: "Vectored thrust for vertical takeoff and landing, allied to a bow thruster for independent operation on the ground - removing the need for ground crew."

Anona Mous

This is all great, but the supply of helium on Earth is rapidly dwindling. Is a return to hydrogen as a lifting material feasible nowadays? It is now widely speculated that the Hindenburg disaster had more to do with the flammable fabric paint than with the hydrogen gas bags inside. It would seem that H2 might be rendered safer with modern leak detection and remediation systems, and the ability to construct an airship with modern materials that are less likely to spark a fire in the first place. It is plentiful (just has to be hydrolyzed from water) and a more effective lifting gas than He.

It\'s good to see airship technology alive and well in the modern era. Hopefully this idea won\'t go over like a lead zeppelin!

Desert Tripper

Re Hybrid air vehicles.

If they are using Helium as a lifting medium, ther is not much hope for them. The USA is running out of Helium & when current stocks are gone there will be no more. Some-one else needs to make this stuff as there is some considerable demand for it. Cheers John M

John M

Re; I kinda hope that a very version of this craft would be ideal for ferrying organs for transport between hospitals - unmanned and at high speed. comment Stephen Lawrence - September 7, 2011 @ 07:07 am PDT

At 100 knots (185 km/h/115 mph). There are all ready better vehicles for this helicopters, tilt-rotors, and jump jets.

Re; Nice idea, but what if some mudjahedin fighter or a drunk hunter takes a pot shot at these craft ? comment Fouture - September 7, 2011 @ 09:37 am PDT

The lifting gas is at very low presser, and the lift chamber are not made of tightly stretched latex. Even with bullet holes there will only be slow leaks.

Jurg - September 7, 2011 @ 07:36 am PDT

The control problems of lighter-than-air craft at landing and take off are a result of the early airships having fixed axis thrust, and a left over effect of the cheep labor of when the airships were invented. If you minimally build two solid anchor point with a self latching mechanisms. A horizontal V shape so you can drop a grapple into it and pull it tight first time every time, with the second V orientated so they point at each other, so you can pull tight between them will solve the anchoring problems. Vectored thrust would make it easier to engage.


...\"capable of lifting 50 tonnes\"(no mention of whether this is TOTAL weight or cargo weight)... \"aero-lift from the body shape providing 40% of their lifting capacity\": all this means that 60% of 50 tonnes (100,000 lbs) of lift is provided by the helium. That\'s 60,000 lbs of lift, and I seriously doubt that an empty craft WOULD NOT FLOAT AWAY untethered. If the empty vehicle weighs more than 60,000 lbs, it sure won\'t have much cargo capacity, will it?

James Tennyson

It\'s wonderful to see the new future of airships unfold. I\'m sure I\'m not the only person to write a sci-fi screenplay about an airship adventure; however, the airship in SKYLINER is very similar in concept, function and overall design to the one in this article.

SKYLINER\'s airship is powered partly by solar panels. It generates the rest of its power and its lifting gas using plasma arc gasification units.

The script has not yet been produced, but maybe now is the time. When it does get produced, Gizmag should get a credit for inspiring a lot of the technology in the movie.

Mark Martino


Brady Soule here from Helios Airships. It is indeed possible to land without ground crew, on water at least. Even I have a hard time believing that this could land on concrete without at least 6 crew there. I would believe it if they had had enough time to develop a new unique ground station, but they haven't.

I congratulate Hybrid Air Vehicles for finally reaching this stage. I should note however that they are not unique. Helios and about 4 other companies are right now doing the same thing. The age of airships has begun!



Every time I see promising new ways for the global banks to deploy troops to wage invasion, murder and resource theft on the global population - I get the urge to see it derailed.

Mr Stiffy

Pics or it didn\'t happen. Just sayin\'. The industry people are all over the comments, and STILL, most people don\'t understand or bother to understand how hybrid airships work.

Brian Madigan

A big \"hindenburg\" target for RPG shooters.

James Ng

Re; HeliosAirships - September 7, 2011 @ 06:35 pm PDT

The hovercraft like skirts on the bottom of the Hybrid Air Vehicle could be a \"suction cup\". Touch down, vacuum out the chamber and that suck won\'t move until the presser differential is removed.


Re; Mr Stiffy - September 8, 2011 @ 12:54 am PDT

Go live in a cold dank cave, because there is no technology without military applications. The internet is the direct result of the USofA\'s need to track everything in our airspace to know there were not soviet bombers attacking us.


Good lord, can someone write a story about these things without bringing up the Hindenburg? What would happen if every time they talked about jet liners they started the article with \"over the last hundred years thousand have died in fiery crashes in these metal tubes that fly across the sky propelled on flammable liquid\"......

Dont forget that the Hindenburg disaster was caused directly by the U.S.A. Their refusal to sell Helium to the Germans made it necessary to use Hydrogen.

Facebook User

Re; David Bate - September 8, 2011 @ 08:34 pm PDT

It was the Hindenburg\'s skin being painted in thermite that caused the fire. And imagine an unstoppable strategic bomber with a hundred tons or more of bombs in Hitler\'s hands, because that is exactly what a zeppelin\'s with helium filled lifting cells would have been.


I\'ve put airships in Indiana Jones, Fringe, UP, and Wall-E. Hope that helps.


\"Air Innovations of Canada has agreed to purchase a number of vehicles capable of lifting 50 tonnes and making way at 100 knots (185 km/h/115 mph) with the intention of providing cargo services to remote regions of the \'frozen North\' at greatly reduced cost.\" Can we say goodbye Ice Road Truckers.

WellFedEd - September 7, 2011 @ 05:56 am PDT


Kathy Harr Rider

@Half a billion dollars per unit, if I read right on the military contract, I have a hard time seeing that this will be \"at a greatly reduced cost\", even over the ice road.

One truck carries the same payload and even with the cost of the ice road, I don\'t see the savings as great.


In the future we will likely see ships levitated by sound waves and propelled by wind. the machine will be called the WAVE

Stewart Mitchell

Hi Folks, Some silly stories in the press that are aimed at ramping the share price of gas exploration and gas field companies say the world is running out of Helium. The world is running out of everything in fact, but Helium is not a real concern as there are huge sources of Helium rich natural gas in Qatar, Siberia, Algeria, Poland and Australia, which means the US is now able to sell off it\'s strategic reserve without consequences. Fuel for the engines of a hybrid air vehicle will run out well before natural gas does, but luckily the flat body shape does lend itself to the use of solar panels for new electric engines backed up with batteries and a high efficiency diesel generator at night. Regards JB (Airship & Blimp Consultant)

Trevor Hunt

Griffin - September 11, 2011 @ 08:48 pm PDT

In the USofA a 5 axle tractor-trailer can usually carry a load of about 18 tonnes without special permits, and costs about $150000 new.

517million is expensive, but it carries over twice as much as the normal truck, moves well over twice as fast as ice road trucks, operates year round, and does not need a special road to be built every year.

Sounds cost effective to me.


these would make the best possible vacation cruise liners ever. ive never been on a boat cruise and never will, but i would jump on this in a heart beat.


This would not only service existing Northern communities, etc., but permit settlement or installations in places now impractical or impossible to use.

Brian Hall

Some folks are getting the cost of the different hybrid air vehicles mixed up. The HAV 304 or LEMV as the US Army calls it is very expensive (Three for 517 million) because most of that funding went to Northrop Grumman for the latest high tech surveillance equipment, remote control electronics and associated ground stations. The bigger more powerful HAV 366 will cost about 40 million, which is less than other new aircraft that can lift 50 tonnes. Mass production will result in that price falling further and the associated operating costs are less than normal aircraft, not that any can do the off airport or do do vertical lift operations over the distances the new hybrid air vehicles can. Regards JB (Airship & Blimp Consultant)

Trevor Hunt

Many of those posting here believe the world is running out of Helium, which is effectively a waste product of radioactive decay of Radon. There is no end of Radon and no end of Helium while there is extraction of gas or oil where it is trapped in shale deposits.

The only problem is that once it was a strategic resource but because airship development was dropped for heavier than air the market value of Helium collapsed. Today the price of extraction is tiny compared to 1930\'s technology it can be done small scale wherever there is a gas supply.

I really agree with Rovert Von Tnuh

Facebook User

Re AIRSHIP. Where are they going to get the Helium from?.

It appears from recent news that the USA has stoped making this. As a result supplies are limeted & will run out over a short time?.

Curious. Cheers John M

John M

I would think by compressing the Helium that you have on baord would lessen the lift. By using somthing like a inflatable bladder to either aid in the lifting when filled with Helium or sucking the Helium out lessing the lift. The only major problem that LTA craft pose is their tremendous sail area, high cross winds can be a major problem in keeping on course. This could be somewhat overcome by putting the thrust engines on gimbols so there is no need for velocity across the control surfaces.

Sam McRae

First of all best of luck with this to the company and future users. I love anything that flies. The NG Zeppelin is not the same old gasbag as some here have called it either. It uses thrust vectoring and because of that has already a greatly reduced ground crew compared to it\'s ancestors. BUT the fact remains that it is a lighter than air vehicle. So if you remove weight while it is at equilibrium it will indeed rise. Hence the staggered boarding procedure.

This new vehicle is designed to provide at least a portion of the required lift by aerodynamic means as it travels forward. Without an aero-lifting force it is strictly speaking a heavier than air craft sitting on the ground. So adding weight would not be necessary unless you remove too much weight and the lifting gas provides more lift than the hull weighs at that moment.

The way I see it the craft can carry as much weight as the lift it can create via it\'s airfoil shape if speed is of importance. It can carry some more if some percentage of the engines power can be diverted to provide lift instead of forward thrust.

Compressing the gas makes no sense. It does not change the physics. The equipment to compress and store however would change the physics only the available load.


Stefan Werner

cheap Internet and tv relay sat at say 100,000 ft. for 21 days


To Stephan

Drawing the helium out of the lift bladders and compressing it reduces the amount of lift that it can generate, making the vehicle \"heavier\" without increasing the mass.

Compressed helium is no longer \"lighter than air\".

Darren Johnson

Hydrogen would be great as it is four times lighter than helium. Of course there are dangers in its use and there are difficulties as special materials are needed. With adequate ventilation and with hydrogen sensors place around the ship it seems that a hydrogen lift vehicle could work. Unlikely to happen because of the stigma of hydrogen being very flammable.


To answer a few of those comments, firstly the supply of Helium will not run out until after all the natural gas has run out, also modern envelope materials are very gas tight so the new HAV\'s use very little Helium after construction. Only the US strategic Helium reserve is running out, there is still plenty of Helium available from other countries. For more info see the Helium page on my Gasbags lighter than air comedy web site: 3w dot hybridblimp dot net Secondly it is much harder to shoot down an HAV than a helicopter, as the internal gas pressure is not much higher than atmospheric pressure, the leak rate from multiple holes is very low and all the essential systems are duplicated. The Taliban have not even managed to shoot down a stationary aerostat so far and I don\'t think anyone is suggesting they be used at low level in a combat zone anyway. For more info on HAV\'s try my company site: 3w dot hybridairship dot net

Trevor Hunt

Might this Heavy Lift version provide a way to rescue people trapped on top of high-rise buildings which are on fire? Might require some extendable ramps to provide an escape route. Do they have the ability to remain stationary at altitude? Could they help in a 9/11-like emergency?

Caoillte Mac Ronain
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