The traditional freight channels of ocean, truck, rail, and air offer a full range of options for shippers who need to balance cost, speed, and flexibility. Defense contractor Lockheed Martin Corp. thinks there is one color missing from that spectrum, however—the cargo blimp.
Build a big enough dirigible, and its helium lift could convey heavy freight faster than a containership, more cheaply than an airplane, and with more geographic freedom than trucks and trains, the thinking goes.
The project has been under development at the company's secretive Palmdale, Calif., "Skunk Works" laboratory for years. But last month, Lockheed Martin tore the wrapper off the project when it announced it had launched a sales division to market the vehicle to the commercial cargo market, pitched as a solution for delivery to remote or roadless regions such as oil and gas fields, mining sites, or rural villages.
Officially called the LMH1 Hybrid Airship, the $40 million aircraft is designed to carry 47,000 pounds of cargo and 19 passengers, slung below its bulbous 300-foot-long balloon. Competing vendors such as Aeros of Montebello, Calif., and the U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles are designing similar vehicles, but Lockheed Martin says it will get to market first, sending production models aloft by the end of 2018.