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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Solar Ship: The aircraft transport without dependency

Oct 25, 2011

There has been resurgence of interest in airships for military and commercial such as the High Altitude Long Endurance-Demonstrator (HALE-D) by Lockheed Martin's and Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) heavy-lift variant of Northrop Grumman's Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV). Similar to HAV's design, this concept from the Canadian based company Solar Ship is a hybrid airship which relies on aerodynamics to help provide lift, and like the HALE-D, it would have its top surface area covered in solar cells to provide energy and minimize its carbon footprint.

Although the Solar Ship aircraft would be filled with helium, under normal circumstances they would rely on the aerodynamic lift provided by their wing shape to provide more than half the lift required to get them off the ground. Additionally, the aircraft could also fly when filled with plain old air. Jay Godsall, Solar Ship's founder, told the Toronto Star that the aircraft will be able to go where there's no roads, no airstrips, and where planes and helicopters can't reach on a tank of fuel.

Solar Ship says the aircraft's electric motor can either be powered solely by the energy provided by the on board batteries, or by the photovoltaic cells covering the top surface of the wing.  This feature has already been achieved by a conventional airplane design in the form of Solar Impulse.

The company points out that such heavier-than-air airships provide numerous advantages over their lighter-than-air brethren. Firstly, no mooring infrastructure or ballast weight is required to keep the aircraft from floating away during loading or unloading, making them more practical for the remote locations in which they are designed to operate. Additionally, not relying on buoyancy for lift means the aircraft can be smaller than lighter-than-air aircraft carrying the same payload. They are also more structurally robust and more maneuverable and resistant to wind and weather conditions.

Eventually, three sizes of craft will be on offer - a small Caracal, a medium-sized Chui, and a whopping great big hauler Nanuq, which is designed to carry payloads of up to 30 tonnes (66,139 lb).

Solar Ship has already built and flown a 10 m (33 ft) prototype.  Further tests and demonstrations of the craft will be conducted in summer 2013, with a test of a smaller ship due in late 2012 in Africa. The videos provides a glimpse of the company's vision for the future in which it sees a wide range of uses for its heavier-than-air aircraft, from delivery of urgent medical supplies to remote communities and disaster relief, to environmental monitoring and military applications.


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