US aerospace giant Boeing has joined with Canadian start-up SkyHook to develop a new kind of heavy lifting aircraft. The hybrid blimp – helicopter (blimpicopter?) will be able to transport 40 tons 200 nautical miles.
The Jess Heavy Lifter – 40 (JHL-40) will have a helium filled envelope sized so that the aircraft will be neutrally buoyant. This means that its four rotors lift only the payload. By comparison, the Russia’s Mil Mi-26, the world’s largest helicopter, can lift only half the payload with a similar power plant because it must lift its own weight as well.
“SkyHook secured the patent for this neutrally buoyant aircraft and approached Boeing with the opportunity to develop and build the system,” said Pat Donnelly, director of Advanced Rotorcraft Systems for Boeing. “We conducted a feasibility study and decided this opportunity is a perfect fit for Advanced Systems’ technical capabilities.”
Designed by SkyHook founder Peter Jess, the JHL-40 will use rotor technology from the Chinook helicopter, avionics and flight controls technology from the 787 and Boeing’s experience as a lead systems integrator. “If you have to develop all of that technology from scratch on this aircraft we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” Donnelly told Flight Global.
SkyHook envisages the aircraft operating in harsh environments such as the Canadian Arctic and Alaska providing transport for gas oil and mining industries. It hopes that the JHL-40 will be an environmentally acceptable alternative to building new roadways in remote areas. As it uses less fuel than a helicopter for a given load, the JHL-40 is expected to reduce the carbon footprint of the projects it supports.
Image: Boeing / SkyHook