Lockheed Martin still pursues hybrid airship future

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Losing a half-billion dollar contract award will not discourage Lockheed Martin from continuing to pursue hybrid airships as a future business.

The company's advanced development programmes (ADP) division instead has released a new marketing campaign, with a promotional video posted on YouTube on 24 August revealing new details about the company's technology.

Lockheed systems engineer Bob Ruszkowski confirms the company "absolutely" sees opportunities for new business, despite losing a competition for a $517 million contract from the US Army in June.

A Northrop Grumman/Hybrid Air Vehicles team instead won the deal to build the long-endurance multi-intelligence vehicle (LEMV), for deployment to Afghanistan in early 2012.

"We are exploring opportunities for hybrid airships beyond LEMV," Ruszkowski says.

Lockheed lost the contract despite investing significantly in hybrid airship technology. The ADP, or Skunk Works, division manufactured a demonstrator aircraft called the P791, which first flew in January 2006.

 
© Lockheed Martin

"The P791 demonstration aircraft still exists. It's still in our hangar. It's available to use again for other demonstrations," Ruszkowski says. "We learned quite a bit from it, and we're exploring other opportunities for hybrid airships."

In the new video, P791 programme manager Bob Boyd and other programme officials describe details of the hybrid airship technology.

The P791 is described as guided by a two-axis thrust vectoring system that is steered by fly-by-wire flight controls. The tri-hull airship is built using a "high-strength, lightweight woven material that's heat-sealed together", Lockheed says.

Lockheed's hybrid airship also incorporates an air cushion landing system with four pads, which both soften landings and "grab" the ground so no mooring equipment is required.

The company plans to offer a hybrid airship as both a surveillance and cargo aircraft. In the latter configuration, new versions of the technology scaled up to seven times its current size could haul as many as 300 freight containers at a time, Lockheed says.

The video also offers hints that Lockheed sees an opportunity with hybrid airships to break into the commercial aircraft market for the first time since the early 1990s. Its future airships will be designed to offer availability rates on a par with commercial aircraft, of between 95 and 99%, the company says.