Guy Norris/LOS ANGELES Kate Sarsfield/LONDON

CargoLifter has selected the General Electric CT7-8 turboshaft to power its CL160airship, despite earlier indications from sources close to the programme that the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 was the first choice engine for the huge "flying crane" (Flight International, 27 February - 5 March).

The memorandum of understanding between CargoLifter and GE involves the engine manufacturer supplying and maintaining up to 50 engines - six CL160 shipsets plus spares. A letter of intent has also been signed whereby the engine supplier will collaborate in the development and future use of the 260m (850ft)-long airship. The deal is expected to become a firm contract by the end of June.

Rolls-Royce had believed that it was first choice powerplant supplier, although CargoLifter now says a contract had not been awarded. "We have to accept the decision but of course we are not happy to have been deselected," says R-R.

CargoLifter chairman Dr Carl von Gablenz says: "Collaboration with GE also opens up far reaching opportunities for the development of the airship and of the company, which should have a positive effect on the CL160's future operations."

While GE confirms selection of its CT7-8 for the CL160, it declines to comment on the nature of the strategic co-operation agreement with CargoLifter. Sources close to the deal say the agreement is "not a risk-sharing deal", but that GE is providing up-front financing to enable CargoLifter to complete development of the CL160.

The financing agreement is also thought to be linked to talks between CargoLifter and GE Power Systems, which is expected to become a key customer. GE's industrial power division wants to use the CL160's enormous lifting capability to transport gas turbines to destinations throughout Europe and, later, worldwide.

GE says the unique requirements of the CL160 demand modifications to the baseline CT7-8, which is being developed with Fiat Avio of Italy. Despite its semi-turboprop application, the powerplant will still be "considered as a turboshaft", says the engine maker. Modifications include changes to adapt the control system for the slower speed regime of the airship, as well as to drive propellers in both the horizontal and vertical planes. The engine will also be modified with a much larger "buddy" oil tank, allowing continuous missions of up to 10h.

Source: Flight International