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Airships to the Arctic VI - December 2011

Dr Prentice deserves congratulations on a very good conference held at the Edgewater hotel in Seattle.

The attendance (delegates and Speakers) was @ 78 (there may have been some late registrations).

Rough Breakdown (Using some assumptions/guesswork)

  • Academia                                                              5
  • End Users?                                                           12  (includes Military reps)
  • Operator                                                               4 (2 each from Airship Ventures and Discovery Air)
  • Manufacturers/Prototype designers                     24 (from 18 Organisations(some genuine players, some ‘one man and his dog’ operations))
  • Scientists (Industry/Government)                        4
  • Unidentified Corporations                                    11

The balance of people there were individuals or did not declare their Company name

While HAV and their civil partners Discovery Air were well represented, Lockheed Martin’s partner (Aviation Capital Enterprises inc) was not present.  Northrop Grumman did not appear to be present, although they were listed.

The aim of the conference was to identify the needs of the end-users in the Pacific North West economic region, and to expose to them the current situation in the industry.  The ‘Resource Rich – infrastructure poor’  theme was prevalent throughout the conference.  It is worth noting that a contingent from Brazil (both design/manufacture and Banking) were there.

Sessions included:

  1. Alaskan need for a Game Changer
  2. Game Changers:  Buoyancy Control
  3. Game Changers: Cargo Airships
  4. Economic applications for Buoyant Air Transport
  5. Hangars and Envelopes
  6. Weather and Piloting
  7. Game Changer in Cargo Airship Design
  8. What would Airships mean to the North?

Key Impressions:

Alaskan need for a Game Changer.  Dr Metz of the University of Alaska outlined the complexities of mineral exploration in Alaska, with many large tracts of Federal Land scattered across the state under the authority of Federal agencies and with multiple layers of bureaucracy and regulation.  Development of road/rail across the state is subject to a very complex, expensive and time consuming process particularly where infrastructure crosses into federal lands.   The Alaskans (Specifically the Institute of the North (IotN) ,  which seems to be sponsored by State funds) are sufficiently motivated by the promise of LTA that they will be holding another conference next year in June on the “Commercial Aspects of Northern Airships”  I have asked them to de-conflict dates with us, and they are keen to do so, but one of their sponsors is NASA, and I suspect that NASA’s schedule/availability may take precedence over our desires. (It was at the IotN conference this year that HAV and Discovery Air Innovations made their announcement).

Hardy Giesler (the new Business Development Director at HAV) and Fig Newton of DAI explained how they planned to operate in the North, effectively using the HAV on permanent basis, with downtime for servicing, the rest of the time in the air.  EASA and CASA are tossing the certification issues back and forwards, (trying to avid responsibility?).  HAV are having to get the certification done in Europe where the vehicle will be built, but CASA will be sitting in on the process.

Brian Hall of Airship Ventures gave a presentation on the difficulties of touring the only Zeppelin on the North American continent.  His presentation gane the impression that they could not fly because of weather restrictions for a lot of the time.  It was only at the end of his presentation, with questioning, that it became apparent that they could not fly because the ZNT is not Instrument Rated for low visibility flying (certification issues rather than inherent flaw  with LTA)

Game Changers: Buoyancy Control.  Alan Handley gave his presentation.  I feel that he needs to spend a bit of cash on animations and PR.  Mickael Talesnikov of Auger Aeronautical Centre (Ros Aeros) also presented the Atlant which looks very much like the Pelican Demonstrator (Aeroscraft or Rigid Aeroshell – variable Buoyancy (RAVB)) by Aeros.

Game Changers: Cargo Airships.  Dr Boyd of LM gave a presentation that was aimed at de-bunking the widespread opinion that the P-791 design is inherently unstable; he stated that the internet clip showing a very unstable landing approach, was the first flight, and was without additional flight control software that was completed and installed  for later flights.  Dr Boyd showed a number of clips showing stable flight and landings of P-791to support his position.

Economic Applications of Buoyant Air Transport.  Guy Ginter of the Moose Cree First Nation (Canada) explained the challenges of living and working in Northern Canada with the reducing life of the Ice Roads.

Helen Kouros-Harrigan demonstrated a useful Geographic Information System (GIS) tool to support LTA Business Cases, which showed Cartographic representation of the terrain, vegetation, available transport links, land ownship etc, together with natural resource deposits.  The aim being to demonstrate which deposits can be exploited with minimal infrastructure development. (Mineral occurrence revenue estimation visualization (MOREV) tool).  This tool can be used wherever GIS  data exists for the relevant data ‘Layers’ including areas of Africa and South America.

Hangars and Envelopes.  Francis Govers of Airship Ventures (took over from Alex Travell as Special Missions Manager) discussed Airship Flight Sim and Pilot Training.  They see themselves as being ideally suited to provide Flight Training on the ZNT for the Hybrids and Pelican type vehicles.

Manufacturing Considerations of Large LTAV.  Tim Miller of ILC Dover gave a very enlightening presentation on the ‘Manufacturing Considerations of Large LTA Softgoods Structures’ .  Of particular interest was that ILC does a lot of its own materials development on site during the development phase, together with the designers of an LTA Project.  There are many factors regarding the fabrics that SHOULD be taken into account by the designers which are frequently left until the manufacturing stage starts.  Particularly the final assembly site.

For current crop of large LTA vehicles, ILC is having to construct the envelopes in segments, transport the segments to the construction site, and complete the construction there.  For Transport LTA (HAV, LM or MAV 6 Transport variant), there is nowhere with sufficient manufacturing space for final assembly. The large Hybrids need a MUCH larger space than is currently available.   ILC said that if someone provided a sufficiently large space, they would move their manufacturing facility there (be it Europe or elsewhere in the US.)

Current Ships are pushing the limits of exiting fabrics/materials.  Future designs will require new fabrics (Vectran based?) which will require a 12-18 month  leadtime to qualify the material.  Can look at envelope life of 6 to 10 years before films degrade and leak rate goes up.

For Northern Latitudes ballonet materials are likely to be a problem in the very low temperatures.

Weather and Piloting.   SAIC was represented by Ananthakrishna Sarma, who gave a talk on ‘Airships and Weather’, again focussing on Northern Conditions, and the vast areas of the continent where they have no data on local conditions due to lack of instruments.

Richard Van Truren gave an entertaining talk on the US Navy experience of flying airships in northern winter conditions.  It would perhaps have been worthwhile asking Gennady Verba to give a talk on the Russian experience of LTA in Russian Winter Conditions.

Game Changer in Cargo Airship Designs. 

Airship-GP is a new concept in LTA from the Russian stable, using a rigid structure, but utilising 8 Exhaust outlets for propulsion and control.  It is a circular airframe, with a central engine-room and no fins/winglets or other obvious control surfaces.  I am not going to describe it in words, and the web-site (under construction) does not bear any great resemblance to the design shown at the conference.  It looks interesting.

MAV-6 failed to appear for their slot (although to be fair, it was TBA in the programme)

What would Airships mean to the North.  Dr Alan Weston of NASA Ames led the session with a brief resume of NASA Ames and its part in the Pelican Project.

Dr Harvey Brooks, the deputy minister for Yukon Economic Development followed, with a brief run-down on Yukon.  Once again the emphasis was on the existence of mineral wealth, with difficulty in making those deposits economically viable.  (Interesting point on scales, UK has 242,900 sq KM, with 60m population,  Yukon has 474,391 sq KM with @31,000 population)

Nicolas Mastrodicasa of Alaska’s Dept of Transportation and Public Facilities rounded off the session with a warning that despite Richard Van Truren’s positive lecture, and the generally can-do feeling, the North was a dangerous place for any Air Transportation.


This conference was aimed beyond the Industry and at the end-users and influencers in Politics and Business.  Barry has identified an area close to his home where LTA could make a clear and positive difference to the economic wellbeing of the states concerned.  The government people who were there were interested and not entirely sceptical (although perhaps not yet wholehearted believers.

The US Government Projects with HAV, MAV-6  and Aeros will play a major part in wider acceptance, but I feel that it is Discovery Air Innovations and HAV’s project that will make or break LTA for this generation. 

Suggestions.  There are a number of things that I feel we should now be thinking about and following up.

  1. De-conflict the Institute of the North’s conference in June Next year (or perhaps invite them to join us?)
  2. Identify Keynote Speakers now and aim to get Key Decision Makers and influencers  from Government onto the platform
  3. Identify the key Operating Equipment Manufacturers, those who have built (or are building) a viable vehicle with a specific target market to talk about why they are investing in this technology (not just the military), and their customers.
  4. Find the Industries and other Governments for whom LTA Transport would make an appreciative difference ( Russia, African or South American countries?)
  5. Looking again at the TARs and seeing if we can co-ordinate a closure on that.

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