By Ryan Velez
Many may be quick to dismiss the blimp as an outdated mode of transport, but CNN reports a collaboration between Lockheed Martin and Hybrid Enterprises may not only bring blimps back into the limelight, but also see them being used to take advantage of billions of dollars in untapped African resources.
The product of 20 years of development between the two companies, the Hybrid Airship is a far cry from the blimps of yesteryear. It can cover thousands of kilometers in a single trip, carry 20-ton loads, and boasts a top speed of 60 knots. The fact that makes it of particular interest to Africa and its mineral sources is the fact that it can land and take off without a runway. Presented at the recent African Mining Indaba event in Cape Town, Hybrid Enterprises described the airship as capable of reaching remote mineral sources, using the tagline “No Roads, No Problem.” A Hybrid Enterprises spokesperson added that “it will land on water, sand, a field, even ice.”
This innovation may have come at just the right time for the African mining industry. Commodities prices have been reported to be down across the whole continent, and the inaccessibility of key sites has proven to be quite an issue. One such example is the Mbalam-Nabeba project on the border of Cameroon and the Republic of Congo, which required a 510-kilometer rail line to be built in order to access it.
Several mining firms have looked into airships as a potential way to lower costs. Robert S. Stewart, head of mining firm Interop AG, mentioned to CNN that “When you build a project in a remote area, you always have to start with a road, a railway line, and a power line before you build the smelter.” Airships would allow much of that infrastructure to be circumvented, which is important, as he estimates that over 90% of existing mineral resources in Africa are in some of these remote locations.
Hybrid Enterprises says that they hope that these ships will be in operation by 2018. They are currently undergoing FAA certification, and while it expected that each will cost tens of millions of dollars, this is yet to be disclosed. Hybrid Air Vehicles and Thales are also working on blimp designs to take advantage of this opportunity.