A made-in-Manitoba ultralight airship, believed to be the first in western Canada, will soon take flight as part of an experiment that its creators hope will eventually lead to more cargo transportation options in remote communities.
University of Manitoba professor Barry Prentice and Winnipeg pilot Dale George teamed up to build the 24-metre-long prototype, which is now ready for air trials.
The pair met with ground crew volunteers at St. Andrews Airport, just outside the city, for a briefing on Wednesday night about how the airship will operate.
They hope to fly the airship sometime next week. They're looking for more volunteers who can help with ground support.
The current prototype can carry the weight of a pilot and fuel only. Its maximum speed is approximately 64 km/h.
It's a smaller version of what Prentice and George want to see one day — airships large enough to ferry goods and supplies to communities that do not have roads or have only ice roads in the winter.
Prentice said it has been challenging to get the airship off the ground. While Transport Canada is backing the experimental stage, the two men have financed the project themselves.
"Just our savings — they're getting a little low at this point, you can appreciate," Prentice said.
"But we're at the point now where we're getting ready to bring in other investors. You know, the idea of the airships is maturing, and I think there's a lot more people who are interested."
Nine volunteers, eager to help man the ropes that will guide the blimp to the ground come next week, came out for the first meeting.
"It's something I believe in, for the community, for northern communities," said Patrick Futros, who has worked as a truck driver and on road construction to remote communities.
"I know a lot of people on reserves....they need this. They need the transportation. It's not very good out there. I've seen reserves starve because of transportation problems."
For 28 year old Sarah Gossen, she couldn't help but support the idea, especially considering it's still in its early stages.
"'I'm here because I'm a dreamer, and when somebody envisions something like this, and puts in their hard work and the effort to create what they've dreamt, I feel like it's kind of like a pay it forward thing."
Prentice added that 70 per cent of Canada's land mass has no roads, and better transportation options are desperately needed to serve communities in those remote areas.
"Let's face it: this will be a good business. It will employ a lot of people," he said.
"If we can build airships here in Manitoba that will tolerate our winter and summer, we can export them all the way around the world."