Calgary

'Blimp on steroids' designed to fly through remote skies

A Calgary company is spearheading a new aircraft, filled with helium and powered by four rotors, which will be used to move materials in remote areas including the Canadian North.

A Calgary company is spearheading development of a new aircraft, filled with helium and powered by four rotors, which will be used to move materials in remote areas including the Canadian North.

SkyHook International announced Tuesday that it will build the Jess Heavy Lifter (JHL-40) in conjunction with aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co.

SkyHook and Boeing hope to be flying the first prototypes of the JHL-40 by 2012. ((SkyHook International))

The JHL-40 takes elements of a blimp and a helicopter to lift up to 40 tonnes in one load and travel up to 320 kilometres without refuelling. It will have a top speed of 70 knots.

Company officials said Tuesday the aircraft should help oil and gas companies in particular because they'll be able to use it to transport equipment and materials without having to build roads in remote regions.

Pete Jess, 55, SkyHook's president, acknowledges the invention he's been working on for 25 years will have to overcome being typecast.

"The perception is 'Oh, it's going to blow up. It's a Hindenburg or something like that.' And it's going to be our job to educate people as to what this thing is. You can't get around the fact it's a large envelope full of helium, and it does look a little bit like a balloon," said the aviation engineer and former helicopter pilot.

"It's a blimp on steroids because it's got more than 20,000 horsepower on it and it's a serious working machine."

The company said that unlike blimps, the airship is neutrally buoyant.

"With the empty weight of the aircraft being supported by the helium-filled envelope, the lift provided by four Boeing Model 234 rotors attached to the airframe can be dedicated solely to lifting the payload," said a fact sheet from the company.

Boeing will manufacture two prototypes of the JHL-40 at its plant in Ridley, Pa., which they hope to be flying by 2012.

The new aircraft will require certification from Transport Canada and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.