Boeing to build "blimpicopter"

Boeing said it will team up SkyHook International to build an enormous blimp-like aircraft powered by four helicopter rotors that will be capable of hoisting very heavy objects.

The helium-filled, 300ft Jess Heavy Lifter (JHL-40) is what Boeing calls the commercial heavy-lift rotorcraft that it says can safely carry payloads unmatched by today's helicopters, Boeing said. For example, the Russian-built MIL-26 HALO eight-rotor helicopter can lift 20 tons and is considered the most powerful helicopter in the world.

The helium-filled envelope of the JHL-40 is built to support the weight of its body without payload. With the empty weight of the aircraft supported by the blimp, the lift generated by four rotors is dedicated solely to lifting the payload, leaving the aircraft what the SkyHook calls "neutrally buoyant. "

That means the JHL-40 will be capable of lifting a 40-ton load and fly it up to 200 miles without refueling. That feature will be a key selling point for the aircraft as Boeing and SkyHook see it operating in harsh environments such as the Canadian Arctic and Alaska. Currently, conventional land and water transportation methods in these undeveloped regions are inadequate, unreliable and costly, Boeing said.

Boeing will design and fabricate two production prototypes of the JHL-40 at its Rotorcraft Systems facility. Skyhook will own, maintain, operate and service all JHL-40 aircraft for customers worldwide. The new aircraft will enter commercial service as soon as it is certified by Transport Canada and the US Federal Aviation Administration, but that could be a few years away.

Such heavy lifting transport aircraft have garnered a lot of attention recently. NASA this week in fact announced the winner of its annual aeronautics competition where university students compete to design the next generation of airliners and cargo planes.The contest looks to create a future subsonic transport aircraft that could carry up to 50,000 pounds, operate on runways between 1,500 and 3,000 feet long, and cruise at speeds between 595 and 625 mph - about the average speed of airliners today. The competition also stressed that concept planes should use alternative fuels and be quieter and more environmentally friendly than today's commercial fleet. This year the graduate team from Georgia Tech won top honors. The undergraduate award went to Virginia Tech.

And earlier this year researchers in France said they were developing a massive, experimental airship that could carry 55 people at about 160mph. The 700ft, double-decked and aptly named Manned Cloud will cruise at 18,000ft., and include a 20-room hotel, restaurant, library, gym and a spa. The airship will be powered by a giant rear propeller and two additional engines pointing downwards downward facing engines for vertical take-off.

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