An aircraft that combines massive freight capacity, high efficiency and low cost is taking shape in a hangar outside Toledo, Ohio, and could be airborne next year.
Source: Dynalifter Floats Like a Butterfly, Lands Like a Plane
Dynalifter is part airship, part airplane and the spiritual and engineering successor to Howard Hughesâ€™ never-built Megalifter. It combines the light weight and huge payload of an airship with the stability and handling of an airplane.
While a traditional airship is constantly buoyant, the Dynalifter uses lift from both helium and a short trip down the runway. Helium provides 30 to 80 percent of the lift, depending upon the circumstances, while internal combustion provides the rest.
â€œWe donâ€™t go for the hovering thing,â€ Bob Rist, co-founder of Ohio Airship, told Wired.com. â€œWe come in like a regular airplane, we land like a regular airplane, we take off like a regular airplane.â€
Two advantages of the unique design is it uses one-third the fuel that a jet plane does and it can land in short distances, Rist said.
â€œWeâ€™ve got some that can lift 200 tons and land in 4,000 feet,â€ he said.
After nearly a decade of work, a 117-foot prototype that looks like a whale could take to the skies sometime in the next few months.
â€œIt looks like the funding should be coming in mid-January,â€ Rist said.
The prototype, built for $500,000 from donated parts, was damaged during a storm two years ago, but rescued with economic development funding from Toledo and help from 15 volunteers.
â€œSome of the guys are laid off from Cessna, some of them are laid off from Jeep, so they came to work and helped us,â€ Rist said. The storm, Rist said, was a â€œblessing in disguiseâ€ because Ohio Airship ended up with a 36,000-square-foot hangar and cut the aircraftâ€™s weight by 500 pounds.
Ristâ€™s team hasnâ€™t yet flown the rebuilt prototype, which looks a bit flimsy, nor have they filled it with helium, but they plan to as soon as the funding is received. â€œWe have put everything on a hold,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s completed with FAA certification but I havenâ€™t flown it yet. â€
While the prototype is an ultralight aircraft capable of carrying two people and fuel, Rist said the production Dynalifter will be scaled up significantly. The goal is to offer ships up to 1,000 feet long with a cargo capacity of 250 tons.
â€œThe customer is asking for a 600 foot version, one that can carry about 30 to 40 tons.â€
The company has 20 orders, with the first ships slated for humanitarian missions like delivering water-treatment systems. Dynalifter will be ideal for transport in developing nations remote areas, Rist said, because of the short runways necessary for take off and landing.
proto2That also makes it an ideal candidate for military use, and Rist says heâ€™s had meetings with Pentagon officials. Lockheed-Martin also is working on a hybrid aircraft.
Rist said he plans to hire engineers in Toledo to build precision components that can then be assembled into complete aircraft closer to where they will be flown. â€œWe do all the technical stuff and design, and most of the assembly can be done overseas,â€ he said.
He sees the technology taking the middle ground between cargo ships and jet service â€” faster than a boat, cheaper than a plane.
â€œThey travel at optimum at about 140 knots,â€ Rist said. â€œAs they get down to 80, you can save that much more fuel because the more the helium takes over.â€
He said that intercontinental delivery times would be comparable to second-day air service, with a transatlantic crossing taking as little as 23 hours.
Dynalifters may someday carry passengers in relative luxury with onboard suites and room for more luggage than a tiny carry-on. â€œFrom New York to Florida, itâ€™s eight hoursâ€ on a Dynalifter, Rist said. â€œThe last time I flew to Florida, we stopped in Atlanta. It took 11 hours, and I got the middle seat.â€