Skyhook and Boeing build the world's largest VTOL aircraft
July 9, 2008 One of the most problematic hurdles for major industries operating in remote areas is trying to work out how to move heavy building materials to the worksite. Road-building is an environmental issue, as well as often being cost-prohibitive and impossible in many terrains. Some areas are unreachable by cargo ship, large cargo planes require good weather and long runways, and helicopters simply can't carry heavy enough loads to be appropriate - which is why Skyhook's Jess Heavy Lifter is such a significant new type of vehicle. It combines the neutral buoyancy and stability of an airship with the lifting power of four big rotors. Capable of lifting 40 tons (80,000lbs) vertically and transporting the load more than 200 miles without refuelling, the JHL-40 offers twice the load capacity of the world's current largest cargo helicopter, and large industries are already modifying their operations plans to take advantage of its unprecedented cabailities.
Canadian firm Skyhook announced yesterday that it has signed a teaming agreement with aerospace giant Boeing to co-develop the JHL-40, the first of a new breed of cargo-carrying aircraft that promises to open up a new range of construction opportunities for industries operating in remote areas.
Dubbed a "neutrally buoyant aircraft," the JHL-40 is effectively comprised of an airship-style rigid envelope filled with helium gas. The gas is used to support the weight of the vehicle, its crew and fuel load without the payload, making the craft itself neutrally buoyant. Four large rotors mounted at each corner of the ship provide enough vertical lift to carry 40 tons of cargo in an underslung load, and smaller rotating rotors provide directional thrust to move the aircraft on a horizontal plane.
The control combination is expected to give the JHL a very high degree of accuracy in its cargo drops, and likewise it should be easy to maneuver into pickup position. Without a load attached, it has a maximum speed around 70 knots and a range of up to 800 nautical miles. The aircraft's unique capabilities will open up a range of previously unavailable opportunities for industries that operate in remote and harsh areas like Alaska and the Canadian Arctic.
"There is a definite need for this technology. The list of customers waiting for SkyHook's services is extensive, and they enthusiastically support the development of the JHL-40," said Pete Jess, SkyHook president and chief operating officer. "Companies have suggested this new technology will enable them to modify their current operational strategy and begin working much sooner on projects that were thought to be 15 to 20 years away. This Boeing-SkyHook technology represents an environmentally acceptable solution for these companies' heavy-lift short-haul challenges, and it's the only way many projects will be able to progress economically."
Boeing is already in the process of designing and building two production prototypes of the JHL-40, which will go into service as soon as they're certified by the Canadian and American Aviation Administrations. A fleet will then be built and operated by Skyhook for clients around the globe.