The difference is radical says Michael Stewart, chief executive of World SkyCat Ltd, a British company which has designed a new air vehicle, the SkyLiner.
"The breakthrough is to combine the airplane with the airship, creating a hybrid," Stewart
Marrying the lift provided by the (lighter-than-air) helium with the aerodynamic lift of an airplane transforms everything, he
Two thrusters on either side of a laminated fabric shell afford control at low speeds, while other features do away with the need for a ground crew when the hybrid needs to land.
"An airship of our kind, carrying let's say 200 tons or more, with its air-cushioned landing system is able to land without any runways -- on tundra and semi-rough ground," Stewart
Unquestionably, the big market will be in cargo.
One is regular freight, where you're essentially competing with 747s
--Michael Stewart, World SkyCat Ltd
"Unlike conventional airships, where a few million dollars will get you into the air, hybrids cost hundreds of millions to build," Stewart
points to recent orders secured by rival company, UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd
who last year won a contract to build a similar hybrid airship for the U.S. military contractor Northrop Grumman
The $517 million "Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle" (LEMV) is longer than a football field and will provide high altitude (20,000 feet) surveillance for U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 2012.
believes these hybrids' unique strengths are better served elsewhere.
estimates a 50-ton payload vehicle would cost around $1,500 per hour for fuel, maintenance and crew.