A demonstrator for a UK-designed airship capable of carrying a payload of up to 1,000 tonnes and able to operate without airport facilities, was unveiled yesterday.
ATG, formerly Airship Technologies, plans to produce three families of its SkyCat, with payloads of 15 tonnes, 200 tonnes and 1000 tonnes. The biggest will be more than 300m long.
Munk believes the SkyCat will beat Germany’s CargoLifter to market. The rival firm plans the maiden flight of its 160-tonne capacity CL160 for 2002, and series production from 2004.
ATG has customers for the 15 and 200-tonne versions. The first 15-tonne model is already in production and will be delivered in 12 months’ time.
The airship incorporates two innovations. The first, called `lifting body technology’, is also being used in the next generation of space shuttles. The whole envelope of the airship is shaped like a giant aerofoil to give aerodynamic lift in addition to the buoyancy created by the airship’s gas-filled body.
`Because there is vastly more aerodynamic lift we can carry much greater loads,’ said ATG chief executive Roger Munk. `It’s also more stable on the ground.’
Using its vectored thrust engines, the airship can take off vertically at up to 120% of its equilibrium load and can perform short take-offs at 50% above equilibrium.
The second innovation is the replacement of a wheeled undercarriage with a `hovercushion’ in a catamaran arrangement – hence the name SkyCat. This will allow it to land and take off from water, desert, or rough terrain.
ATG said it has orders for two SkyCat 15s and there are several potential customers for SkyCat 200s. Production of the first 200 version is due to start in Romania next month. The 15-tonne version will cost around £13m and the 200-tonne craft £60m.
Copyright: Centaur Communications Ltd. and licensors