Future airlifters inspired by airships and military

Lockheed Martin is creating a civilian version of its wildly successful C-130J airlifter.

Story highlights

  • New airlifters are inspired by proven platforms like airships and successful military airplanes
  • Lockheed Martin is introducing a civilian version of its C-130J Super Hercules
  • Fuel saving airships land anywhere and move faster than ground or water transportation

Farnborough, England (CNN)Moving big stuff across treacherous terrain can be dangerous and expensive, and innovators are always looking for new solutions.

Lately, in the airlift industry, inspiration has come from already proven platforms like lighter-than-air airships and successful military cargo planes.
    During its 62 years in production, Lockheed Martin's C-130 Hercules military airlifter gained a reputation as a master of undeveloped airstrips. So popular are C-130s that they're flown in 68 countries and they've logged more than 22 million flight hours.
    Now, a new civilian version is in the works.
    The LM-100J Super Hercules is expected to make its first flight next year.
    Virginia-based logistics and defense group Bravo Industries announced at this month's Farnborough International Airshow in England, that it's buying 10 LM-100Js for cargo operations in Brazil.
    That makes sense.
    Brazil, with its huge wilderness areas, isn't exactly overflowing with aviation infrastructure and ground support.
    The military version of the Super Herc can carry military gear the size of utility helicopters and six-wheeled armored vehicles -- so you can imagine the civilian stuff that can be stuffed into that cargo hold.
    Maximum cruising speed: 408 mph. That's pretty good if your stuff needs to get to where it's going relatively fast.
    But what if time isn't so important? What if going slow was OK and the most important factor was just getting the stuff there intact?
    Bravo's president and CEO JR Pereira said he'd be open to another idea inspired by a proven platform: a hybrid airship.
    "In the Brazilian market, we've talked to some of the oil and gas and some mining companies that have already shown us a great deal of interest about the hybrid ship due to the capacity and versatility of supporting heavy duty equipment to different areas," Pereira said during a news conference last week.
    Reminiscent of the airships of the 1930s, Lockheed Martin's hybrid airship will carry up to 21 metric tons of cargo and 19 passengers, once it wins U.S. flight certification.
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    These aircraft burn less than a tenth of the fuel of a helicopter per ton, but they're faster than most land and sea transportation. They're quiet. They require little landing infrastructure and they can pretty much land and take off anywhere.
    And let's not forget the biggest aircraft in the world: Hybrid Air Vehicles' Airlander 10, which has been touted as having the potential to serve as an unmanned airlifter capable of flying continuously for up to two weeks.
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    Avgeeks were hoping Airlander 10 would show up at Farnborough this year, but they were left disappointed. It remains in Hybrid Air Vehicle's hangar in Cardington, England, where it awaits testing.