Airship hopes afloat

A fleet of newfangled airships could serve Canada's northern territories, if Discovery Air has its way. The Yellowknife-based aviation company has partnered with a team of British engineers to produce these new vehicles.

A fleet of newfangled airships could serve Canada’s northern territories, if Discovery Air has its way.

The Yellowknife-based aviation company has partnered with a team of British engineers to produce these new vehicles, the first of which would roll off the production line by 2014.

If these airships live up to their hype, they could prove to be a gamechanger in how mines are serviced in remote corners of the Yukon.

Part blimp, part helicopter, these vehicles look far different than old-style zeppelins. Shunning the traditional cigar-shaped design, prototypes instead resemble an extremely pudgy wing.

Thrust engines would help steer the ship, bring it to a hover, or, when put in reverse, suck it to the ground during loading.

The airships would be buoyant thanks to inert helium, rather than explosive hydrogen.

These vehicles are not science fiction. Discovery Air’s partner, Hybrid Air Vehicles, has already teamed-up with Northrop Grumman to win a contract, worth $500 million, to build the American military an airship to conduct surveillance above Afghanistan by next year.

This football-field-length airship is expected to be capable of staying afloat for 21 days at 20,000 feet above sea level. It also has a special skin designed to absorb a fair share of bullets while remaining afloat.

The airships being designed with Discovery Air would be 120 metres long and haul a 50-tonne payload 2,000 kilometres, at speeds of up to 185 kilometres per hour.

That’s considerably slower than conventional aircraft. But airships are expected to consume much less fuel.

And they’d require very little infrastructure, being able to launch from gravel airstrips, water, snow or ice.

Each airship is expected to cost $40 million.

The planners who propose to ban roads within much of the Peel Watershed have pointed to airships as a potential way for miners to haul out their ore.

But hurdles remain to be cleared before the vehicles will be seen floating in Yukon skies.

The airships must still be certified. And it remains to be seen whether they’re able to withstand Arctic winds and cold.

Until they are, Discovery Air won’t commit to exercising its option to buy the first 45 airships off production lines.

But interest in airships is growing. Last week, Anchorage hosted a conference devoted to the topic, sponsored, in part, by Hybrid Air Vehicles.

According to the Anchorage Daily News, the company proposed some novel uses for airships. Not only could they service remote oil and gas operations, but they could also serve as floating health centres to periodically visit far-flung communities.

Discovery Air has also touted airships as a solution to serving mines in the Northwest Territories that are currently dependent on ice roads, which have melted earlier in the year as global temperatures rise.

So, if a Yukon mining company is looking for alternatives to building a pricey access road, they should give Discovery Air a call, said Sheila Venman, vice-president of communications.

“We’d be very pleased to speak with them.”

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A Copper Ridge resident clears their driveway after a massive over night snowfall in Whitehorse on Nov. 2, 2020. Environment Canada has issued a winter storm warning for the Whitehorse and Haines Junction areas for Jan. 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Winter storm warning for Haines Junction and Whitehorse

Environment Canada says the storm will develop Monday and last until Tuesday

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

Yukon University has added seven members to its board of governors in recent months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New members named to Yukon U’s board of governors

Required number of board members now up to 17

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

Most Read