A French company is working on providing an air transport solution that has hints of the past but is definitely going to be part of the future – a cargo airship that never has to touch the ground.
Born out of a need to transport wood logs from inaccessible areas, a French company called Flying Whales has designed a rigid shaped airship similar to the Zepplin produced in the late 1800s in Germany.
Measuring roughly the length of two Airbus A380s, the LCA60T is filled with helium used as a lifting gas and powered by hybrid electrical propulsion. The company is actively considering ways to improve its carbon footprint in all aspects of the business. And while the design might still undergo slight changes in essence it will be an air cargo aircraft of the future.
“After Flying Whales exhibited at the Paris International air show Le Bourget in the same hall just behind giants like Dassault and Safran, people really started taking us seriously. They could see that we are not a bunch of crazy people working from their garage or a little start-up company. Our headquarters are in Suresnes near Paris and we employ over 130 people,” said marketing manager Pierre-Yves Fouillen
Started in 2012 by founder and CEO Sébastien Bougon the idea for the aircraft had its beginnings in finding a solution to the need for the French national forestry agency or Office Nationale des Forêts to source wood from inaccessible locations.
The next year the company began operational, economic and technical assessments and strategic partnerships with governmental organisations and this later led to public financing by the French Public Investment Bank.
Then for the next three years, the company worked on and came up with the first conceptual design, looked at the finances and a set up a large consortium of aerospace and industrial players
In 2017 interested players began to make their commitments and the company received funding from the Chinese company – Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) who were also looking for a similar solution. Two years later they were joined by the French Canadian state of Quebec who was looking to provide a transport solution for isolated communities in Quebec and Canada.
Today these entities form part of the shareholding of the company.
Then Région Nouvelle Aquitaine near Bordeaux signed an agreement with Flying Whales and the company really began to expand.
“Other companies began to talk to us, such as wind turbine manufacturers, interested in the LCA60T solution to transport blades, or transmission system operators to service high voltage electrical towers. We also thought that the LCA60T could be used for humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations,” said Fouillen.
The airship has an important environmental component. Where companies would normally have to look at building a road to transport logs, thus leading to secondary problems like poaching and deforestation as local communities gain access – the LCA60Ts can transport the cargo by air. The airship requires very little infrastructure like runways. With a payload of 60 tonnes that can be transported in underlings or in the hold – companies will find this solution quite enticing.