Skylifter airship could carry 150-ton buildings

October 11, 2010

Skylifter Aircraft (Skylifter)

Australian company SkyLifter has designed a heavy-lifting, vertical ascent and descent aircraft that will operate as a practical flying crane.

The aircraft is designed to take off where helicopters leave off, with vertical pickup and delivery capability of over-size, fragile or bulky items up to 150 tons, and potentially more. The long flight duration of 24 hours ensures a good distance range and adds flexibility to logistics. The aircraft can loiter over a ground location for long periods using minimal energy.

SkyLifter uses aerostatic lift to remain airborne and propellers are used to direct its flight. There is no need for aerodynamic lift, or for any wings, fins or control surfaces. The aerostat envelope (balloon) contains LTA gas that enables buoyancy. SkyLifters will use marine diesel engines and solar collectors to generate electrical power to operate the aircraft systems and propeller motors; giving the aircraft a cruise air speed of around 45 knots at low altitudes.

Illustration of the size of SkyLifter’s crane pod compared to a standard mid-size helicopter (Skylifter)

“If funding goes according to plan, we can see the SL150 prototype built and flying within 3 years with other units following closely,” Jeremy Fitton, Director of SkyLifter, told KurzweilAI.

“SkyLifter’s development plan leverages experiences and knowledge gained from a recent £270
million investment in a previous dirigible project in Germany and leads to a full-size prototype
aircraft to be used to demonstrate capability,” according to a document provided to KurzweilAI.

Illustration of Skylifter assembly site (Skylifter)

The upper surface of SkyLifter’s aerostat provides over 15,000 square metres of upward-facing area for solar collectors, “potentially making SkyLifter the world’s leading piloted commercial aircraft with solar power. Unlike helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, there is virtually no fuel consumed to keep the payload suspended in the air.”

Further into the future, a SkyPalace variant is under consideration for luxury air-cruising. SkyPalace will offer guests “a unique air cruising experience over land, flying at a comfortable low altitude and slow speed with minimal drama,” according to the website. “There is even an outdoor roof terrace, ideal for an evening promenade before dinner to sample the perfume of the night air.”

Illustration of a SkyLifter with Global Nomad hotel module (SkyLifter)

Illustration of a SkyPalace (SkyLifter)

Illustration of a Skylifter Portable Hospital (Skylifter)