As the Arctic ice retreats and enviromental issues, security threats and resource rivalries advance, the newly branded Airbus Group has proposed a radical hybrid lift twin hulled air-catamaran for long endurance surveillance missions.
Called the Tropospheric Airship, the concept, after definition, could then see the first manned prototype take to the northern polar skies within three years.
Conceived in what was formerly the EADS Innovation Works, the 90 metres by 60 metres platform could remain aloft at altitudes of up to 7000 metres, well below typical jet airliner cruising levels, for up to 40 days, travelling at between 60-150 kmh, or carrying sling cargo loads of up to 7 tonnes more efficiently than multiple helicopter missions or ice-breakers.
It could also be adapted to rescue or relief missions like that just carried out on the stranded Russian research vessel the Akademik Shokalskiy which has been trapped by shifting pack ice off the Antarctic coastline west of France’s Dumont d’Urville base since Christmas eve.
The catamaran style design combines aerostatic lift using helium gas in a rigid airframe with additional lift from the two wings that link the twin hulls. Power for small propellers could come from diesel and electric sources.
Airbus doesn’t say so in its documentation, but this looks like the first flying machine to be designed to deal with new frontiers that are emerging from a largely ice free Arctic (in terms of thick perennial rather than transient seasonal ice floes) and the shipping short cuts created between Europe and Asia.