Advanced Search

Please click here to take a brief survey

Skylifter: Heavy Lifting Airships of the Future?
Amanda Reed, 12 Oct 10

In a cross between blimps for freight and flying robots for disaster relief comes word of a new heavy lifting airship proposal by an Australian team that could potentially transport whole buildings to remote areas. The Skylifter is basically a flying saucer crane with excellent maneuverability, as The Economist notes:

Rather than use either a spherical or a cigar-shaped aerostat, as the gas-filled envelope of a lighter-than-air craft is known, Skylifter has developed a discus-shaped one. This means that like a traditional, round balloon—and unlike the elongated dirigible blimps that have hitherto been used as serious modes of commercial transport—the craft is “directionless”. In other words, it is oblivious of where the wind happens to be blowing from, which simplifies load-handling in places where the wind is fickle. At the same time, being flatter than a sphere, the aerostat acts less like a sail than a traditional balloon does, making it easier to steer. The flying-saucer shape also acts as a parachute, affording greater control during descent.

Additionally, as Popular Science writes:

This 150 meter-wide disc shaped balloon would be capable of carrying 150 tons, an increase of 700 percent from the maximum 20 tons able to be lifted by existing heavy transport helicopters.

The Skylifter is still in development, but the company has already built smaller, remote-controlled test versions of the idea. The final Skylifter performance goals include the ability to pick up or set down loads of 150 tons, travel at a speed of 45 knots (83 km/h), have a range of 2000 km, and be able to both take-off and land at sites without "complex ground infrastructure." If the Skylifter research team can realize this concept, then the craft could transport not just heavy components, but entire buildings to remote areas. Below are some pictures of some of the possibilities, including visions of transporting building modules ranging from rural hospitals to disaster-relief centers.

Diagram of Skylifter components. (via Skylifter Design)

Rendering of the Skylifter transporting a building module. (via Skylifter Gallery)

Rendering of the Skylifter transporting a building module. (via Skylifter Gallery)

Rendering of Skylifter with a four story mobile hospital module. (via Skylifter Gallery)

Rendering of hospital modules 'Skylifted' onto Mt. Everest. (via Skylifter Gallery)

Rendering of Skylifter assembly dome. (via Skylifter Gallery)

Rendering of Skylifter transporting goods from a ship to shore. (via Skylifter Gallery)

(via BLDGBLOG: "Building Lifter")

Bookmark and Share


I asked a friend who knew about the Cargolifter story in Germany and he said, " It's a re-vamped CL60 with a squidged bag"

Posted by: Hugo Eckner on 12 Oct 10

This is a good initiative. I have to wonder, however, just how scaleable it is, given the pending helium shortage. (Yeah, I know: there's always hydrogen with a nitrogen envelope!)

At the risk of sounding like a scratched record, I am quite taken with Di Lana's notion of evacuated buoyancy spheres (and *surely* today's materials science can produce something more suitable than 17th century beaten copper sheets!?)

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 12 Oct 10

hi we are allways interested in new concepts PES ENERGY also sarh delagostti has a new self contained city please write to me pat and sarah at and we can make ideas for the future regards pat

Posted by: pat jennings on 13 Oct 10

This could be used to lift passenger gliders up to a height where they could achieve short haul 'jumps' - London to Paris for example!

Posted by: Lee on 14 Oct 10

Rendering isn't the same as invention. 150 tons divided by 7; 6 cables and the center mast, if it is stressed, means that each tension member must bear, on average, 42,857 pounds. That load must be reacted by the envelope which must then be some rigid material of adequate strength. Balloons are nominally spherical because a sphere represents the least surface area to volume ratio and any vessel full of gas wants to be a sphere. In the case of a gas that's lighter than air and not pressurized, the bottom of the vessel might be easy to keep flatish; a lenticular shape in this example, but the top of the vessel must resist the downward force of the payload, so it's structure must be adequate to maintain its shape. That structure, along with the PV panels, thrusters, personnel pod, batteries, etc. will have considerable weight which can be moderated, but not eliminated, by the use of high-modulus materials which must also be impervious to tiny helium molecules or contain a helium-containing bladder.
The whole ship will have huge windage which will have to be overcome by what look like tiny thrusters; perhaps another way that the rendering might be misleading or ill-considered.
The buoyancy of the contained helium will vary substantially with the temperature; heavier in the morning, lighter in the afternoon, and that variation will have to be compensated by jettisonable ballast, vertical thrust, compression of the gas or heating and cooling of the gas. Which will it be? Ballast, once jettisoned is tough to recover, that's a whole lot of gas to compress and, if compressed, the envelope must be even stronger to not fail when it tries hard to be a sphere, heating and cooling such a volume will require a lot of energy, as will vertical thrusters.

Every few years we see splashy concept renderings of fancy dirigibles that then quietly slip away after garnering credulous attention and investor dollars. I'd love to be wrong, but I'm afraid that this is another example of wishful thinking versus immutable physics.

Posted by: Gary Paudler on 15 Oct 10

Post A Comment

Please note that comments will remain open for only 14 days after the article is posted. While previous comments will remain visible, attempts to post new comments after this period will fail. This helps stop comment spam, so your forebearance is appreciated.

The Worldchanging comments are meant to be used for further exploration and evaluation of the ideas covered in our posts. Please note that, while constructive disagreement is fine, insults and abuse are not, and will result in the comment being deleted and a likely ban from commenting. We will also delete at will and without warning comments we believe are designed to disrupt a conversation rather than contribute to it. In short, we'll kill troll posts.

Finally, please note that comments which simply repost copyrighted works or commercial messages will be summarily deleted.

Yes No







MESSAGE (optional):

Search Worldchanging

Worldchanging Newsletter Get good news for a change —
Click here to sign up!


Website Design by Eben Design | Logo Design by Egg Hosting | Hosted by Amazon AWS | Problems with the site? Send email to tech /at/
Architecture for Humanity - all rights reserved except where otherwise indicated.

Find_us_on_facebook_badge.gif twitter-logo.jpg