Some real blue sky thinking

13 February 2012
“An army without its baggage-train is lost; without provisions it is lost; without bases of supply it is lost,” wrote Sun Tzu in The Art of War almost 2,500 years ago. It’s an axiom that has remained accurate through the years and today illustrated by historian Saul David in his current BBC TV series. With this in mind, the US Army is getting ready to deploy three airships in Afghanistan this year, having signed a £327 million deal in 2010. And, as reported today, the Royal Navy is also investigating whether to purchase one of the vehicles, which cost around £60 million each. “This could be the ideal solution for logistical support for aircraft carriers for the Fleet,” said a Navy source. It may sound surprising, but these airships – the Long-Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle – can carry up to 200 tonnes of cargo, travel at a speed of up to 185 km/h, stay in the air for three weeks and put down on land, water or snow. The British company manufacturing them, Hybrid Air Vehicles, believes they could carry up to 1,000 tonnes of cargo in the future. Obviously there are applications outside the military sphere, too, as a faster alternative to shipping or road transport. The Canadian aviation business Discovery Air Innovations (DAI) became the first civil customer last year, expecting the ships to take to the skies by 2014. “Hybrid air vehicles will dramatically improve existing supply chains for large industrial projects in hard-to-reach places and enable economic development where it was previously not viable,” said DAI president Paul Bouchard. Reports say the two-hour road trip between London and Milton Keynes could be cut to just 20 minutes by airship. Who needs high-speed rail?
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