Hybrid airship

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A hybrid airship is an aircraft that combines characteristics of lighter-than-air (LTA), airship technology with heavier-than-air (HTA) technology, either fixed-wing or rotary-wing. A rotastat is a rotorcraft/airship hybrid typically intended for heavy lift applications, while a dynastat is a dynamic lift airship typically intended for long-range cruising. No production designs have been built, but several manned and unmanned prototypes have flown.

The term "hybrid airship" has also been used to describe an airship combining elements of different types of airships.


Conventional airships have low operating costs because they need no engine power to remain airborne, but are limited in several ways, including low payload/volume ratios and low speeds. Additionally, ground handling of an airship can be difficult. Because it is floating, in even a light breeze it is susceptible to wind buffeting.

On the other hand, heavier-than-air (HTA) aircraft, especially rotorcraft, require the constant use of power to generate lift, and conventional airplanes also require runways.

The hybrid airship combines the airship's aerostatic lift, from a lighter-than-air gas such as helium, with the heavier-than-air craft's dynamic lift from movement through the air. Such a hybrid craft is still heavier than air, which makes it similar in some ways to a conventional aircraft. The dynamic lift may be provided by helicopter-like rotary wings (the rotastat), or a lift-producing shape similar to a lifting body combined with horizontal thrust (the dynastat), or a combination of the two.[1][2]

Hybrid airships are intended to fill the middle ground between the low operating cost and low speeds of traditional airships and the higher speed but higher fuel consumption of heavier-than-air craft. By combining dynamic and buoyant lift, hybrids are intended to provide improved airspeed, air-cargo payload capacity and (in some types) hovering capability compared to a pure airship, while having longer endurance and greater lifting capacity compared to a pure HTA type.

Hybrid aircraft technology is claimed to allow a wider range of flight-performance optimizations ranging from significantly heavier than air to near buoyant. This perception of uncommon dynamic flight range when coupled with an appropriate landing system is claimed to allow ultra heavy and affordable airlift transportation.[citation needed]


Proponents of hybrid airship technology claim significant advances that will make them useful for modern transportation applications.[3][4]

Hybrid airship efforts, like airship efforts in general, have been called into question from both economic and technology viability perspectives.[4][5][6]

Design principles[edit]

Compared to a conventional airship, the hybrid can be made smaller and does not need to carry ballast for altitude control, while compared to a heavier-than-air craft the hybrid requires either a smaller rotor or a shorter runway.[2]

Where the dynastat is seen as more promising in the longer-distance passenger and freight roles, the rotastat is anticipated to be more suitable as a "flying crane" able to lift heavy external loads for shorter distances.[2]

Some airships employ thrust vectoring, typically using pivoted ducted fan propulsors, to provide additional lift when the engine thrust is no longer needed for forward propulsion. Once airspeed is gained, the craft can use body lift to help carry a load greater than its aerostatic lift capacity alone.[citation needed] However, such airships are not usually regarded as hybrids.


The dynastat obtains additional lift by flying through the air. Configurations studied have included deltoid (triangular), lenticular (circular) or flattened hulls, or adding a fixed wing.

Some early airships were fitted with wing planes with the intention of providing additional dynamic lift.[citation needed] However the added lift of planes can be less efficient than simply increasing the volume of the airship. At low air speeds, of 60 mph (97 km/h) or less, the increase in lift obtained by the use of planes on an airship would require a disproportionate increase in engine power and fuel consumption compared to increasing the size of the gas bags.[7] Moreover, the attachment of flying surfaces to the airship envelope would require significant structural strengthening and accompanying weight gain.[2]

Conventional airships often make use of aerodynamic lift by using their elevators to set a nose-up attitude so that the main body of the airship provides some lift as it flies along; however, this is typically done to counteract minor out-of-trim conditions and it is as likely that the nose may need to be pointed down to reduce lift.

Some Hybrid designs, such as the Lockheed Martin LMZ1M, use a flattened or multi-lobe hull to increase the aerodynamic lift obtainable. The aerodynamic approach is similar to that of a lifting body aircraft, although airspeeds are much lower. Attainable dynamic-lift-to-drag ratios are significantly below those of efficient fixed wings, in part because induced drag increases with decreasing aspect ratio.[8] As a result, the lift comes at a higher drag penalty than using wings. On the other hand, compared to a helicopter the dynastat has better fuel efficiency within a given speed range.[2]

Another issue arises during take off and landing, when in calmer conditions the airspeed may be too low to provide sufficient aerodynamic lift.[9] For this reason the dynastat is often conceived of as a STOL rather than VTOL aircraft, requiring a shorter runway than a conventional airplane.[2]


The rotastat obtains additional lift from powered rotors similar to a helicopter. Single-, twin- and four-rotor designs have been studied.

Early examples in the inter-war period included designs by Oehmichen and Zodiac. These used the rotors for vertical control only, with additional powered propellers for forward flight, as in the gyrocopter.[2]

In more recent times the experimental Piasecki PA-97 "Helistat" attached four helicopter airframes to a helium blimp while the SkyHook JHL-40 remains a project. Typically aerostatic lift is sufficient to support the weight of the craft itself, while when a load is carried the rotors provide additional lift as required.

Gliding under gravity[edit]

If an airship does not have enough lift, it will sink under gravity. By angling the nose down, this can lead to a gliding forward flight. If an airship has excess lift, it will rise. By angling the nose up, this can also lead to forward movement. In this way, an airship can gain forward thrust aerodynamically by alternating its buoyancy between positive and negative and adjusting its attitude accordingly. Thus, flight proceeds in a leisurely vertical zig-zag pattern. Because no energy is consumed directly in creating thrust, the principle allows for flights of long duration, although at slow speeds. The principle also works underwater and is used operationally in the underwater glider.


Early hybrids[edit]

Gliding under gravity dates from the period during and shortly after the American Civil War, when Solomon Andrews built two such airships. The first of these, Aereon, used three individual cigar shaped balloons rigged together in a flat plane; the second, Aereon #2, employed a single "lemon-shaped" balloon.[10] Andrews' Aereons were propelled by angling the balloons upward and dropping ballast, then process was then reversed with the balloons being angled downward and large quantities of lifting gas being vented.[11]

In 1905 Alberto Santos-Dumont conducted various experiments with his first airplane, the Santos-Dumont 14-bis, prior to attempting to fly it for the first time. These included hanging it from a steel cable and towing it, and subsequently hanging it beneath the envelope of a previously built airship (Number 14) - akin to learning to swim with "water wings". The combined craft was unusable, and was broken up, being referred to as "a monstrous hybrid".[12] After these "rehearsals" were completed, Santos-Dumont made the first public demonstration of a heavier-than-air aircraft in the Europe.

In 1907 the British Army Dirigible No 1 (named Nulli Secundus) first flew. It used aerodynamic surfaces for attitude control in flight, and for its first flight was also fitted with large wings amidships. The wings were intended to aid stability rather than provide lift and were removed for all subsequent flights.[13][14] The use of dynamic lift by pitching the nose of the airship up or down was also recognised and practised on this airship.[15]

In June 1907 Alberto Santos Dumont constructed his No. 16, described by l'Aérophile as an appareil mixte. This had a 99 m3 (3,500 cu ft) envelope but was too heavy to fly without supplementary lift supplied by a 4 m (13 ft) wing surface. It was tested without success on 8 June 1907.[16]

Modern hybrids[edit]

The Aereon 26 was an aircraft which made its first flight in 1971. It was a small-scale prototype of the hybrid Airship Aereon Dynairship and part of the "TIGER" project. But it was never built due to lack of market for a hybrid airship.[17]

In 1984 the AeroLift CycloCrane helistat flew briefly.[citation needed]

The 1986 Piasecki PA-97 Helistat experimental design combined four helicopters with a blimp in an attempt to create a heavy-lift vehicle for forestry work. It broke up at the end of its first flight possibly due to inadequate structural strength

The SkyCat or "Sky Catamaran" vehicular technology is a hybrid aircraft amalgamation; a scale version at 12 meters called "SkyKitten", built by the Advanced Technologies Group Ltd, flew in 2000. The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiated the Walrus Hybrid Ultra Large Aircraft program in 2005, a technology development initiative focused on ultra heavy air lift technology explorations. The program was terminated in 2007.[citation needed]

In 2006, the Lockheed Martin P-791 underwent manned flight tests. It was an unsuccessful candidate for the military Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle program even though it is the only successful Hybrid Airship to have ever flown.[citation needed]

In 2008, Boeing announced that it was teaming up with SkyHook to develop a heavy duty lifting vehicle, the SkyHook JHL-40 Boeing subsequently shelved the project.[18]

Hybrid Air Vehicles was awarded a US$517 million contract to develop the HAV-3 hybrid airship and present it for military assessment in just 18 months as part of the Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) program. It flew unsuccessfully for 90 minutes in August 2012. The long duration of the first flight was primarily due to problems with C of G control and failure of one of the forward engines during the first few minutes of the test flight. On 14 February 2013, the Army confirmed that it had cancelled the LEMV development effort, due to budget cuts. The "successful" flight ended with the LEMV striking the ground in a nose high attitude which resulted in significant damage to the tail of the airhip. Hybrid Air Vehicles then re-purchased the damaged HAV-3 vehicle as salvage from the US Department of Defense for $301,000 and brought it back to England. It has been reflated, renamed the Airlander 10, and is currently housed it in one of the historic airship sheds at RAF Cardington. Plans include further developments to the vehicle and a passenger flight in 2016. One investor, Bruce Dickinson (better known as a member of the rock group Iron Maiden), has announced plans to fly twice around the world nonstop.[19]

Other current projects[edit]

An Australian-based company is working on a project to develop an air crane called the SkyLifter, a "vertical pick-up and delivery aircraft" being capable of lifting up to 150 tons.[20]

A Canadian start-up, Solar Ship Inc, is developing solar powered hybrid airships that can run on solar power alone. The idea is to create a viable platform that can travel anywhere in the world delivering cold medical supplies and other necessitates to locations in Africa and Northern Canada without needing any kind of fuel or infrastructure. The hope is that technology developments in solar cells and the large surface area provided by the hybrid airship are enough to make a practical solar powered aircraft. Some key features of the Solarship are that it can fly on aerodynamic lift alone without any lifting gas, and the solar cells along with the large volume of the envelope allow the hybrid airship to be reconfigured into a mobile shelter that can recharge batteries and other equipment.[21]

The Hunt GravityPlane (not to be confused with the ground-based gravity plane) is a proposed gravity-powered glider by Hunt Aviation in the USA.[22] It also has aerofoil wings, improving its lift-drag ratio and making it more efficient. The GravityPlane requires a large size in order to obtain a large enough volume-to-weight ratio to support this wing structure, and no example has yet been built.[23] Unlike a powered glider, the GravityPlane does not consume power during the climbing phase of flight. It does however consume power at the points where it changes its buoyancy between positive and negative values. Hunt claim that this can nevertheless improve the energy efficiency of the craft, similar to the improved energy efficiency of underwater gliders over conventional methods of propulsion.[23] Hunt suggest that the low power consumption should allow the craft to harvest sufficient energy to stay aloft indefinitely. The conventional approach to this requirement is the use of solar panels in a solar-powered aircraft. Hunt has proposed two alternative approaches. One is to use a wind turbine and harvest energy from the airflow generated by the gliding motion, the other is a thermal cycle to extract energy from the differences in air temperature at different altitudes.[23]

List of hybrid airships and projects[edit]


Type Country Date Role Status Description
ATG SkyKitten United Kingdom 2000 Experimental Prototype scale demonstrator for the proposed SkyCat.[24]
Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-3 United Kingdom 2008 Experimental Prototype Technology demonstrator.
Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-304 (LEMV) United Kingdom 2012 Multi-role Prototype Built in conjunction with Northrop Grumman for the US Army LEMV programme.
Lockheed Martin P-791 USA 2006 Experimental Prototype
Nimbus EosXi Italy 2006 UAV Small (7 m) delta-wing hybrid
Thermoplan Russia Project Lenticular.
Walrus HULA USA 2010 Transport Project DARPA project, cancelled 2010.


Type Country Date Role Status Description
AeroLift CycloCrane USA 1984 Flying crane Prototype
Piasecki PA-97 Helistat USA 1986 Flying crane Prototype
SkyHook JHL-40 USA Flying crane Project Joint project with Boeing

Gravity gliders[edit]

Type Country Date Role Status Description
Andrews Aereon USA Experimental Prototype Propulsion by alternately dropping ballast and venting gas.
Andrews Aereon 2 USA Experimental Prototype Propulsion by alternately dropping ballast and venting gas.
Physicist Robert D. Hunt's GravityPlane USA Project Various means of energy harvesting proposed. Ballast Control by phase change of the working fluid lifting gas i.e. water vapor to water; and, compression to increase density of lifting gas and lift loss as currently proposed by Aeroscraft to which Hunt advised.

See also[edit]

  • Kytoon - a tethered kite/balloon hybrid



  1. ^ Tolip (18 February 2008), P-791 hybrid airship project, military-heat.com 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Khouty (2012).
  3. ^ Zolfagharifard, Ellie (1 March 2014) [28 February 2014], "The flying bum! 300ft-long 'airship' unveiled in Britain is the world's longest aircraft", mailonline (Associated Newspapers) 
  4. ^ a b Hpanchal (30 June 2011), "High flying demand or bust?", Air Cargo World 
  5. ^ Farnham, Alan (29 April 2002), All hangar, no blimp 
  6. ^ Dick, Joseph (27 May 2011), "Helium Hokum: Why Airships Will Never Be Part of Our Transportation Infrastructure", Guest Blog (Scientific American) 
  7. ^ Burgess, Charles P (1927), "Chapter XI: Common Airship Fallacies", Airship Design (pdf), Ronald Aeronautic Library, Ronald Press, pp. 289–290, For every 1,000 lbs. lift carried by the planes, approximately 60 lbs. resistance must be overcome by the thrust of the propellers. On the other hand, a 5,000,000 cu.ft. airship flying at 60 mph experiences only about 20 lbs. resistance per 1,000 lbs lift, and the relative resistance decreases with increasing size and diminishing speed. It is apparent, therefore, that the increase in lift obtained by the use of planes on an airship would require a disproportionate increase in engine power and fuel consumption. 
  8. ^ Crichner and Nicolai; "Hybrids - The Airship Messiah?" Lockheed.
  9. ^ Burgess, Charles P (1927), "Chapter XI: Common Airship Fallacies", Airship Design (pdf), Ronald Aeronautic Library, Ronald Press, pp. 289–290, there would still remain the apparently insurmountable problems of starting and landing the combination craft 
  10. ^ Solomon Andrews, The Art of Flying, 1865
  11. ^ Payne, Lee, Lighter than Air: An Illustrated History of the Airship, p. 39 
  12. ^ Nancy Winters, Man Flies - The Story of Alberto Santos-Dumont, p. 100
  13. ^ Reese, P.; The Flying Cowboy: Samuel Cody Britain's First Airman, History Press, Reprint 2008, 978-0752436593 page 87.
  14. ^ Walker, P.; "Early Aviation at Farnborough Volume I: balloons, Kites and Airships", Macdonald (1971), page 198.
  15. ^ Walker, P.; "Early Aviation at Farnborough Volume I: balloons, Kites and Airships", Macdonald (1971), page 170.
  16. ^ "Le Nouvel Engin de Santos-Dumont". l'Aérophile (in French): 161. June 1907. 
  17. ^ Aereon26 Archived April 17, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  18. ^ Hybrid Airships, The Airship Association, 2012 
  19. ^ Grover, Sami (20 March 2014), "Lead singer for Iron Maiden to pilot hybrid airship around the world", Mother Nature Network 
  20. ^ Daily Mail Reporter (7 October 2010), "The giant airships which can carry entire buildings hundreds of miles", mailonline (Associated Newspapers Ltd) 
  21. ^ Hamilton, Tyler (14 October 2011), "Hamilton: Toronto start-up designs solar-powered hybrid aircraft", thestar.com 
  22. ^ Decker, J.; "Environment special: Are alternative fuels really cleaner?" Flightglobal [1] (retrieved 10 June 2014)
  23. ^ a b c Hunt (2005)
  24. ^ "Skykitten"


  • Khouty, G.; "Airship Technology", 2nd Edition, CUP (2012), Chapter 19.
  • Hunt, Robert D.; "Flight Powered by an Atmospheric Power Cycle", AIAA 5th Aviation Technology, Integration, and Operations Conference (ATIO) 26–28 September 2005, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (2005) [2]. Free copy for download

External links[edit]