Blimp-Plane Hybrid: World's Next Megamover?

Stefan Lovgren
for National Geographic News
January 31, 2006

In a plastic-covered hangar near an Ohio cornfield stands a 120-foot- long (37-meter-long), two-seat airship that its creators hope will usher in a new transportation era.

The craft, named Dynalifter, may be outfitted with two small engines and filled with 16,500 cubic feet (470 cubic meters) of helium.

Just don't call it a blimp.

"Dynalifter is a hybrid aircraft," said Robert Rist, a co-founder of Ohio Airships Inc., the Mantua-based company that built the aircraft. "The only comparison [with a blimp] is that they both use helium."

Unlike a blimp, the Dynalifter has wings and is a heavier-than-air aircraft. Its weight is carried by aerodynamic lift on the wings and hull and is augmented by helium lift. (More on the future of flight.)

The prototype airship, which Rist and his business partner Brian Martin hope to test fly this spring, is one-eighth the size of their ultimate goal: a 990-foot-long (300-meter-long) Dynalifter.

The smaller development model is "a baseline aircraft to innovate from," Rist said.

The entrepreneurs envision that a future Dynalifter could have a wide range of transportation applications.

Such a craft could move materials at a lower cost than airplanes and at higher speeds than ships, they believe. It could also deliver supplies to hard-to-reach places, making it especially useful in military and emergency situations.

Following Hughes

Rist and Martin, who met as co-workers in the computer department at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, formed Ohio Airships Inc. in 1999. Neither has an aeronautical background.

They initially based their model on an idea for a hybrid aircraft conceived by aviation tycoon Howard Hughes. Hughes's project, known as the Clark Megalifter, was scrapped after his death.

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