British firm will buy first 12 of Lockheed's new blimp-like hybrid airships

A British aviation company will be the first customer for Lockheed Martin's blimp-like hybrid airships.

Straightline Aviation, which was established last year solely to own and operate the airships, said it has signed a letter of intent to purchase 12 of the dirigibles for about $480 million.

The company said most of its potential customers are oil, gas and mining companies that want to use the aircraft to haul cargo and freight to remote areas.

Energy companies, in particular, are looking to make exploration cheaper as the price of oil drops, said Mark Dory, chief operating officer of Straightline Aviation.

The LMH-1, which has yet to be built, will be a 300-foot-long and 78-foot-tall, 21-metric ton airship that is intended to carry truck-size loads to areas that are inaccessible to more traditional modes of transportation.

Lockheed Martin has said that the airship will be able to carry up to 47,000 pounds and accommodate 19 passengers and will burn less fuel than conventional aircraft.

The LMH-1 is expected to have its first flight by late 2017 and could be in commercial use by 2018.

The aircraft are made by Lockheed Martin and sold by Atlanta-based Hybrid Enterprises.

Straightline Aviation said the LMH-1's air-cushion landing system, which allows the dirigible to grip the ground like a suction cup, was a particular draw.

"That has been what’s stopping the development of large airships for cargo," said Mike Kendrick, the company's chief executive. "It’s not just a question of flying. This offers something that no other manufacturer has done and that really is the game changer in aviation terms.” 

Straightline Aviation said it would provide the crew, operate the aircraft and perform maintenance for customers, as many of its potential clients are not in the aviation business.

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