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Boeing and Skyhook to Partner on Heavy-Lift Neutrally-Buoyant Rotorcraft

The JHL-40.

The Boeing Company and SkyHook International Inc. are teaming to develop the JHL-40 (Jess Heavy Lifter), a new commercial heavy-lift neutrally-buoyant rotorcraft designed to address the limitations and expense of transporting equipment and materials in remote regions. Boeing has received the first increment of a multiyear contract from SkyHook to develop the new aircraft.

A helium-filled envelope is sized to support the weight of the vehicle and fuel without payload. With the empty weight of the aircraft supported by the envelope, the lift generated by four rotors is dedicated solely to lifting the payload, leaving the aircraft neutrally buoyant. The JHL-40’s capacity is approximately twice that of the current largest vertical lift (the MI-26 helicopter).

The SkyHook JHL-40 aircraft will be capable of lifting a 40-ton (80,000 lbs, 36,250 kg) sling load and transporting it up to 200 miles at a speed of 70 knots without refueling in harsh environments such as the Canadian Arctic and Alaska. Currently, conventional land and water transportation methods in these undeveloped regions are inadequate, unreliable and costly. With its lifting capacity and range, the SkyHook JHL-40 aircraft changes that for a variety of industries around the world.

Ducted propellers deliver the 70 kt speed, and enable maneuvering, positioning, and station-keeping ability.

SkyHook secured the patent for this neutrally buoyant aircraft and approached Boeing with the opportunity to develop and build the system. We conducted a feasibility study and decided this opportunity is a perfect fit for Advanced Systems’ technical capabilities.

—Pat Donnelly, director of Advanced Rotorcraft Systems for Boeing

The JHL-40 mitigates the impact of building new roadways in remote areas, and Skyhook is expected to reduce the carbon footprint of the industrial projects it supports.

Companies have suggested this new technology will enable them to modify their current operational strategy and begin working much sooner on projects that were thought to be 15 to 20 years away. This Boeing-SkyHook technology represents an environmentally acceptable solution for these companies' heavy-lift short-haul challenges, and it’s the only way many projects will be able to progress economically.

—Pete Jess, SkyHook president and COO

Boeing is designing and will fabricate two production prototypes of the JHL-40 at its Rotorcraft Systems facility in Ridley Park, Pa. Skyhook will own, maintain, operate and service all JHL-40 aircraft for customers worldwide. The new aircraft will enter commercial service as soon as it is certified by Transport Canada and the US Federal Aviation Administration.


John Taylor

Canadians re-invent the Zeplin.

This should make transport of goods to Canada's north far cheaper and more cost effective.

I hope the aircraft neutrally buoyant weight includes a ballast tank that can easily be emptied and refilled and accepts salt water.


The biggest market for this kind of aircraft could very well be next generation 5 to 10 MW wind turbines. These turbines are currently intended for off-shore deployment mainly because they are so large that transport over land is too costly or simply impossible.

Now if this aircraft is made it suddenly means that it will be possible to build 5 and 10 MW turbines onshore. This aircraft could be used both to transport wind turbine wings (60 to 75 meters long) and to replace the onsite cranes at the onshore construction sites.

This year 25,000 MW of wind turbines is build mainly as 2MW turbines that use large trucks to transport its 40 to 45 meters long wings. In 2011 about 40,000 MW of wind turbines will be installed and many of these could be 5MW turbines. For sure they could use this type of lift to enable onshore construction. I could imagine there is enough work for several of these aircrafts to work non-stop for the wind power industry by 2011.


Whoa! Do we really want to put the Ice Road Truckers out work? That's a good show too!


a standard 40ft container is about 32k kg.. but those are heavy since they are made to be stacked.. I'm sure they will use specialized containers for this ship.

No details on how it is made, is it rigid like a zeppelin or a bag design like we see floating around football games?

Rigid design makes covering the surface with solar cells interesting.

The famous Hindenburg could carry 50 passengers and had a lift of 10,000kg.


Why not build-in a good measure of positive lift? It seems wasteful to require so much power for this purpose. A safety system could easily be encorporated to prevent accidental, uncontrolled escape.


As the envelope consists of helium-filled balloons, it's a great insulator. The interior could be used as a normal hot-air balloon. The extra insulation will make it more efficient. Heating can be done by a heat-pump using solar energy with thin-film solar cell covers on the roof of the balloon. The huge area of the balloon should provide enough power to do most of the job.

Hybrid fan

This seems like just the thing for supporting arctic drilling rigs. Off-shore too! Norway and Sweden may buy a couple.


I see clearcutting forests without any roads left behind as evidence.


Now THAT is a material science challenge: make thin film PV panels that would be able to contain H. Whatever H leaks out could be replenished by electrolysis.

Agreed about the wind turbines. I would like to add that this should significantly reduce the cost of wind power as transport currently comprises ~1/3 of the initial cost of installation. Better sites can now be used as well.

Not too long ago I was driving through West Virginia. I witnessed the effects of mountain top removal mining and thought: "surely people would rather have turbines on top of the mountain than see the mountain torn down." The problem, of course, is getting the turbine up the mountain. This modified dirigible takes care of that problem.


this system might help to end clear cut logging. Seems to me like it could work like advanced horse logging - just take the big ones - get the best trees in a larger area instead of taking everything including a bunch of stuff you don't really want. I think clear cutting mostly happens now because so much heavy equipment is on the ground that they just bulldoze everything.


Hi Henrik & JC....Your ideas of continuous operations & bigger lift capability probably cannot be obtained. The only thing that is making neutral buoyancy operations possible are the ability to weather-forecast better than decades previously. Bad weather must force SkyHook to protective hangers, specially if those protective hangers could be 1 or 2 hours flight-time away.


I also don't understand the reason for "neutral buoyancy" Obviously lifting the load is the reason they are limited to 200 mile range. Why not make the entire ship including the load neutral?


If not for neutral buoyancy, the whole thing would float away like, um, a balloon. ;)

Reality Czech
Why not build-in a good measure of positive lift?
Very hard to control for landing.
As the envelope consists of helium-filled balloons, it's a great insulator.
Helium is a superb conductor of heat.
Heating can be done by a heat-pump using solar energy with thin-film solar cell covers on the roof of the balloon.
All of those things add weight. Waste heat from the engines is far easier, cheaper and lighter to use.

The big problem with hot-air systems is the slow cooling rate. When a load is dropped, the lift needs to decrease quickly. Ballast may be a better option.

Obviously lifting the load is the reason they are limited to 200 mile range. Why not make the entire ship including the load neutral?
There may be structural or hangaring issues which limit the envelope size and total lift. A positively-buoyant vehicle of the same envelope size would carry less.


How about adding an extra big Helium baloon on top of this, by attaching it with 4+ strong ropes on loading location.
The size/lift of the extra baloon to be such to (almost) compensate (neutralize) the load attached.
Then at delivery site remove the extra baloon, deflate it, save/compress helium (it's not cheap) and ship it all back.
By using standardized load size (or adding a balast load sometimes, as needed), one or two sizes of extra baloon could greatly reduce transportation / fuel costs, and increase range.
The downside of this solution would be if the load cable snaps, load drops, then everything would fly upwards uncontrollably. But by having a possibility to quickly (or slowly) deflate the extra baloon, the situation could be easily remedied.
The design/shape of the extra baloon should be such, that when (in a rare emargency) deflated in flight, it stays firmly fixed on top, and does not touch a propeler.


Problem for most of the upgrade suggestion is the area of operation. In Canadian Arctic and Alaska - weather is bad 9 months out of the year. Solar would add weight without efficient energy. Wind turbine heavy lifting seems more plausible.

Henry Gibson

The idea of using a heat pump to adjust boyancy deserves to be investigated. Many people only remember the Hindenburg and not its predecessor(s) The Graf Zeppelin (etc.) that made many trips over several years (1928-1937) without burning the hydrogen that it was filled with. Storms have been far more dangerous than hydrogen for airships. Several semi-Zeppelins are now in service and are also neutral boyancy. Propellors can adapt to boyancy shifts faster than balast dropping or venting and without the loss of lifting gas. Aluminized polymers can reduce gas leaking but may be a fire hazzard.

One dirigible was build with an outer skin of thin aluminum plates riveted together. Perhaps used beer cans could be flattened and used again now.

The founder of AC propulsion built a small UAV that used solar cells to stay in the air continuously. Neutral buoyancy would have helped him out a lot.

The large building built for a super large lifting dirigible has been turned into a park. A small Canadian airplane was powered by a RADAR beam, and such technology could be used to power the skyhooks(with backup generators on board). It has long been proposed to send power to the earth from solar collecting sattelites this way. Why not do it in the reverse. Passenger aircraft on heavily used routes could be supplied with power with a chain of a few RADAR transmitters. It is also possible to refuel a small aircraft without landing it, and this could be done more easily for the Skyhooks. Hydrogen could be generated from calcium hydride and balast water to fill a lifting blimp on top away from the people and after the lift was over it could be vented.

Ice road trucking companies should lay railroad tracks on the roads and use modified trucks on them that can also run on regular roads. Special grades and ballasting are unnecessary, and the rails would be bolted directly to metal crossties.

How much fuel would be saved if freighter aircraft were filled with hydrogen or helium to reduce the weight. Very large tethered ballons could lift aircraft to thousands of feet to save takeoff fuel. A lot of helium is being wasted where hydrogen would serve as well. Helium could be stored forever in depleted oilfields. Helium is mostly the product of decayed Uranium. If there is a lot of helium in your natural gas a large deposit of Uranium is likely nearby. Hydrogen is not the hazzard that people think that it is in balloons or blimps, but it is too expensive to make and handle for operating cars. ...HG...


"Canadians re-invent the Zeplin."
Actually some Germans tried that years ago ("Cargolifter"). At some point they went bankrupt. Neither the state nor shareholders were willing to pay more money.


Cargolifter AG would probably not have gone bankrupt with todays oil prices. Putting passenger terminals in high rise office and apartment buildings would be a great savings in additition to adding service to areas where rail service is maxed out with freight shipments or nonexeistant.


Uh, who thought of using this to build wind turbines? Would you try to fly a giant balloon in a region with consistent heavy wind??

[q->t to email]



How else would you propose we put turbines at the tops of mountains (those are excellent sites btw)? The winds would be no stronger than those experienced at cruising altitude.

For long range transport, how about flying up to 30,000 feet and using the jet stream. 300 mph dirigible baby :)

Would it be possible to place four airships high above the clouds, a few miles appart, with a giant 'thin-film solar carpet' between them (and some little baloons under the carpet to help levitation). At that altitude there's no dust, no rain, no clouds, always sunshine (with a lot of energy-rich UV-C). I only wonder if there are regions where there is also controlable wind. The energy could be beamed downward or transported via cables.
Too much sci-fi ?



Lockheed Martin is already working on your idea, but for military surveylance, weather, etc.

Beaming down energy (or digital TV / WiMax?) might be other applications.


silly wind mills we take them to the top of the mountion just put a bulldoser in front pulling and one behind pushing not a big deal we have done quite a few of them this way than lift it with a crain just a new way to spend investers cash what next


This system could eventually allow for the installation of turbines higher up on mountain ranges that are currently inaccessible via conventional has a lot of other potential applications....

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