Military, Products

Rotorcraft Report: Firms Pursue "Game-Changing" Commercial Heavy Lifter

By Staff Writer | August 1, 2008
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A small Canadian firm aims to transform vertical heavy-lift with a blimp-helicopter capable of carrying 40 tons and staying aloft in almost all emergency conditions.

Calgary, Alberta-based Jessco Logistics’ chief, Peter Jess, has set up SkyHook International to develop the neutrally buoyant combination of a helium blimp, CH-47 Chinook rotor systems and additional propulsion systems. Jess hired Boeing Advanced Rotorcraft Systems to develop a fieldable derivative of his patent for the aircraft.


Boeing and a small team of subcontractors have been working on the project for more than a year; they plan to freeze the design of the Jess Heavy Lifter 40 (JHL-40) by October. The program to develop, certify and produce two prototypes is expected to take five years. SkyHook and Boeing see an initial market for 50-60 aircraft, targeted at first for Arctic operations.

Jess’ idea, born 25 years ago when he was supporting Arctic oil-exploration operations, is an aircraft to carry loads into regions that today cannot be reached unless roads or rail lines are built into them. The JHL-40 "will take any river, road, railway or shoreline that you can get access to with intermodal freight — containers on a barge, ship, truck or train — and move 200 mi off that without having to build infrastructure." That would open areas to exploration and exploitation by energy, mining and forestry companies that can’t be reached economically.

The aircraft shares its designation with the U.S. Army-led Joint Heavy Lift program to develop a 30-ton-payload aircraft. While that is a coincidence, Jess said, he "certainly does" see military uses for the JHL-40.

The roughly 300-ft-long JHL-40 would use four lifting rotors based on Chinook dynamics and four small propulsion systems. The helium envelope would be sized to lift the weight of the aircraft and its fuel, leaving all of the rotors’ power to lift a load. The goal is to lift 40 tons 175 nm.

Boeing’s SkyHook program manager and chief engineer, Ken Laubsch, said advances in computing power and understanding the dynamic reaction of aircraft will enable his team to overcome the ground resonance and other problems that doomed a similar effort, Piasecki Aircraft’s Helistat, in the mid-1980s. He said the key technical challenge lies in developing a fly-by-wire flight control system to manage the rotors, propulsors and helium envelope.

He touted the safety of the design, saying the helium envelope could keep the aircraft aloft if the rotor systems failed, and the rotors could do so if the envelope failed.

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