On Monday, December 19, 2011, the first Manitoba-built airship was introduced to the public. The 80-foot behemoth was built by Buoyant Aircraft Systems International (BASI) and ISO Polar, a non-profit research institute that was founded in March 2005 to encourage the development of airship technology for sustainable transportation and logistics applications in the North.
Barry Prentice, president and CEO of BASI, said: “Since 2001, I have been researching the potential to use a modern generation of transport airships as a means to deal with the logistical challenges of northern Canada. Because the lift is free, airships do not consume much fuel and the economic competitiveness of airships is growing.” Prentice is professor of supply chain management at the I.H. Asper School of Business and the former director of the Transport Institute at the University of Manitoba.
“This project shows how innovators at the University collaborate with our partners to find solutions to challenges faced in this province and throughout the globe,” said University of Manitoba president and vice-chancellor David Barnard. “It seeks to find a better, safer and more affordable way to get food and other consumer goods to the North.”
“We’re happy to contribute our applied research expertise in aerospace to the airship project team,” said Ken Webb, vice-president, academic & research for Red River College. “This will be a great opportunity for our staff and students to gain hands-on experience working with this emerging technology that holds so much promise for the development of Canada’s North.”
“We are interested in the potential of airships to transport supplies and materials to our northern facilities and also to service construction projects in remote areas,” said Manitoba Hydro president and CEO Bob Brennan. Manitoba Hydro contributed to the purchase of helium for the airship.
Prentice explained that the difficult living conditions of the remote communities in the North can be directly related to the high cost of transportation. Food prices in Island Lake, Manitoba, for example, are two to three times higher than those in Winnipeg. Climate change is beginning to shorten the length of the ice road season, and as this trend continues ice roads are becoming less economic to construct. Finally, advances in materials, control systems, propulsion and design had eliminated all the technical problems that had held back buoyant aircraft systems and airships are becoming more appealing as a solution to many transportation problems.
The fins, gondola and envelope of the airship were constructed at Red River College during the summer of 2011. Subsequently, all materials were moved to the University of Manitoba to complete the final seam of the envelope, the fins, nose cone and landing gear. Following final assembly inside the EITC Atrium at the University of Manitoba, the airship (designated the MB80), will be taken to the BASI hangar at St. Andrews Airport just outside Winnipeg to begin flight tests.
To best determine if the airship is feasible as a northern workhorse, BASI will undertake a research program on cold weather operations, ballast exchange, robotic flight, electrical propulsion and fuel cells.
Prentice noted: “The airship industry will need many engineers and technicians, as well as pilots and ground crews as the technology becomes accepted and expands. It is our hope that Manitoba can be the centre of this educational and research activity because it will help attract other airship companies to establish a presence in the Province of Manitoba.”
He added: “Airships may seem to come from the past, but they represent the future.”
As a means of stimulating this activity, BASI has joined in a Memorandum of Understanding with Red River College and the University of Manitoba.
For more information, contact Barry Prentice at: 204-474-9766 or email: Barry_Prentice@UManitoba.ca