Straightline Aviation has signed a deal with Lockheed Martin's Hybrid Enterprises to purchase the hybrid airships. At a deal value of $480m (£333.93m, €425m), the British company is set to buy 12 of Lockheed's airships which are part-airship, part-aircraft, part-helicopter and part-hovercraft.
The Wolverhampton-based company is led by its chief executive Mike Kendrick, who for 16 years ran Sir Richard Branson's Airship and Balloon Company. The other two founders of the company are also former Virgin Group colleagues. It is now set to become the world's first company to purchase and run a fleet of Lockheed's hybrid airships.
Powered by four diesel engines, these airships that are 280 foot long have the ability to turn 120 degrees allowing for vertical take-off. These airships are filled with helium and are fitted with four hovercraft-style landing pads which allow for standing down on land, ice or water without being tied to the ground like the older generation airships.
Lockheed Martin said these could fly up to 1,400 miles and carry up to 19 passengers and 20 tonnes of cargo. The American global aerospace and defence company added that they were eight times more efficient than heavy-lift helicopters and used lesser fuel than a conventional aircraft, allowing it to cover larger distances without refuelling.
Kendrick opined: "It is an aviation milestone. [It will] dramatically change the way cargo is moved around the world." He added that the airships' ability to move heavy goods and equipment to locations which are remote made it an attractive business option.
The chief executive claimed that his company had already received interest from an Alaskan oil and gas company which is reported to have built temporary airports costing millions to move people and materials to its drill sites. He added that his company was planning to take delivery of its first airship in 2017.