Mention the word airships to just about anyone with an interest in aviation and their first thought will be of the 1937 disaster that saw the hydrogen-filled airship, the Hindenburg explode into flames killing 35 people.
While the concept of airships like the Hindenburg was destroyed following that accident there has been a dedicated group of people over the years who have tried to overcome the hurdles that were inherent with the Hindenburg; and it would seem that the modern version of the airship may just see a rebirth.
A company in England by the name of Hybrid Air Vehicles, which was founded in 2007, have announced that they have won two critical commercial victories. The first is a $517 million contract, along with Northrop Grumman to supply a Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) for the US Army to be deployed in Afghanistan starting in 2012.
The second, and maybe more important, deal is the one where Discovery Air Innovations of Canada will be buying a number the bigger brother to the LEMV that are capable of lifting 50 tons and making way at 100 knots (115 mph). All this and at greatly reduced cost which will be the selling point for Discovery Air Innovations as they plan to provide economical cargo service to the far north of Canada, areas where standard transportation is impossible or costs are extremely high.
While we might consider these as being airships they are in fact more of a hybrid:
These are not the cigar-shaped gas-filled 'balloons' of yesteryear but hi-tech semi-rigid lifting bodies that rely on vectored thrust from onboard engines and the aero-lift from the body shape for up to 40 percent of their lifting capacity with helium providing the rest. In addition, the use of pontoons on the underside of the hull that feature hovercraft-like skirts and driven fans means that that the aircraft can land on earth, concrete or water without ground crew.