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American aerosplace giant Lockheed Martin recently announced that it has secured a letter of intent to sell 12 hybrid airships to Straightline Aviation for about $480 million (U.S.). The formal purchase agreement is in the process of being finalized.

If the deal goes through, it will make Straightline the first customer to purchase Lockheed Martin’s LMH-1 dirigible, a blimp-like 100-metre airship. The LMH-1 is designed to transport equipment and personnel to remote locations such as Canada’s North.

Most of Straightline’s prospective customers are in the resource extraction industry, although the technology could be used for disaster relief and other humanitarian purposes as well. Airships provide the potential for not only cutting down on transportation costs but also reducing corresponding emissions, with the ability to transport up to 20 tons of cargo at a time.

This is the first commercial product to come out of Skunk Works, the research division of Lockheed Martin responsible for developing famous technologies such as the Blackbird and Stealth Fighters. The company has spent decades and more than $100 million related to the LMH-1.

One purported benefit of the LMH-1 is its heaviness relative to other airships. Traditional blimps need to be anchored to the surface in order to stay still, whereas the Lockheed Martin model can hover over the same surface for extended periods of time.

Other manufacturers are attempting to break into the hybrid airship market as well, including U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles and rival American firm Worldwide Aeros.

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