You're looking at that picture of bulbous airships descending on an arctic oil rig and we know what you're thinking. Stick with us.
What if fuel arrived in remote Alaska villages by blimp instead of barge?
What if you didn't need to build ice roads to distant oil and gas projects because you could haul your heavy equipment slung beneath a giant airship?
Those are some of the ideas being pitched a two-day meeting called "Cargo Airships for Northern Operations" that began Wednesday at the University of Alaska Anchorage. It's hard to say how pie-in-the-sky they are -- colossal, expensive ideas have an uneven history in Alaska -- but Pete Worden, director for NASA's Ames Research Center in California is a believer.
"By the end of this decade there will be a reasonable number of air ships -- maybe tens, maybe hundreds, used in many places in the U.S., particularly Alaska," said Worden, a speaker at the conference. If so, it would be a stunning resurrection for a flavor of air travel that died more than 70 years ago with the explosion of the Hindenburg and the emergence of jet travel. Now researchers and entrepreneurs see a new life for dirigibles as heavy cargo haulers serving far-flung villages and worksites in Alaska and Canada.
For now, many questions remain. Among the hurdles: Building a cost-effective airship tough enough to defy Alaska's extreme cold and winds. And with so few modern airships in circulation, it's hard to say whether developing new models will pay off for investors.
Still, some companies visiting Alaska this week are already betting on an airship Renaissance.
England-based Hybrid Air Vehicles recently announced an agreement to sell a fleet of hybrid, land-anywhere vessels to Discovery Air Innovations of Canada.
The first ship would be more than 340 feet long and capable of hauling 50 tons, said Stephen "Fig" Newton, business development director for Discovery Air.
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