Jay Godsall, founder and chief executive of Toronto-based Solar Ship had what he, and just about everyone agreed, was a crazy idea. A hybrid airship with helium filled wings and topped with solar cells that power its battery-assisted motors. The ship combines the static lift of a blimp and the aerodynamic lift of a conventional plane. Crazy alright. So crazy that it makes perfect sense.
The Solar Ships require only short take off and landing strips and therefore can go where other aircraft can’t. Combined with the ability to carry heavy payloads over extremely long distances mean that the Solar Ship has a number of new applications including disaster relief, exploration and field research, remote cargo delivery, linking remote communities, and military applications.
Solar Ship now has a fleet of three prototype aircraft. The smallest ship, Caracal, is named after a small, agile, African jungle cat, that Solar Ship likens it to a 4×4 — often the only way to get around in remote regions where roads are a rarity. The Caracal can carry up to 750 kg, has a max range of 2,500 km, a max speed of 120 km and needs just 100m to take off fully loaded.
The Chui, Swahili for leopard, is the Solar Ship equivalent to the pickup. The Chui can carry up to 2500 kg, has a max range of 5,000 km, a max speed of 100 km and needs just 100m to take off fully loaded. Solar Ship’s biggest aircraft, Nanuq, takes its name from the Inuktitut word for Polar Bear. The Nanuq boasts a payload of 30 tons, has a max range of 6,000 km, a max speed of 120 km and needs 200m to take off fully loaded.
Solar Ship said on its blog it hopes make as one of its first missions delivery of a small medical package to Africa. Applications like this could be very helpful to humanity, points out the Toronto Star, for scenarios such as when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti last year. Delivery of much needed supplies could have perhaps been faster made aboard a platform such as this.