Aerial-crane company is developing an airship to complement helicopter operations.

SkyLifter Ltd. intends to blend lighter-than-air technology with green energy in its new aerial crane. The Halesowen, England–based company claims the eponymous airship, which is still under development, offers a higher lift capacity than most helicopters at a much lower operating cost.

The aircraft’s design consists of a symmetrical fabric discus-shaped (lenticular) balloon filled with gas and a control unit suspended below via a system of evenly distributed cables. The control unit’s four electric engines, which are continuously powered by solar panels placed across the balloon, drive propulsion and the load hook.

Flexible and Powerful
Because of the SkyLifter’s symmetrical design and four evenly spaced engines, the aircraft can fly omnidirectionally. It is being designed to support projects that demand extreme precision, which will be facilitated by the airship’s center of gravity, located far below the center of buoyancy. This arrangement creates high stability that, combined with the four engines, allows the ship to provide precision placement. Lift loads are expected to range from greater than 20 MT (metric tons) to 25 MT with speeds up to 45 kt.

The air crane’s design is ideal for operations in remote or congested areas where traditional land cranes or helicopters may have difficulty setting up logistical bases or operating due to certain regulations.

Ultimately, the SkyLifter could be operated either with a pilot on board or remotely. The aircraft is also being engineered to operate in winds up to the maximum allowed for helicopter longline and ground crane operations.

ISO Helicopter Operator Partners
Jeremy Fitton, managing director of SkyLifter Ltd., says the aircraft isn’t designed to compete directly with helicopters; rather, he says, it’s an ideal addition for helicopter operators to expand their capabilities and profits.

“The SkyLifter is designed to lift loads beyond the capability of most helicopters, yet it will be significantly less expensive to operate,” Fitton says. “We see [it] as a complement to a helicopter operator’s fleet, giving them the opportunity to offer additional tools to complete the job with much higher profit margins. We want to take an industry that uses high-margin land-based equipment and bring that work to vertical lift operators.”

Unveiled at HAI HELI-EXPO 2022, the SkyLifter is currently in the prototype design stage. Demonstration flights of a smaller version are anticipated to take place in 2023. After the prototype is proven, the company plans to create and certify the full-size version through existing lighter-than-air/airship regulations under EASA (European Union Aviation Safety Agency) and the FAA. In the meantime, the company is actively seeking helicopter operators interested in partnering to trial the aircraft in the field.

Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer

Jen Boyer is the principal of her own firm, Flying Penguin Communications. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and holds commercial, instrument, flight instructor, and instrument instructor ratings in helicopters and a private rating in airplanes. She has worked as a professional journalist and marketing communicator in the aviation industry since the early 1990s.