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Sky Whale Manitoba

January 1, 2012 by staff 

Sky Whale ManitobaSky Whale Manitoba, The crisis in Attawapiskat has put the issue of getting supplies to remote northern communities to the forefront. Right now, most of the supplies have to be flown in or transported along ice roads in the couple months a year rivers and lakes are frozen, but a University of Manitoba professor and his team may have a solution to transport goods in a less expensive manner and more environmentally-friendly manner.

Dr. Barry Prentice unveiled a 25-metre long airship called Giizhigo-Misameg in Oji-Cree or Sky Whale in English last week for the first time at the University of Manitoba’s engineering school.

“I have been researching and advocating for airships for over 20 years, and I have never given up trying to keep attention on this topic because I have never given up on the future of the north,” said Prentice, a professor at the Asper School of Business who specializes in supply chain management, to the Winnipeg Free Press.

This ship will not carry large volumes of freight to the north, but it has been built as a research vessel to study construction and operation of airships in colder weather. The Giizhigo-Misameg runs without using fossil fuels and it’s currently being filled with air and helium, but researchers may fill it with hydrogen in the future if helium gets too expensive. Even though hydrogen caused the Hindenburg to burst into flames, Prentice told CBC people are much better at handling the materials now and the ship will be safe.

He continued to say “There hasn’t really been a demand for it, so nobody’s really worked on engineering an airship that’ll tolerate cold temperatures so the rubber doesn’t stick to the door when you’re trying to open it and you can start it at -40 below.”

The airship is built by Buoyant Aircraft Systems International and ISO Polar, a non-profit research institute. Red River College and Manitoba Hydro are also partners in the project.

“We have work to do to make transport airships robust enough to fly year-round in Canadian weather,” said Prentice to the Free Press. “We also need to perfect cargo-ballast exchange systems, docking and other activities that are not so easy at 35 below.”

While demand has been low in the past, it appears to be ramping up. A company based in Yellowknife is purchasing 10 models from a British company that will haul up to 50 tonnes of supplies. The U.S. military is spending $1 billion on airships for surveillance and transport and Lockheed Martin is working on them for military and civilian uses.

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