09 May 2018

When timber takes to the air !

France's national forestry agency, ONF, will soon be set free from its confinement to accessible forests. With the giant airship developed by French company Flying Whales, forest exploitation is banking on innovation to become more efficient.

One of the big constraints inherent to France’s forest cover is the difficulty of accessing many highland tracts. As a result, a significant portion of the country’s timber resources go unused. This difficulty will soon be lessened thanks to the new French start-up’s LCA60T project.


This high capacity aircraft can transport up to 60 tonnes of material to the sawmill from any felling area, with no need for roads or runways.

Our airship is roughly 140 metres long. It has a rigid structure enabling a powerful drive unit to be installed. Loading and unloading will not take place at ground level but via a materials hoist, so there is no place it cannot operate

 explains company boss Sebastien Bougon.
If we then consider that this airship will consume only a third of the fuel of a helicopter assigned to the same task while carrying 20 times the load, this transport solution is set to revolutionize forest exploitation.


Lending its support to the project right from the outset, the ONF very soon saw the opportunities afforded by the LCA60T for reinvigorating French forest exploitation without disrupting lumberjacks’ work methods. As things stand, Flying Whales includes among its shareholders the ONF, several French aerospace leaders,  the Chinese national aerospace group AVIC, and the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. Moreover, it has just received financial support from the BPI to the tune of €25 million.
Engineering for the LCA60T programme should be completed by the end of 2019, with a first flight scheduled for 2021. The company is planning to make 15 to 20 units per year, targeting not only the forest exploitation market but also the transportation of special equipment like wind turbine blades.
 

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