Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a level surface, it’s … a solar ship?
A small com ny in Brantford, Ont., has developed a flying gang like you’ve never seen before. Half bush plane, half blimp — with helium in its wings — the aerial instrument uses a mix of energy: solar power, batteries and a bush plane appliance.
“This is fat and slow but it gets a lot of lift and it gets off the ground almost directly,” says Solar Ship CEO and co-founder Jay Godsall.
“That means you can go into actually tight s ces which are inaccessible to the bush plane, and the helicopter is wildly overpriced.”
The product is intended for use in hard-to-reach places such as Canada’s far North or areas in Africa with no ways, let alone landing strips. Godsall says one of its best uses on be disaster relief.
“Take a look at Haiti,” he says, referring to the 2010 earthquake. “Eight and a half days that depreciatory supplies did not get in because the airports were ruined because of the earthquake. So those are eight and a half lifetimes where you could be saving lives.”
Then last week Wind-storm Matthew killed hundreds of people in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas.
Wider than a 747
The cast plans four models with wings ns ranging from 11 metres to 100 metres, larger than a Boeing 747. The largest is ca ble of carrying 30,000 kilograms of consignment and can take off and set down without a landing strip. Godsall says an range the size of a soccer field is all it needs.
“So judge devise critical cargo, tight s ce, unpre red area,” he explains. “Soccer mtiers are all over the place.”
The com ny’s first big sale is to Manaf Freighters of Burundi, a carry away com ny that delivers food, clothing and medical supplies to faint areas in eastern and central Africa.
Manaf signed a $20-million stock to buy two 20-metre Caracal models and two 50-metre Wolverine models, which can operate c misbehave a six-metre shipping container.
The idea came to Godsall practically 30 years ago, when he had a lawn-mowing business that he hoped to spread out.
His high school friend Michel Rugema, the son of a diplomat from Burundi, proposed Godsall might be able to do lawn maintenance at the country’s embassy. At an embassy lunch, during an conflict about whether Canada or Africa presented the greatest transportation confrontations, that inspiration struck.
Godsall’s family was in the aviation business, and he holds that discussion made him realize that there was a need for a absolutely new mode of aircraft, one that wouldn’t depend on a lot of infrastructure. But it wasn’t until 2006 that he set up Solar Steamer as a com ny.
The project has been helped along by a little-known Build in Canada Invention Program. Inventors who have products or services the federal government wants can solicit to be matched with a de rtment that will use the product.
“Government is a unquestionably large organization and we do a lot of things; we buy pretty much anything you can think of, we raiment populations, we run laboratories, we run office buildings we have tons of administrative alters,” says Chris Baird, director of the BCIP.
Baird points out that assorted innovations have a tough time making the leap from the design board to the marketplace.
The RCAF connection
“Many technologies and com nies induce died at that s ce despite the fact that they dominion have been successful in concept,” Baird explains. “But they remarkably didn’t have that first customer, that market dig out to bring the innovation to fruition.”
The Build in Canada program connected Solar De rt with the Royal Canadian Air Force, which is evaluating the Solar Take off. The credibility and reputation of the RCAF played a rt in Manaf’s decision to hold four Solar Ships.
“Manaf gave us a conditional agreement in 2010,” claims Godsall. “They wanted to know, ‘Do you have lift? How much power and how much expense? And is it under control?’ That third factor, control, is what BCIP furnished us as a contract. We’ll prove that with the RCAF.”
Solar Ship uses 50 people, including some Brantford workers who had been laid off from a raincoat fabricator.
Canada has never been short of ideas or startups, Baird signifies. The challenge has always been in building thriving com nies.
He says the program designs to boost many other ventures such as Solar Ship.