luke pirie

Marketing Manager | Design Generalist | Otago University Designer of the Year 2008.

OMOCO Freight Airship

OMOCO Freight Airship Blueprint

OMOCO Freight Airship Blueprint


The OMoCo project primarily focuses on reducing congestion and pollution by researching alternative transport systems and infrastructure. OMoCo is a product of the University of Otago’s Design Studies Department. Under the supervision of Andrew Wallace, the current project for 2008 is to develop a conceptual solution to congestion and other problems related to contemporary freight, including container shipping, semi-trailer freight and courier delivery.


When thinking of a basis for our project we studied and considered all the previous OMoCo research and the different approaches they took. With such creative transport concepts existing already, we knew we’d have to really push the boundaries and come up with something different. We thought about products to assist the delivery person, who in contemporary freight systems is the final step in transporting goods. We brainstormed ideas from assisting exoskeletons and automated tube delivery, to ideas where the final delivery is carried out by independent, flying drones. It occurred to us that in order to make door-to-door deliveries, the human element of handling the final delivery is still necessary and that our ideas were too far fetched for modern technology or were effectively just reinventing the courier van.

We decided to target a problem that lay further up the supply chain. With such a vast amount of freight being moved by semi-trailer trucks, it made sense to seek an alternative to this part of the freighting system. During peak traffic times semi-trailers clog the on and off ramps around city centers creating congestion around the city. We are aware that congestion caused by private vehicles is a huge issue although it is not an issue directly addressed in this freight concept.Large trucks and semi-trailers are often highly problematic in traffic congestion.

Large trucks and semi-trailers are often highly problematic in traffic congestion.

Large trucks and semi-trailers are often highly problematic in traffic congestion.


Studies into the flow of commodities around the U.S. state of New Jersey suggest that almost 75% of all goods movement is by semi-trailer trucks. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 95% of all trips taken by trucks are less than 200 miles. The trucks being driven today all give off large amounts of combustion emissions. Trucks contribute hugely to the amount of congestion on the roadways all over the world. All it takes is a trip to a heavily industrialised city to see that there are large freight trucks dominating the roads.

The amount of road degradation caused by a single semi-trailer truck is the equivalent of 1000+ passenger cars. It is not hard to imagine how quickly this ends up in extensive road upkeep and repairs.

Semi-trailer trucks are also subject to the dangers of automobile accidents. Not only does this greatly slow down the flow of traffic but it endangers the lives of commuters. By removing this stage of freight from the roads and placing it in the air, we are removing many of the costs and risks associated with internal combustion vehicles. Semi-trailers also require excessive tires, petroleum and maintenance due to the vast quantity of vehicles.

Removing semi-trailers would make traffic flow better, increasing faster and more reliable travel times for people in and around the Central Business District. When trying to envision a solution that fit into the existing infrastructure of roadways and motor vehicles, we encountered numerous problems. These included intersections, on and off ramps and the diversity of infrastructure from city to city and country to country. Introducing dedicated laneways or rails to transport goods means far too much new construction; costly road expansions, countless miles of railway lines and upkeep costs. Every idea we had required far too much new infrastructure being introduced to be a feasible alternative, that is until we considered leaving the roads altogether.

The air above the roads provides an almost limitless number of pathways. If you can transport goods from point to point as the crow flies, then congestion is reduced to a negligible level. The problem is now providing a safe, efficient vehicle that travels through the air and is capable of carrying enough cargo to make it a viable alternative to semi-trailer trucking.


Due to the enormity of the freighting system we had to research many different features of freighting and take into consideration the effects our solution would have on the existing infrastructure. Looking at past and present freighting systems for land, sea and air freight enabled us to visualise how our concept could be integrated easily into a system now or in the near future.

Contemporary hybrid airships are today’s answer to yesterdays “zeppelins”. Since the tragic events of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, airships have seen little development. It wasn’t only this disaster that led to the fall of the airship, but also the economic and political stresses relating to World War 2.

Traditional airships were truly lighter-than-air vehicles, with a massive envelope of helium displacing more weight of air than the entire weight of the vehicle and cargo included, thus gaining all lift from the buoyancy of helium. This is known as aerostatic lift.

The above image shows the loading of a European Space Agency’s research laboratory onto an Airbus.

The above image shows the loading of a European Space Agency’s research laboratory onto an Airbus.

In more recent times, new technology and the pressures of environmental concerns over internal combustion engines has led to an increased interest in airships. Jet powered Super Transporters like the Airbus A300-600ST has a large door above their cockpit, which allows anything that can fit in the plane to fit in the cargo bay. This model can hold around 47 tons, which is not a sufficient amount for a complete freighting alternative to semi-trailers. We estimate the hybrid airship would need to carry at least 160 tons to replace the current amount of semi-trailers on the road. Hybrid airships gain some of their lift from the buoyant properties of helium, along with the use of vectored thrust from ducted fans, turboprops, rotor blades and aerodynamic lift from airflow over the wings. Although there are no hybrid airships in production, there have been several prototypes over the last few decades. The most modern and most notable would include Lockheed- Martins P-791, the Aeroscraft from Aeros, the Dynalifter from Ohio Airships and Hybrid Airship Corporations SkyCat, which took the project over from the now defunct Advanced Technologies Groups.the old zeppelin airships and the modern hybrid airship is in the different way they maintain lift.”

The above image shows the shear size and  shape of the Zeppelin of the 20th Century.

The above image shows the shear size and
shape of the Zeppelin of the 20th Century.

The above image details the mechanics of a Turboprop which the Omoco Airship may use.

The above image details the mechanics of a Turboprop which the Omoco Airship may use.

Flight Process

The hybrid airship design we’re proposing, mixes it’s levels of aerodynamic lift, aerostatic lift and vectored thrust in different proportions than in aforementioned hybrid airship designs. In shrinking the size of the helium envelope and thus reducing the amount of aerostatic lift, an increase in another type of lift is needed.

Powerful, vectored thrust directed downwards from ducted fans on the underside, coupled with the aerostatic lift will provide the lift needed to get the airship into the sky. Vectored thrust from the rear rotors will then provide the horizontal movement needed to achieve the aerodynamic lift via the wings. The airship would have a rigid outer shell.

This would aid in the crafts aerodynamics and provide extra stability against strong wind gusts. The above image shows the proposed size of the cargo bay relative to the entire airship. We estimate that the Omoco Macro Airships would carry a maximum load of 200 tons. The smaller Micro Airships would carry 80 tons.

Airship 1

Airship 1

In order to gain the maximum amount of dynamic lift the Omoco Airships would have wings combined with rear rotors. These rotors require further research before a finalised decision can be made. The above image depicts how the ducted fans could be positioned underneath the cargo bay. This would aid take-off to create the maximum possible lift under the heaviest part of the craft. The picture above shows how the vectored thrust would affect the movement of the Omoco Airship.

Airship 2

Airship 2


While the hybrid airship is the innovative focus of the Omoco Freighting system, it is just part of a much larger, complex system.

The current freight process involves using multiple freight hubs or break bulks, as the primary method of moving goods. Large amounts of goods are transported at once commonly on a container ship or airplane. This cargo is then divided into smaller loads and loaded onto semi-trailer trucks that transport it to other depots (break bulks). From here the loads are divided again into smaller trucks and courier vans to be delivered to homes and businesses. This process also happens in reverse, with courier pickups, or individuals dropping items off at designated pickup points. Vans or trucks pick up this cargo and take it to a large depot to be redistributed.

This current method will still be employed, however different vehicles will be employed in the transportation of goods. The main elements at work in the Omoco Freight system are the vehicle, the depots, the relationship between the two and the final delivery service.


The effectiveness of existing hybrid airships such as the Dynalifter and the SkyFreighter will be limited to heavy, long distance freight like that of an intercontinental container ship. The largest version of the Omoco hybrid airship will be referred to as the ‘Macro’ Airship. The Macro airship will be so large that it will not feature vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities because this would reduce its payload. Therefore the Macro airship will use airports and seaports to carry out intercontinental freight. The smaller hybrid ‘micro’ airships will use VTOL due to the landing space on depots. A small landing pad is therefore necessary to land. The landing pad will be small in comparison to that of a jet airplane. The Dynalifter requires a runway only 5 times the length of the vehicle (180m) to takeoff and land. A facility large enough to support the landed freighter would be best situated at existing freight distribution centers like airports and seaports. The mainport depot will operate in tandem with smaller depots positioned in strategic locations around a city.

Landing Pads

Landing Pads


The size of the hybrid airships will limit where they can land and therefore where they can unload their goods. After looking at available space in urban areas, few viable options have presented themselves. The space above highways is essentially unused and we suggest utilising these large spaces as landing pads for the intra-city hybrid airships. By placing these new depots on top of existing arterial roadways, the freighted goods are feeding straight into the transport stream. Cargo goods will be organised and prioritised by the depot team and robotics. A warehouse will be constructed to prevent goods from being damaged by weather conditions and for overnight storage. These depots will essentially become satellite distribution centers, interconnected through aerial pathways.

This is a geographical overveiw of the areas covered by each major roadport.

This is a geographical overveiw of the areas covered by each major roadport.

Landing Process

With large quantities of goods arriving in these locations daily, they provide the first step in the redistribution of freight. For current airships and blimps, landing and mooring is an arduous task involving large ground crews and a lot of time. Even when landed, strong crosswinds may be enough to break the mooring tethers and crash the airship. The Omoco Intra-city hybrid airship avoids this threat. The Intra-city hybrid airship does this by not actually being lighter-than- air. This is because the Omoco airships use turbines to create lift rather than relying solely upon helium. These turbines are also used to steady the landing process. During the landing process, helium is recompressed and the airship envelopes are filled with air. With the amount of helium occupying the envelopes diminishing, the amount of aerostatic lift decreases and the airship descends. As the airship approaches the landing pad, the speed will decrease, causing the aerodynamic lift to cease. A mooring winch attached to the front and rear of the airship lowers an “anchor” onto the landing pad, which is then secured by automated grappling technology. As the airship descends, the winch winds tight so that when it lands it is also firmly secured.

The image below shows a simple  communication between the Omoco hybrid  airship, a satellite and courier van.

The image below shows a simple
communication between the Omoco hybrid
airship, a satellite and courier van.

On Ramp

To get courier vans onto the elevated landing platform an on ramp is required. Each elevated landing platform has to be specially designed to flow with the highway running under it. To prevent non-personal and security threats from driving onto the on ramp a security booth will be set up, and security checks will be required.

Schematic depots and off ramps on arterial routes.

Schematic depots and off ramps on arterial routes.

Future Goals

In the next 6 months the Omoco team will carry out further research and development to refine this concept into a truly viable replacement to the semi-trailer. Time constraints thus far have inhibited the projects development but with more time, in- depth detailing, modeling and testing will be possible. Beyond the next 6 months we will actively collaborate with other people interested in the Omoco freight system and acquire funding for prototyping.

In order to finalise a working prototype further research and development into lighter and more efficient technology will be required. Technology such as rotors and turbines are still relatively heavy, not to mention they contain many metal parts. One of the ideas we are currently researching is solar powered electric ducted fans. Another facet of the airships technology will be the material containing the helium. This material will need to be ‘air tight’ to minimise the amount of helium lost. One material we are interested in for protecting the helium pockets is Kevlar. Kevlar is a light, strong synthetic material which can withstand bullets.

The Omoco Airships provide huge marketing possibilities for large businesses and conglomerates.

The Omoco Airships provide huge marketing possibilities for large businesses and conglomerates.

The huge marketing potential the airships will provide will be one way the Omoco freight system will acquire funding. Currently blimps predominantly control the niche advertising market of the skies. We believe that this medium for marketing will be highly sought after by large companies and that its revenue could be used to offset the maintenance costs of the airships. In the future fierce competition for public space marketing would fuel major demand for airship advertising space. With the possibility of a dozen airships freighting around any given city at any given time, the amount of possible revenue could be huge.

The image above shows how the Omoco Freight Concept might operate in the future.

The image above shows how the Omoco Freight Concept might operate in the future.

In the future we plan to develop our loading and unloading system. The image to the right details how forklifts might operate within an inner city depot. Various ways of organising the containers have been considered. The current methods being developed are colour coded zones, stacks, racks and layouts. Looking a little further into the future, we think it may be possible that much smaller airships could have the ability to land in dense inner city streets. This would mean far less travel time for courier vans, as well as the numerous offsets that would come with needing less courier vehicles on the roads.






Airships of the Future HAC

Truck volume and flow

Ron Hochstetler interview Graf Zeppelin

Turboprop Diagram Hybrid Airship Wiki


This entry was posted on January 8, 2011 by in 3-D Modelling, Interaction Design.

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