The Future of Advanced Air Mobility

Flying Whales Picks Honeywell Generator to Power Hybrid-Electric Airship

Flying Whales this week selected Honeywell’s one-megawatt generator to power its planned giant hybrid-electric airship. The start-up, which is based in France and has a Canadian subsidiary, has been developing its hybrid-electric airship since 2012.

Known as the LCA60T, the blimp-like aircraft is 200 meters (650 feet) long and will be capable of transporting up to 60 tonnes (130,000 pounds) of cargo. Flying Whales has said that the airship will have a maximum range of up to 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), but it will mostly be used for shorter flights of about half that distance.  

The LCA60T, supported by 14 non-pressurized helium cells, will be able to take off and land vertically without the need for costly ground infrastructure. Its hybrid-electric powertrain will integrate Honeywell’s one-megawatt generator with a gear box and a turbine that runs on jet fuel or sustainable aviation fuel. The generator supplies electrical power to the electric engines, which are more efficient and have a lower carbon footprint than traditional combustion engines. 

Announcing the partnership on April 5, Honeywell reported that its one-megawatt generator outperformed expectations in its latest round of ground testing in late 2022. During those recent tests, the generator operated at a power level of 1.06 MVA (1 MW). Honeywell said the test ran continuously at 1,000 kilowatts, which demonstrates a high power density of around 8 kW/kg and an efficiency rate of about 97 percent.

A Honeywell spokesperson told FutureFlight that Flying Whales is the first aircraft developer to commit to using the company's one-megawatt generator. The LCA60T will have a four-megawatt electric powertrain, incorporating four of the generators into each aircraft. 

“Honeywell’s one-megawatt generator is a perfect fit for a transformational aircraft like the LCA60T,” said Dave Marinick, Honeywell’s president of engines and power systems. “Our generator is four times as powerful as any other generator flying today, and at unmatched power density. We believe in creating a more sustainable future for aviation, and our work with Flying Whales is helping bring that future to life.”

Honeywell is developing a megawatt-class turbogenerator.
Honeywell is developing a megawatt-class turbogenerator. (Image: Honeywell)

Flying Whales originally planned to use the LCA60T to transport logged wood away from hard-to-reach rural areas. Now the company is targeting a broader customer base for the aircraft. For example, it could transport heavy and bulky cargo like wind turbines or construction materials. It could also potentially transport rocket parts. ArianeGroup, the parent company of launch provider Arianespace, recently signed a letter of intent with Flying Whales to study whether the LCA60T could be used to transport components for the Ariane 6 rocket at Arianespace’s facilities in French Guiana. 

Flying Whales aims to fly the first production version of the aircraft in 2025, with entry into service scheduled for 2027. The company plans to manufacture 150 airships over the next 10 years.

Flying Whales has so far signed cooperation agreements with more than 30 prospective customers who are interested in using the LCA60T. Those customers include wind power companies Engie Green and EDF Renewables, logistics companies Bolloré Logistics and GSEZ (Gabon Special Economic Zone), the French space agency CNES, ArianeGroup, and Aviation Sans Frontières (Aviation Without Borders).

More sustainable propulsion technologies are part of a push to re-evaluate new roles for airships for missions including cargo distribution, aerial surveillance and even passenger transportation. In the UK, Hybrid Air Vehicles is working on plans for its large-scale Airlander family.