The development of a revolutionary helium gas-filled aircraft could be good news for the heavy industries sector, as Skyhook's Jess Heavy Lifter (JHL) combines buoyancy with lifting power to transport heavy cargoes from one site to another.

Canadian firm Skyhook recently revealed it has signed an agreement to team-up with aerospace giant Boeing and co-develop the JHL-40, the first of a new breed of cargo-carrying aircraft that promises to open up a new range of construction opportunities for industries operating in remote areas.

Regarded by some as a 'neutrally buoyant aircraft', the JHL-40 is effectively comprised of an airship-style rigid envelope filled with helium gas. The gas is used to support the weight of the vehicle, its crew and fuel load without the payload, making the craft itself neutrally buoyant.

Four large rotors mounted at each corner of the ship provide enough vertical lift to carry 40 tonnes of cargo in an underslung load, and smaller rotating rotors provide directional thrust to move the aircraft on a horizontal plane.

$quot;There is a definite need for this technology. The list of customers waiting for SkyHook's services is extensive, and they enthusiastically support the development of the JHL-40,$quot; said Pete Jess, SkyHook President and Chief Operating Officer.

One of the most problematic hurdles for major industries operating in remote areas is moving heavy building materials to the worksite. Road-building is an environmental issue, as well as often being cost-prohibitive and largely impossible in many terrains.

Some areas are unreachable by cargo ship, large cargo planes require good weather and long runways, and often helicopters can't carry heavy enough loads to be appropriate.

Skyhook's JHL-40 therefore enters the fray and opens up a whole raft of new possibilities. It combines the neutral buoyancy and stability of an airship with the lifting power of four big rotors and if successful, could become a hugely significant new type of vehicle.

Capable of lifting 40 tonnes (80,000lbs) vertically and transporting the load more than 200 miles without refuelling, the aircraft offers twice the load capacity of the world's current largest cargo helicopter, and large industries are already thought to be modifying their operations strategies to take advantage of its unprecedented cabailities.

The control combination is expected to give the JHL a high degree of accuracy in its cargo drops and likewise, should be easy to maneouvre into pick-up position.

Enthusing about the aircraft's potential and significance for the industry, Jess explained, $quot;Companies have suggested this new technology will enable them to modify their current operational strategy and begin working much sooner on projects that were thought to be 15 to 20 years away.$quot;

$quot;This Boeing-SkyHook technology represents an environmentally acceptable solution for these companies' heavy-lift short-haul challenges, and it's the only way many projects will be able to progress economically.$quot;

Boeing is already believed to be in the process of designing and building two production prototypes of the JHL-40, which will go into service as soon as certification is received from the Canadian and American Aviation Administrations. A fleet will then be built and operated by Skyhook for clients around the globe.