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Published: Wednesday, 5/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

Airship venture stuck on ground at Toledo Express

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
The Dynalifter prototype has proved it can move on a flat surface. The aircraft is designed to take cargo airborne from tight spaces. The Dynalifter prototype has proved it can move on a flat surface. The aircraft is designed to take cargo airborne from tight spaces.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Three years ago the inventor of an experimental airship designed to haul cargo moved his fledgling company from northeast Ohio to the Toledo area in hopes of elevating his unusual business idea past the start-up phase.

Despite numerous meetings with potential investors and assistance from local development agencies, Ohio Airships Inc. remains grounded, figuratively and literally.

The company's 110-foot long Dynalifter prototype has proved it can maneuver on a flat surface, but it has yet to fly after five years of development because the company cannot pay for the insurance that would allow the Federal Aviation Agency to clear it for an inaugural test flight.

"It's extremely frustrating. We've put a lot of effort into this," said David Miller, a former business development manager for the Regional Growth Partnership's Rocket Ventures fund who is now working with Bob Rist, Ohio Airships founder and Dynalifter inventor, to move the company forward.

"I really think the watershed moment will be when it finally gets in the air," Mr. Miller said.

David Miller, in the cockpit of the Dynalifter, is working with the inventor and company founder to resolve financing problems. David Miller, in the cockpit of the Dynalifter, is working with the inventor and company founder to resolve financing problems.
THE BLADE/DAVE ZAPOTOSKY Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Computer models say the $500,000 billowy craft, which looks like a white loaf of French bread and is a hybrid between an airplane and dirigible, will soar nicely once it gets the chance to go airborne. But what is keeping the Dynalifter grounded, besides the FAA, is financing, said Mr. Miller, who began working with Mr. Rist two years ago.

"We're ready to go. We're working on financing issues that we previously thought we had worked out," he said.

Indeed, a year ago Mr. Miller said Ohio Airships was on the verge of a breakthrough with an unnamed finance group in London. Mr. Rist, who was unavailable Wednesday, got the group to agree to put up between $300 million and $400 million to set up a manufacturing operation to construct a fleet of larger Dynalifters (capable of lifting 50 tons) to be sold to the Egyptian government.

Egypt planned to use the aircraft for a humanitarian project to construct factories and other buildings in remote parts of its country inaccessible by roads.

Dynalifters would ferry building supplies to the sites because the craft is built to take off or land on a very small area.

When Eygyptian people revolted in January, the project was put on hold indefinitely, Mr. Miller said.

In the meantime, Ohio Airships' prototype sits grounded in a hangar at Toledo Express Airport, where it must suffer the indignity of birds fly ing in and out daily and leaving droppings on its slick white plastic skin. The company is tapped out financially and unable to come up with the $16,000 it needs to buy insurance to run a test flight.

Ultimately, once it can do a test flight, the craft needs to be certified by the FAA for use in the United States.

That's a process that could run $40 million. But if that were done, Dynalifters could be mass-produced, shipped anywhere in kits, then assembled for use as needed.

"We think there would be demand," Mr. Miller said. "It's the only hybrid heavy-lifting craft out there that you can land and just walk away from. It takes about 15 people to handle a blimp while this one theoretically takes just one."

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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