Arctic Blimps and Stealth Snowmobiles. Is There Something You'd Like to Share With Us, Canada?

By Veronique Greenwood | September 8, 2011 3:06 pm


Was Canada mocked one too many times at the last UN meeting/G20 powwow? Because they seem to be satisfying a serious manpower inferiority complex with plenty of…blimppower.

The floating objects are NOT blimps, says Hybrid Air Vehicles, the company that makes them and is selling 45 to Canadian flight company Discovery Air—they’re lighter-than-air vessels. But they look pretty blimpy to us. And combined with the Canadian military’s recent purchase of a prototype stealth (wait for it) snowmobile, we see the seeds for an epic motion-picture event: the Great Canadian Wars of 2012. Waterworld at -12 degrees!

But who, exactly, would they be fighting up there? Canada has no northern neighbor, except for wee harp seals and lemmings (there are polar bears, of course, but they’ve got bigger things to worry about). The blimpish vehicles, which lift off using buoyancy from helium and carry up to 55 tons, will be used for moving heavy cargo for industrial projects in the far north, according to a press release from HAV (though the vessels are also useful for military surveillance and materiel transport, according their site). Getting places in the northern climes, where extreme cold and ice make plane and car travel difficult, is a toughie, and these babies need no runway, can hover like a helicopter, and can carry massive amounts of stuff from point A to point B.

But the military snowmobiles? Who knows. Even if Canada is prepping for the resource-rush that will likely ensue as the Arctic melts, they’d be better off investing in ships. Or, maybe, more blimps.

[via New Scientist]

Image courtesy of HAV

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!
  • Brian Lang

    Canada’s Arctic and huge tracts of Alaska have large areas of tundra. As the permafrost melts out (due to climate change), anything on the surface starts to sink. Building roads is next to impossible under those conditions. During the winter ice roads are used, but the useable season for those is getting shorter. Hence the “blimps”. Building ports for ships falls into the same “boat” as building roads… if a port were built, it is likely to sink.
    Oh, and winters get a hell of a lot colder than -12 degrees. Try -40 degrees and colder.

  • John

    Seems like they are gearing up for the Resource Wars and the battle for the Artic.

  • phanmo

    Is that -40 Celsius or Fahrenheit?

  • Kennit

    That would be Celsius here in Canada.

  • Lindalu Forseth

    You need to remember that our (Canada’s) norther borders are always being preyed upon by other nations challenging where those boundaries exist. This is the most efficient method of monitoring our northern borders. The mean average temperature in the Arctic is -9.7* C (about 14* F) and can go as low as -60* C in the winter. Permafrost plays the devil on the roads and airports as it is without the concern of any climate warming.

    So rather than taunt Canada for being innovative, perhaps you should do a bit more research and acknowledge the ingenuity of these purchases. We’re not all looking for people to go to war with.

  • Brian Too

    You say that “Canada has no northern neighbor…” but you forget about Santa Claus. The big red guy has been patrolling the borders, making overflights, issuing belligerent press releases, and we think he has been downing high octane egg nog. Oh, and the DND has issued an RFP to address the dreaded ‘Reindeer Gap’!


    A reminder: a private sector airline buying blimps to move big, heavy stuff to mines in remote areas =/= part of Canada’s “defending the Arctic” effort.

    While the Cold War is over, let’s also remember Canada’s “northern neighbour” is Russia, one of several countries aching to call dibs on some of the Arctic for a range of reasons.

  • Andrew

    -40 is the same in Fahrenheit or Celsius. :-)

  • Pamela Lara

    Starters Canada?

  • Anthony

    Pick one, they’re both correct since -40 degrees is the same for Celsius or Fahrenheit; it’s the precise number where both temperature scales coincide.

  • JMW

    @5 Brian Too. Actually, you forget about the United States (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Iceland…and Russia.

    After all, a Russian submarine planted the Russian flag on the sea floor at the North Pole. Danes planted a Danish flag on an island in Canadian territory in the waters between Greenland and the rest of Canada.

    Personally, I’m not sure how well airships will perform in the winter in arctic. The -40 temperatures are one thing, but the wind speeds in excess of 80 km/h will make these things big kites.

  • JC

    Does this remind anyone of The Golden Compass series of books?

  • Celsius

    To @kennit & @phanmo
    -40 is the same in fahrenheit & celsius.
    It’s one of the few things Canadians & Americans agree on.

  • Zaltec

    Actually, for -40 the correct answer would be “both”!

  • Brian 2

    -40C = -40F, they are the same thing .. just FYI.

  • wodun

    I agree with ^^ that guy.

    The author should try looking at a globe instead of a map.

  • RRS

    With the Arctic ice melting and shipping lanes opening up, and unexplored oil and gas fields ripe for the picking, Canada does have legitimate reasons for having a presence up there. However I just can’t get the image of penguins riding around in stealth snowmobiles out of my head…(yes I know penguins are in the South Pole)

  • Jack

    The article derides the new airships for looking ‘blimpy’, but fails to consider the relative merits of such a craft. Fuel efficient, relatively low tech (read: simple, for use in really nasty climates), capable of hauling massive tonnage, requiring no runway.

    I can appreciate an elegant design solution when I see one – and I do here.

  • JFC


    I see what you did there. Well played.

  • KingOfArcadia

    Yeah, not 100% sure but I believe this is the Canadian government’s somewhat odd attempt at declaring & defending our Arctic sovereignty. I think the idea is to show that we do have a claim to our Arctic lands before someone else (the US & Russia) decide to try and claim a stake of it – and I’m all for that. But really… stealth snowmobiles?

  • peicurmudgeon

    @ John Seems like they are gearing up for the Resource Wars and the battle for the Artic.

    @JMW US, Denmark, Iceland, & Russia.

    These are correct. The other factor is proclaiming the “Northwest Passage” as an internal Canadian waterway rather than international waters. the melting of the polar icecap, this is becoming a pressing matter. Up here the catch phrase is “Arctic Sovereignty”.

  • jack

    @phanmo: Good one!
    @Kennit: It’s the same temp on both!

  • seventhrowscreamer

    How much Elsinore beer can one of those things carry?

  • Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor)

    Just an FYI: I deleted a bunch more comments from our sagacious readers about how Celsius and Fahrenheit “cross” at -40. We’re tuning our spam filter—recently had a new generation of smarter spam breaking through—and a bunch of comments were hung up in moderation for a spell. Since none were yet visible, people left about a hundred comments saying the same thing. Which seemed a little excessive.

  • JSC

    “No northern neighbors”…come again? It might not be “North” on a flat map poster but our Northern borders and more importantly an expanding sea, shared with the likes of Russia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Greenland. It’s also not a stretch to include the UK in on that as the North Sea connects to the Arctic Ocean. This same ocean, which has a lot less ice covering it thanks to climate change, is becoming increasingly more difficult to protect. We’re also looking at an estimated 20-30% of the world’s undiscovered Natural Gas and anywhere from 10-15% of the world’s undiscovered oil.

    The overall ignorance of this article is astonishing. May as well have been titled “No doot aboot it! Here comes the Canadians in their snowmobiles, airships and maple syrup tanks eh?” Would be better suited to some uneducated teenager’s myspace account.

  • The Real Johnson

    @JMW – Yeah, I’m sure the aeronautical engineers who designed them forgot to think about wind.

  • kali

    I’d rather have ‘lighter than air’ transport than ice breakers which just exacerbate the melting polar ice cap problem (broken ice does melt faster than whole ice). Go Canada!


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