Airship hybrid could be big for Ponoka

Changes could soon hit the small town of Ponoka if testing of a unique aircraft in England proves successful.
The company World SkyCat UK hopes to put a hovercraft airship hybrid through tests in August with oilsands operators among those involved with the process. The aircraft is planned to transfer heavy equipment and cargo from one place to another without interrupting other rails or areas of traffic.

By Eraina Hooyer

Staff Reporter

Changes could soon hit the small town of Ponoka if testing of a unique aircraft in England proves successful.

The company World SkyCat UK hopes to put a hovercraft airship hybrid through tests in August with oilsands operators among those involved with the process. The aircraft is planned to transfer heavy equipment and cargo from one place to another without interrupting other rails or areas of traffic.

Michelle Stirling, local associate of World SkyCat UK, believes that this breakthrough could have a positive outcome with Ponoka likely being a major part of this technology.

“World SkyCat of the UK is interested in Ponoka because the airport is suitable, the town and council and county have been very supportive and we have a CANPASS designation which may prove useful for corporate flights and shipments,” said Stirling. “In the event that it comes to pass, I would see a whole new set of support and spinoff industries and educational opportunities unfolding from SkyCat coming to Ponoka.”

The SkyCats are hybrid air vehicles that can be navigated in the air and can land and take off independently in a vertical take off and landing or a short take off and landing mode, depending on the cargo.

Stirling sees a virtually limitless amount of benefits resulting from the use of the SkyCat. She believes the environmentally friendly and quiet SkyCat could radically change shipping and traveling in Alberta, are the solution to rising fuel prices, give pilots jobs on a passenger SkyCat and be beneficial to farmers.

“This could really help spread the Alberta advantage,” she said.

The SkyCat is designed to pick up virtually anywhere including farmers fields and Stirling says that could make farmers growing specialty crops very happy by picking up their shipments and shipping direct to the sea port or the end buyer, freeing up the rail system and making specialty crops more attractive to farmers as well as consumers.

For Stirling, her involvement in the introduction of the SkyCat is not solely based on interest but also her passion to help make her father’s idea a reality.

“My late father, Peter Stirling, foresaw this years ago and I grew up on it,” she said. “He was simply a man before his time and I hope the time has come for his dream to come true.”

The trials being conducted in England include demonstration tests, loading and unloading heavy equipment, flying, landing and more. Stirling believes that after the tests are complete and assessed that major decisions will be made.

“If they are the decisions I expect,” said Stirling. “Then I can hardly wait for the summer of 2011 to be sitting on our deck, my father’s favourite drink in hand, watching our SkyCats float by, filled with freight.”