Canada's Solar Ship to take flight in Africa

Canadian company Solar Ship has launched a joint venture with an African air cargo delivery service that will see the first deployment of its promising new solar-powered hybrid aircraft.

The solarships are part plane and part blimp, employing a helium-filled wing-shaped body that allows for extremely short takeoffs and landings in open areas such as soccer fields, making it possible for them to deliver supplies in remote areas.

As part of its joint venture with Solar Ship, Manaf Freighters, located in Burundi, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has agreed to purchase four solarships, including two short take-off and landing Caracal aircraft and two Wolverine aircraft to be used for cargo delivery and disaster relief in remote areas in East and Central Africa. The two Wolverine aircraft can carry a 20-foot shipping container with a minimum payload of five tons.

Solar Ship said its joint venture with Manaf, Peace & Freedom Services, connects people in the Great Lakes Africa region with global logistics and provides critical cargo: food, clothing, medical supplies and basic necessities. Part of Manaf’s investment in the joint venture includes two DC3 aircraft that offer long range service to connect South Africa with disconnected areas in East and Central Africa.

“The need for Peace & Freedom Services is immediate in our region," said Manaf CEO Fred Nimubona. "Many lives are being lost and our joint venture promises to improve the quality of life in regions that have, up until now, been inaccessible or diminished by war.”

Until now, Manaf has relied on regular aircraft to deliver critical supplies to areas in Central and East Africa, accessing places that cannot be reached by other means of transport, such as trucks, trains or ships.

Solar Ship says its aircraft are designed with a large surface area for solar power, allowing long, self-sufficient flight range. “A solarship does not need to be solar powered and can be powered by traditional combustion,” the company said, adding that its goal is to develop a new mode of transportation that does not depend on fossil fuels, roads, or runways.

The solarship "is fat and slow but it gets a lot of lift and it gets off the ground almost immediately," Solar Ship CEO and co-founder Jay Godsall said in an interview with Canada’s CBC News. "That means you can go into really tight spaces which are inaccessible to the bush plane, and the helicopter is wildly expensive."

Michel Rugema, Solar Ship’s director of Africa operations, said the company has worked with Manaf since 2014 to establish its requirements and to develop the right aircraft for its needs. “The goal of our platform is to access areas where there is no infrastructure so we can help people in their daily lives and unleash their economic potential.”

Solar Ship is scheduled to deploy with Manaf next year.