SkyHook: Handling the heavy lifting

SkyHook’s JHL-40, a new aerospace innovation, makes remote oil and mining projects accessible and could create more jobs in Alberta.

Photo: SkyHook

Why didn’t I think of that? It’s the question many people have asked since Calgary-based entrepreneur Peter Jess unveiled SkyHook’s JHL-40 ( Jess Heavy Lifter) and announced his partnership with Chicago-based Boeing Co.

The JHL-40 concept started 25 years ago when Jess was working for a petroleum company in the Beaufort Sea and started to think there had to be better ways to transport heavy objects to remote areas not accessible by road or rail.

“The idea of neutral buoyancy came to mind,” says Jess. “Why don’t we take the best attributes from different kinds of aircraft and combine them to see if we can come up with an increase in efficiency?”

The result was family-owned Jessco Logistics. Based out of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, it was a supply, logistics and service company that specialized in providing aircraft, helicopters, ships, equipment, people, camps and fuel to exploration companies in the Arctic.

“Seven years ago, I decided that if I was ever going to make a move with this aircraft idea, I better get going,” says Jess. Many of the assets Jessco had acquired over the years in Resolute Bay, such as its base camp and a lodge it built, were sold and Jess started investing in the engineering of the JHL-40, a blimp-like helium-filled envelope with crew module underneath. It measures 92-metres long, 66-metres wide and 36-metres high, with a 46- to 107-metre cargo line for carrying loads that suspend under the craft.

“It’s not a blimp,” explains Jess, though many news reports have tagged it as a ‘Blimp on Steroids’. “It’s more of a rugby ball shape and it uses lighter-than-air, helicopter and fixed-wing technology” for hauling steel, heavy equipment and trucks to remote areas.

Two years ago, SkyHook was formed by Jess and his wife Judy, their oldest son Matthew as vice-president of operations and their son Ted training to be the machine’s first pilot. In the fall of 2006, Jess introduced the idea to Boeing.

“When Boeing first looked at my cartoons and napkin sketches they were skeptical. But then the light bulbs went on, they said, ‘that’s very simple. Why hasn’t anybody else thought of it?’ I’ve been asked that hundreds of times.”