Akron's getting back into the blimp business at its famous airdock.
The city said March 8 that LTA Research—which derives its name from the phrase "lighter than air," according to its website—has entered an agreement with the Development Finance Authority of Summit County to sublease space at the Akron Airdock next to the Akron Fulton International Airport on the city's southeast side.
There, the company will be "renewing research and investment into airship aviation technology in Akron," the city said.
LTA's website is largely devoted to advertising open positions at the company, including for airship ground crew members in Akron, along with other positions in the city and in Mountain View, Calif., and Gardnerville, Nev.
The city noted that "LTA Research is a company focused on the research and development of 21st-century piloted and unpiloted airships." Both the website and Akron tout the potential use of the company's airships for things like delivering humanitarian aid in disaster zones.
"LTA airships will have the ability to complement—and even speed up—humanitarian disaster response and relief efforts, especially in remote areas that cannot be easily accessed by plane and boat due to limited or destroyed infrastructure," the company's website states. "We ultimately aim to create a family of aircraft with zero emissions that, when used for shipping goods and moving people, would substantially reduce the global carbon footprint of aviation."
The company will take up residence in a very historical spot for Akron and for airships. The airdock, better known to many as the Goodyear Airdock for its long association with that company's blimps, was purpose-built for airships in 1929. For some time, it was also famous for being one of the world's largest buildings without interior supports.
"The airship is such a recognizable symbol of our city and to see LTA reinvigorate this technology in the birthplace of airships is truly a full circle moment for our community," Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said in a release. "Akron is proud of our history as a place of innovation and we look forward to supporting LTA as they continue in that tradition."
LTA is no stranger to Akron. For more than two years, it has partnered with the University of Akron to design, develop and test small, unpiloted airships. The two previously received federal certification for test flights of the craft.
LTA's staff includes graduate and undergraduate students in the College of Engineering and Polymer Science at UA who "are studying design principles including propulsion, controls, aerodynamics, and advanced manufacturing techniques" related to airships, according to the city.
"This investment from LTA into the Akron community means potentially hundreds of new jobs for UA engineering students and graduates, and will significantly bolster the economy of the region at large with millions of dollars generated by new jobs and related commerce," the city said in its release.
The company already is an important source of employment for students from the university, said UA president Gary Miller.
"UA students representing such engineering disciplines as aerospace, mechanical and electrical are being afforded skill-enhancing and experiential learning opportunities they could not have received anywhere else," Miller said in a statement. "Thanks to their significant contributions, the university is uniquely situated to, once again, be on the forefront of innovation in a city that has long been a leader in airship aviation technology."
Though it's been some time since the airdock was used for its original purpose, it has held on to its role in aviation. The DFA has owned it and leased it to Lockheed Martin since 2006 and will consent to a sublease that will enable LTA to move in, the city reports. Lockheed largely wound down its operations at the airdock several years ago but still has employees on site.
LTA is known as a secretive company—it does not list an address or phone number on its website—reportedly started in 2019 by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
According to LTA's LinkedIn page, it hopes to use new technologies to increase the capabilities of airships for humanitarian purposes, while lowering the cost of their operations.
"With these next-generation airships, we strive to improve humanitarian aid delivery and reduce carbon emissions, while providing economic opportunity and new jobs to Americans," the company says on LinkedIn. "We ultimately aim to create a family of aircraft with zero emissions that, when used for shipping goods and moving people, would substantially reduce the global carbon footprint of aviation."
There's no word yet on when the company will begin operations at the site, but according to its website, LTA already is seeking to hire new Akron employees. In addition to the flight crew jobs, the company says it is hiring a materials engineer, flight test engineer, hydrogen program manager, a senior airship mechanic and a software engineer.
The company reportedly will use hydrogen fuel cells for its craft, though they will be inflated with and held aloft by helium.