Hemp aircraft - Hempearth

Plane Made of Hemp – Sensation, Revolution, Hallucination?

Esther Nestle
19.11.2019
4 minutes

The news item sounds almost like a weed-smoking advertising stunt – but it is genuine. Even better: The prototype plane (five seater), developed in Canada and built in Florida, is MADE of hemp and is POWERED by hemp. Are spacy aeroplane raw materials and fuel going to be growing on our fields in the not too distant future?

The Canadian company Hempearth is no stranger in the cannabis scene. Taking off in 2012, in the meantime it has a great variety of hemp-based products on the market. And then they had the way-out idea of building a small aircraft completely of hemp. What’s behind all this? To explain the “reason why”, let’s examine hemp more closely.

Miracle plant hemp can do much more than make you high

When hemp (Latin name: Cannabis) is mentioned, who doesn’t immediately think of the psychoactive substance THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and its intoxicating effect? And indeed, Cannabis indica, the hemp type originating in India, plays a prominent role as a drug – both recreational and in medicine. But beware: It should not be confused with the low-THC industrial hemp Cannabis sativa, which is totally unsuitable for the production of hashish or marijuana. A total of 52 (!) varieties of hemp have been certified by the EU for commercial cultivation and – wonders will never cease! – are also authorised in Germany provided certain regulations are adhered to.

What industrial hemp has always been able to do

Hemp is a very old and – because of its versatility – valuable crop that can do much more than “just” oils, pharmaceuticals and drugs. In China thousands of years ago it was already being used to make paper. Gutenberg printed his first Bible on hemp paper. Columbus and consorts set off to sea with sails and rigging made of hemp. The famous first Levi Strauss jeans? Made of hemp (although this last “fact” could just be an urban legend).

Then the rupture: Industrialisation increasingly squeezed out hemp and its complex processing; other raw materials, such as cotton, wood, metal and glass, convinced with more rational (further) processing and took over the helm. Even the famous automobile manufacturer Henry Ford got nowhere with hemp; in his search for an industrial partner for his proposed hemp-based car he landed in nirvana. Today, 75 years later, the time seems ripe for a paradigm shift.

Which properties make industrial hemp attractive for aircraft construction?

Industrial hemp is a real all-rounder

It scores with so many good characteristics that, especially with regard to sustainability, they sound almost too good to be true. That is exactly what the people at Hempearth thought and set their heads spinning to come up with the design for a “green aircraft” that incorporates all the attractive characteristics and which will soon be presented to the whole world as a – watch out, corny joke – (environmental) consciousness-expanding innovation.

Video: “The world’s first plane made from cannabis”

Powered by cannabis

The fuel for this plane? Likewise hemp biofuel, of course. Hempearth is going into overdrive to make sure its magnificent idea doesn’t go up in smoke. Hemp should lodge in brains all over the world, but especially among aircraft constructors, as a sustainable high flyer.

Can we outfly environmental problems with hemp?

Whether hemp really has what it takes to revolutionise the aviation industry and outfly the environmental impact of planes remains unknown at present. But even if we can’t hear the grass growing yet, we can classify this new development as a sensation in any case. And proof that the announcement hasn’t caused us to fall prey to a hallucination will hopefully be provided by the maiden flight planned by Hempearth for 2020 at a symbolic place: Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, exactly where the Wright brothers made aviation history more than 100 years ago.

We’ll keep an eye on Hempearth and Kitty Hawk for you, and, naturally, we’ll report on the first hemp high-flyer in aviation history.

by Esther Nestle

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