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The Age of the Airship Returns?

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the let's-head-to-bespoke-and-compile-runcible dept.

Transportation 315

Popular in Victorian and Steampunk fantasies, airships and zeppelins evoke a certain elegance that most modern travelers don't associate with the airplane. Some companies are capitalizing on that idea, and a need to move cargo by air in an era of ever-increasing fuel costs, to re-re-introduce commercial zeppelins. Popular Mechanics notes four notable airship designs, all with specific design purposes. One craft in particular, the Aeroscraft ML866, is being funded by the US government's DARPA group. It looks to combine the best elements of the helicopter and the zeppelin. "The Aeroscraft ML866's potentially revolutionary Control of Static Heaviness system compresses and decompresses helium in the 210-ft.-long envelope, changing this proposed sky yacht's buoyancy during takeoff and landings, Aeros says. It hopes to end the program with a test flight demonstrating the system. "

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Anti-gravity tech (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930244)

So does this mean that the DoD isn't developing anti-gravity technology in Area 51? Or does it just mean that DARPA isn't privy to that knowledge?

Re:Anti-gravity tech (4, Funny)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930256)

No, the Stargate program has control of that. Go talk to Captain Carter and see if she can give you a few pointers.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (1)

j235 (734628) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930332)

Nah, all you need is the Floater from Final Fantasy.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (2, Informative)

Masami Eiri (617825) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930344)

You must have missed the memo, Carter was promoted to Colonel a few years ago, and recently got appointed head of the Atlantis Expedition, so she's not even in this galaxy ATM. Also, Area 51 is not part of the Stargate program, though they do work together. Finally, I don't believe they were working on anti-grav tech.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (0)

rossz (67331) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930384)

Instant +5 Insightful: just say "All Americans suck because {insert generalization here}"


Off topic, but best damn tag-line I've ever seen on slashdot.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (3, Funny)

MisterLawyer (770687) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930370)

Just get the Floater Stone [wikia.com] !!!
It's in the ice cave just west of Crescent Lake. (But first, you'll need the Canoe from Lukahn.)
*ducks*

But seriously, wasn't it almost exactly 100 years ago that humanity learned an important lesson about mixing helium and airships? [nytimes.com]

Doesn't helium have the unfortunate property of being, oh I don't know... extremely flammable?

Re:Anti-gravity tech (5, Informative)

porl (932021) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930392)

you are thinking of hydrogen.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (5, Funny)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930686)

you are thinking of hydrogen.
thinking?
 

Re:Anti-gravity tech (1)

argiedot (1035754) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930654)

Oh shit, that's hilarious dude! Ha ha, the tone, the style!

Re:Anti-gravity tech (5, Informative)

Swampash (1131503) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930754)

But seriously, wasn't it almost exactly 100 years ago that humanity learned an important lesson about mixing helium and airships?

Doesn't helium have the unfortunate property of being, oh I don't know... extremely flammable?


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the American public-school education.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (5, Informative)

Morgor (542294) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930764)

And according to this [scientificblogging.com] link (no myminicity, I swear!), Helium is in danger of being in short supply due to among other things that it's not captured and recycled after use and while being available in big supply in the universe, the Earth supply is actually a bit limited.
According to the article it is an issue the next generations of scientist are going to have to struggle with. So maybe a Helium-based airship is not that good an idea, although I don't have to background to propose a different scheme.

Re:Anti-gravity tech (5, Funny)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930770)

You can make it from hydrogen. It's a bit tricky, though.

The discouraging prior art (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930246)

Re:The discouraging prior art (4, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930596)

Funny I was thinking the same thing. Cargo zeppelins was actually a very promising area. My brother's company that makes custom machinery wanted to use Cargo zeppelins to move their heavy machinery. Right now their machines are assembled, taken apart, and then driven piece by piece via road. The zeppelins were supposed to make this moot by being able to ship the entire machine.

From the article it looks like they want to use those machines to survey... Hmmm... Big brother?

Re:The discouraging prior art (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930658)

perhaps even more discouraging: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindenburg_disaster [wikipedia.org]

Re:The discouraging prior art (5, Insightful)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930756)

Only to people who don't bother to read enough of it to realize that a major reason for the disaster was that the paint on the Hindenburg was more or less rocket fuel. Bringing up the Hindenburg is like using a disaster involving one of the earliest planes to discourage commercial flights with modern jets.

Re:The discouraging prior art (2, Interesting)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930788)

By "read enough", you mean "get all their information from mythbusters"? It's by no means proven that it was the paint.

Sky Captain calling (5, Funny)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930250)

he wants his world of tomorrow back.

Re:Sky Captain calling (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930292)

He's a replicant, watching Japanese ad blimps.

Re:Sky Captain calling (2, Funny)

i_liek_turtles (1110703) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930594)

He can have his World of Tomorrow, and I can have Gwyneth Paltrow!

Idea full of hot air (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930258)

(sorry, had to be said)

Oh great (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930262)

We are now falling int love with airships, and our cheap helium is about to end?????

Re:Oh great (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930284)

Actually, we are now falling long love with airships.

Re:Oh great (4, Funny)

Fallingcow (213461) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930420)

But since love is irrational, then only a float is going to be at all useful.

Re:Oh great (1)

UserGoogol (623581) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930750)

Good thing we're introducing lighter than air travel, then.

Re:Oh great (2, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930450)

helium is mainly obtained from natural gas fields [heloium apparently collects in these deposits] which means helium will probably be reasonably accessible for a while. now assuming we did run out of cheap Helium, we should be able to build airships that *ahem* use hydrogen or another light gas to replace Helium. the big limitation of course is the danger of fire although a series of gas bags situated toward the outside filled with Nitrogen or some other reasonably obtainable relatively inert gas should give a decent buffer zone to absorb impacts and lessen the dangers of fire.

Re:Oh great (1)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930628)

Ahhh.... Welll.... If we run out helium we are actually kind of buggered. Look at the periodic table.

http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/ [corrosionsource.com]

The reason why we use Hydrogen, or Helium is because they are light and actually make it worthwhile to float. Hydrogen is the lightest because it has a weight of 1. Below that is Li which is slightly heavier than H, but just as unstable as H. Though if you look at the noble gasses below Helium is Neon, which has a weight of 10. In other words 5 times heavier. Actually heavier than air because air is O, and N, which are both lighter than Ne.

In the end this boils down to use H, or He. And if He runs out well then we are buggered because we can't just created another base element.... Or we live with the dangers of H.

Re:Oh great (2, Informative)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930814)

Below that is Li which is slightly heavier than H
And happens to not be a gas in the first place. One other thing - the periodic table you linked to shows atomic numbers - those aren't the same as relative densities (and neither are atomic weights, for that matter).

Re:Oh great (2, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930820)

Talk to an engineer rather than a chemist!

What about a vacuum in a cleverly engineered light weight container? Or hot air? Buckminster Fuller had an idea of mile diameter geodesic domes that would levitate from waste heat. They only need to be 1 degree hotter than their environment -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_nine_(Tensegrity_sphere) [wikipedia.org]

Re:Oh great (1)

jimdread (1089853) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930848)

Actually heavier than air because air is O, and N, which are both lighter than Ne.

I thought that neon would be lighter than air, because neon is an inert gas, so it would be atoms of neon. However, air is made of mostly nitrogen molecules and oxygen molecules, each of which contain two atoms of their respective elements. Therefore, you should be comparing the weight of neon in its most common state, Ne1, with the most common state of nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2). Sorry about the lack of subscripts there.

Hydrogen (1)

paul248 (536459) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930264)

I've heard arguments that the Hindenburg blew up because of the paint and not the hydrogen, so maybe we should re-evaluate whether or not hydrogen is actually safe for this application? On Earth, it's certainly much easier to get hydrogen than helium.

Re:Hydrogen (2, Insightful)

graft (556969) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930306)

The paint theory is not credible. Anyway, it's definitely true that a big bag of unpressurized hydrogen in a thin skin is a dangerous quantity. The Hindenburg was an inevitable tragedy. Hydrogen is a bad idea in a dirigible.

Re:Hydrogen (5, Insightful)

delt0r (999393) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930572)

And you saying its not credible makes it un-credible because you are credible? Please back up your claim.

Over half of the people survived the crash. How many survive 747 crashes? Perhaps the 100+ tons of JET fuel in the wings and under the floor is not safer than hydrogen after all?

Re:Hydrogen--Big Cube of Vacuum (5, Funny)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930434)

it's certainly much easier to get hydrogen than helium.

And it lifts better too!

Of course vacuum would provide the best lift of all in the atmosphere. So why is it that my beautiful 21" crt monitor, which is little more than a big cube of vacuum, is so damn heavy?

Re:Hydrogen--Big Cube of Vacuum (4, Funny)

Faylone (880739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930682)

Think how crushingly heavy it would be if you broke the vacuum!

Re:Hydrogen (4, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930490)

If I remember correctly, they used aluminized layers alternating with iron oxide layers. aluminum can react with iron oxide in a thermite reaction. Iron oxide is the oxidizer and aluminum is the reducing agent, because of the violence of the reaction it is used in some cases to dispose of computer hardware to reduce/eliminate the risk of data recovery by unintended parties. That being true, it is certainly possible that the paint increased the risk of fire but the fact that the gas inside the balloon was very flammable didn't help anything. would the ship have caught fire if the outer coating wasn't flammable? probably eventually, all it takes is a tear in the skin of that ship to expose hydrogen to air and really at that point, it is only a matter of time before something causes ignition of the gas. OTOH, had the gas been helium, the only fire hazard would be the paint which if comprimised would be bad but likely a lot better than the whole ship catching fire.

Re:Hydrogen (2, Informative)

vidarh (309115) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930786)

If the skin burns, the ship goes down whether or not the gas inside is flammable, as the gas quickly escapes. I very much doubt whether the gas inside burns would make much difference. Especially as a lot of the fatalities with Hindenburg were people getting hit by falling debris (burning hydrogen would be escaping upwards - what they were hit with were either the skin or from the gondola) or jumping in desperation to avoid the fire.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

dunezone (899268) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930568)

According to Mythbusters(and I know their not perfect all the time) the paint aided in the problem but the hydrogen was what caused the blimp to go up so fast.

The question with hydrogen is, "Has technology advanced since then to safely use it", I don't know anything about airships but I will assume that if we can go into space and back safely we can build an airship that can safely use hydrogen.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930646)

The answer is no...

Can we safely transport Hydrogen. Yes... Can we safely transport Hydrogen and float? Answer is no...

Using Hydrogen means we need to weigh how much safety to reasonable expect. Unless of course we happen to develop some super tensile spider web type technology that can be used to safely contain hydrogen. Though I would not trust that technology worth a darn. From the periodic table Hydrogen is just too darn unstable... Look at the periodic table and see what it neighbors are...

http://www.corrosionsource.com/handbook/periodic/ [corrosionsource.com]

Li, Na, K, etc... Not exactly the stable sort of chemicals...

Re:Hydrogen (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930842)

Gold is next to mercury - does that make it toxic? Phosphorous (an essential component of our bodies) is next to arsenic (a poison). Look at sulphur and oxygen.

There's a bit more to it that mere proximity in the periodic table.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

jenik (1030872) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930920)

both phosphorus and gold are toxic...

Re:Hydrogen (4, Insightful)

NNKK (218503) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930718)

There are around 43,000 traffic fatalities per year in the US. If we posit that a mere 60,000,000 people (only 1/5th of the US population) get in a car or cross the street on foot every year, that's a total death rate of about 0.00072%.

There have been 439 astronauts. 19 of them have died in flight. That's 4.5%, meaning you are, given the above incredibly pessimistic estimate, more than 6000 times as likely to die in a spaceship than in the rolling deathtrap called a car. And by the way, 14 of those 19 deaths have happened in the Space Shuttle, the most advanced manned spacecraft to currently fly on a regular basis.

You'll therefore excuse me if I find your risk assessment lacking.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

bhima (46039) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930844)

I wonder if the assessment would get better or worse if you factored in miles traveled.

Or hours in transit.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

dunezone (899268) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930890)

I was using the space example not as means of safety but as means of trying to explain that alot of time has passed and technology has advanced alot since the Hindenburg. The other individual explained that it better though, we have great technology in transporting hydrogen, but we lack the technology to safely use it as a replacement of helium(or other gases) since its highly unstable.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

Doppler00 (534739) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930614)

I think hydrogen would be great for airships used for cargo transport or unmanned operations. It should really come down to economics and insurance considerations. If you're launching an unmanned surveillance airship, who's really going to be at risk if it burns up (it wouldn't explode). I think the "safety" of a lot of technologies (nuclear, etc.) will definitely be re-evaluated once energy prices get ridiculously expensive.

Heck, why can't they even use a non-flammable helium/hydrogen mixture? The cost of mixing these gases accurately would be pretty marginal and it would be just as non-flammable, greater lift, and less expensive.

Re:Hydrogen (5, Insightful)

MaineCoon (12585) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930694)

People also seem to forget that 2/3s of the passengers of the Hindenburg survived, and it was the only notable airship disaster, whereas most airplane crashes that involve fatalities seem to kill a good majority (if not all) of the passengers, and seem to happen at least once or twice a year lately.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

DaedalusHKX (660194) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930784)

Brilliant comment, I'd mod you up if I had points.

But not only that, but the Hindenburg had a NAME... it was "unique" as was the Titanic (how many steam ships sank, how many ships sink today, compared to how many planes wreck?).

It wasn't the fact that they were rarities, and there were plenty of survivors. It was that they had names and were memorable, movies were made, books were written.

They were patronized by a variety of big names of their age. Some, (like Astor and some of his high class acquaintances) died in those wrecks (Titanic to be precise), but who, of any reputation as a big banker or hotel mogul died on the nameless flights that crash yearly? Exactly. Death tolls are higher, but the quality of people killed is far less interesting. Usually just faceless, nameless John and Jane Does. Hence nobody gives a damn or pays heed to jet liner crashes. TWA got some press for themselves, as did United and a few others back in September 2001. But nobody remembers the names of the planes except the fanatical worshippers of the 9/11 cult (could be that the planes didn't even have memorable sounding NUMBERS, nevermind "names"). The Hindenburg everyone can remember because it was an oddity, as was its destruction. Same goes for the Titanic.

So lets recap, nameless ships, nameless victims, nobody gives a fuck. Named Ships, Named Victims, you suddenly have a terror filled movie and book deal waiting in the wings.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

uhlume (597871) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930898)

Right, because ships don't usually have names...

Re:Hydrogen (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930888)

People also seem to forget that 2/3s of the passengers of the Hindenburg survived, and it was the only notable airship disaster, whereas most airplane crashes that involve fatalities seem to kill a good majority (if not all) of the passengers, and seem to happen at least once or twice a year lately.
While you've got a point, I just wanted to point out that there are a LOT of flights that go on every single day of the year. Statistically speaking, yes, news-worthy crashes are going to happen once or twice a year.

Re:Hydrogen (1)

robbiedo (553308) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930856)

I wonder if the Hydrogen can be mixed with some other chemical to minimize it's flammability in airship application.

Re:Hydrogen (2, Interesting)

ddrichardson (869910) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930926)

There is a Mythbusters episode that investigates this. They called it a bust. The paint did burn readily but it was nothing compared to tthe hydrogen exploding.

Article [nytimes.com] , episode itself [spikedhumor.com] .

Helium please :) (1)

Jehosephat2k (562701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930276)

As long as it isn't using fucking HYDROGEN, Sign Me Up!!! R101, Hindengerg -> http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=309 [damninteresting.com]

Re:Helium please :) (1)

Jehosephat2k (562701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930288)

(Spelling errr, I apolgize...)

And, Led Zeppelin was born!!!!

Re:Helium please :) (2, Informative)

Jehosephat2k (562701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930298)

Also, good perspective. If this thing is anywhere near the size of the Hindenberg, SIGN ME UP.

http://www.ciderpresspottery.com/ZLA/greatzeps/german/Hindenburg.html [ciderpresspottery.com]

The R101 doesn't get nearly the historical attention of the Hindenberg, but it was just as bad:

http://www.currell.net/models/r101.htm [currell.net]

Re:Helium please :) (4, Informative)

WK2 (1072560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930312)

Hydrogen is much cheaper, and is pretty safe if done properly. Hydrogen zeppelins of the first half of last century had an excellent safety record.

The Hindenburg disaster wasn't that bad. It only killed a few dozen people. And it involved other shortcuts that shouldn't have been done. The only reason that the Hindenburg seems so bad in retrospect is because there were a buttload of reporters at the right place at the right time (they planned to report a successful zeppelin trip), and because zeppelins don't die quietly, but rather in a huge exploding fireball.

Re:Helium please :) (1, Insightful)

node 3 (115640) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930406)

The Hindenburg disaster wasn't that bad. It only killed a few dozen people.
Was the second sentence meant to support the first? Because I don't really think it does.

Re:Helium please :) (1)

WK2 (1072560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930456)

I meant relatively. Compared to most plane crashes, and other such tragedies, it isn't too bad. Out of millions of miles of zeppelin travel, I think the Hindenburg was the only passenger craft to kill anybody. While any death is a bad thing, this certainly was not "the worst of the worst catastrophes in the world", as some people report.

But really, I just meant that one disaster almost a century ago shouldn't bar us from using hydrogen in modern craft.

Re:Helium please :) (2, Insightful)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930546)

don't worry, the fact that JET FUEL is just as explosive seems to be lost on everyone else....

Re:Helium please :) (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930548)

Oh, please stop the FUD. From wikipedia:

"Despite the violent fire, most of the crew and passengers survived. Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. Also killed was one member of the ground crew, Navy Linesman Allen Hagaman. The two dogs on board the ship also died. Most deaths were not caused directly by the fire but were from jumping from the burning ship. Those passengers who rode the ship on its descent to the ground survived. Some deaths of crew members occurred because they wanted to save people on board the ship. In comparison, almost twice as many perished when the helium-filled USS Akron crashed."

best elements of the helicopter and the zeppelin (4, Funny)

charlesbakerharris (623282) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930286)

So, whirling rotary blades combined with When The Levee Breaks?

Cool.

Re:best elements of the helicopter and the zeppeli (2, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930402)

= Hindendicer: explodes and chops all in one step

Re:best elements of the helicopter and the zeppeli (1)

jkmartin (816458) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930408)

This was on The History Channel's "Shock Wave" program last night. Four stripped helicopters were placed around a dirigible and connected to what amounted to aluminum sewer pipe. The thing got caught by the wind and folded pretty quick injuring 3 and killing 1. Total loss, program ended.

http://www.piasecki.com/pa-97.htm

Re:best elements of the helicopter and the zeppeli (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930840)

sounds to be pretty close to 'spinning tops of doom'...

A new mode of transport in general? (5, Interesting)

mlts (1038732) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930304)

Airships have their issues, but I recall reading somewhere that a blimp large enough to carry massive amounts of cargo can do so for the fraction of the fuel spent on ship-based transportation. Ships have to keep expending energy to push through water, but an airship needs far less power to keep a course through the air.

I see a couple hurdles though.

The first is designable around -- damage to the hot air or helium part due to lightning, or tears due to other factors. Having multiple "balloons" might help this situation, so if one is ruptured, the airship still can stay up, or descend in a fairly graceful fashion.

The second is a bit harder, but sort of related to #1. There are people out there (in most areas of the globe) who wouldn't mind taking potshots at an airship. It could be a drunk hillbilly who is playing with his new 30/06, or someone who has a RPG and is hoping to knock the thing out of the air completely. Oddly enough (and I have little or no aerospace expertise), I wonder if, even with major damage from a missile hit, a well engineered airship still can land gracefully (assuming the gondola isn't what is damaged.) Could an airship fly high enough so the chance of getting hit by ground fire be minimized?

Lastly there is a third problem. There is a ton of air traffic already. I wonder how hard it would be to factor in large, slow vehicles into the aviation corridors without impacting takeoffs and landings of jets and prop based traffic.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (1)

drsquare (530038) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930438)

I would have thought that slow moving blimps would be much easier to navigate around than fast-moving planes.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (1)

ratbag (65209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930670)

Put a 10mph car on a 70mph motorway (freeway, autobahn etc) and watch the fun...

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930838)

Not much different than a bridge pier, really. If the pilots know the objects are there (RADAR, anyone?), they'll miss them.

Re:A new mode of transport in general?OLD CARTRIDG (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930452)

It could be a drunk hillbilly who is playing with his new 30/06

Interesting that your drunk hillbilly would select a cartridge that's now 102 years old in design. I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (1)

Ravengm (1213626) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930510)

On your points:

First: Yes, that is avoidable through design. It just depends on the foresight of the creators.

Second: Ah, this is an interesting speculation. I'm sure that there would be plenty of controversy around this if airships ever are truly considered. I'd assume they would fly high enough that it would be difficult to actually hit them, though that could be wrong. There's really no guarantee that this wouldn't happen, and I suppose we'd just have to rely on the good nature of people to leave things like this alone. Which, of course, means we're totally out of luck.

Third: I'd assume that there would be "no-blimp" zones near airports or similar takeoff/landing strips. Jets and prop-based aircraft, for the most part, would fly much higher than zeppelins or blimps would. It doesn't make practical sense to fly a blimp that high. This would be another "level" of air traffic, one at a different altitude. They'd share space with helicopter-type craft, which better darn well see a slow-moving mammoth balloon flying toward them.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (5, Interesting)

brinebold (1209806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930684)

The second is a bit harder, but sort of related to #1. There are people out there (in most areas of the globe) who wouldn't mind taking potshots at an airship. It could be a drunk hillbilly who is playing with his new 30/06, or someone who has a RPG and is hoping to knock the thing out of the air completely. Oddly enough (and I have little or no aerospace expertise), I wonder if, even with major damage from a missile hit, a well engineered airship still can land gracefully (assuming the gondola isn't what is damaged.) Could an airship fly high enough so the chance of getting hit by ground fire be minimized?

For the .30/06 its like shooting a parachute with a pistol. Enough holes would be dangerous but the helium bags aren't under enough pressure to pop like a balloon and a hole roughly 1/3 in. in diameter isn't going to be enough to bring it down before a patch can be made. Also, with the exception of some serious firepower like the .50 and .75 caliber rifles, bullets don't actually travel too far before dropping. Your chances of hitting a blimp with a hunting rifle or an AK when its in the air are practically nonexistent outside of takeoff or landing. The maximum effective range of an AK-47 (the area at which you could expect to hit a large target firing horizontally, though I think a blimp is a bit above the large target in this standard) is generally estimated around 250m. add the distance you are away from it and account for the upward angle you're firing at and I believe it'd be quite impressive to to hit a blimp with small-arms fire.

As far as the RPG goes, I'm not sure what we could hope for there... military aircraft don't stand up so well to direct RPG hits. Commercial aircraft simply can't be designed for that particular level of abuse.

Air traffic concerns (1)

ObiWonKanblomi (320618) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930812)

Lastly there is a third problem. There is a ton of air traffic already. I wonder how hard it would be to factor in large, slow vehicles into the aviation corridors without impacting takeoffs and landings of jets and prop based traffic.

I was about to post a similar comment, but you beat me to the punch!

In the age of the airship, there were far less air traffic, so coordinating between different types of air vehicles wasn't that difficult. Now with tens of thousands of aircraft in the air over the continental US at one time... yikes.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930902)

Lastly there is a third problem. There is a ton of air traffic already. I wonder how hard it would be to factor in large, slow vehicles into the aviation corridors without impacting takeoffs and landings of jets and prop based traffic.
This would not be a problem:
-These ships have no reason to be in the ILS path of your incomming Jet,
-They are much more vissible than your average glider,
-They have an easier path than your average parajumper,
-They come in at you at a speed way slower than your F16

Just assign one level (3000 ft above groud) to them and you are fine.
And if you DO manage to crash into them, they provide a nice airbag

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (1)

Swizec (978239) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930930)

The first is designable around -- damage to the hot air or helium part due to lightning, or tears due to other factors. Having multiple "balloons" might help this situation, so if one is ruptured, the airship still can stay up, or descend in a fairly graceful fashion.

All rigid airships are designed to have a series of helium balloons inside a hull, which could in fact be made out of aluminium or some such, so the relevance of damage to these balloons becomes less important than the damage to, say, an aeroplane's wing.


The second is a bit harder, but sort of related to #1. There are people out there (in most areas of the globe) who wouldn't mind taking potshots at an airship. It could be a drunk hillbilly who is playing with his new 30/06, or someone who has a RPG and is hoping to knock the thing out of the air completely. Oddly enough (and I have little or no aerospace expertise), I wonder if, even with major damage from a missile hit, a well engineered airship still can land gracefully (assuming the gondola isn't what is damaged.) Could an airship fly high enough so the chance of getting hit by ground fire be minimized?

Again, the same problem exists for all other types of aerocraft at least on take-off and landing. An airship might not be capable of flying above the weather (buouyancy issues I imagine), but it can still fly at an altitude of 5000 meters I'd say ... that's high enough to prevent hillbillies being a problem.

Lastly there is a third problem. There is a ton of air traffic already. I wonder how hard it would be to factor in large, slow vehicles into the aviation corridors without impacting takeoffs and landings of jets and prop based traffic.

If the airship is given enough motors on pivoting mounts it can actually become quite manouverable. In fact, those motors could be jets making the whole thing, probably, more manouverable than a commercial jet. Remember, it can need as little as its length in room to turn and can land/take-off vertically.



As a completely unrelated comment: all those airships in the article are strikingly similar to the design I proposed in an essay for Steampunk Magazine's issue 2 ... I must be a genius.

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (1)

KlomDark (6370) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930970)

Somebody's gonna hit the thing with an RPG? What, they're going to invoke a magic missile spell against it?

Dude, you've been playing too much D&D...

Re:A new mode of transport in general? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930980)

Lastly there is a third problem. There is a ton of air traffic already. I wonder how hard it would be to factor in large, slow vehicles into the aviation corridors without impacting takeoffs and landings of jets and prop based traffic.

I doubt that'll be a problem. I'm sure that an airship's most efficient altitude is much lower than a modern aircraft's Even if it weren't there's plenty of space up there.

This again? (3, Insightful)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930358)

About every 10 years or so, someone proclaims the return of the airship. The problems with airships are the same they have always been - high susceptibility to winds and difficult ground handling. Those problems are essentially insoluble - it's *lighter than air*. The combination helicopter/blimp had been tried at least half a dozen times, all unsuccessfully.

      The hydrogen/helium thing not an issue. It's not going to use hydrogen. Whether that's what got the Hindenberg, or not, flying around with tens of thousands of cubic feet of exceptionally flammable gas, with a HUGE range of fuel/air ratios at which it can sustain ignition, isn't going to happen. It's a *bad idea* and wouldn't pass the laugh test for FAA certification.

            Brett

Re:This again? (1, Informative)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930436)

Umm, once you compress helium, like mentioned, it becomes a LIQUID. Show one one liquid on this planet that is lighter than air - oops, that's not exactly possible, is it? release the compressed helium = inflated dirgible and floating. Compress the helium = it turns into a liquid and is essentially a deadweight.

Control might be an issue, but that's where DARPA's helicopter-hybrid design comes into play.

The problems are starting to get solutions. Don't knock it until you've personally tried it and seen it fail, otherwise you're nothing more than an armchair geek.

And I've flown planes and helicopters. They are not without their problems, and in fact share many of the SAME ISSUES as zeppelins do.

Re:This again? (2, Informative)

delt0r (999393) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930552)

Um, Helium does not become a liquid until it gets down to 4K (-269C). It never becomes a liquid in the suggested design.

Re:This again? (3, Informative)

WalksOnDirt (704461) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930604)

It's 4.22 K at one atmosphere. At higher pressure it stays liquid at higher temperatures. At the easily achieved critical pressure of 2.24 atm, helium will stay liquid all the way up to 5.19 K, but that's as good as it gets.

(I was looking up the values to reply to the GP, but you beat me to it)

Re:This again? (1)

_Quinn (44979) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930774)

At least one of the new designs doesn't get 100% lift from its bag, and requires the airship to be moving to stay aloft. This eliminates most of the ground-handling problems: as long as the cargo weighs less than the missing lift, you can just turn the engines off and load and unload it as you would a plane or truck. Heck, it's a blimp, they have lots of space: go ahead and containerize the whole thing.

Re:This again? (1)

dasunt (249686) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930782)

The hydrogen/helium thing not an issue. It's not going to use hydrogen. Whether that's what got the Hindenberg, or not, flying around with tens of thousands of cubic feet of exceptionally flammable gas, with a HUGE range of fuel/air ratios at which it can sustain ignition, isn't going to happen. It's a *bad idea* and wouldn't pass the laugh test for FAA certification.

Would hydrogen still be a Bad Idea if airships were fully automatic/remote controlled and only used for cargo?

A GPS system could be used for most of the flight, while remote controls could be used for take-off and landings.

Specialized airship only flight-lanes could be designated for the automated flights, keeping the airships out of the way of manned heavier-than-air craft.

If airships were restricted to mostly over-ocean travel (between coastal ports), it would also be possible to "crash" a malfunctioning airship into the ocean, with little danger to human life. The restriction to ocean routes would work if packages were transferred to trains for over-land shipping.

Admittedly, there would still be some danger to the ground, mostly to the gound crew during takeoffs & landings, but at the same time, the superior lifting power of hydrogen might make it less dangerous overall. (Doesn't hydrogen have 4x the lifting power of helium? If the average helium airship is not 4x safer than the hydrogen airship, hydrogen ends up being "safer" overall.)

Not an airship.... (3, Informative)

Warbothong (905464) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930372)

That's [popularmechanics.com] no airship, it's Thunderbird 2 [bbc.co.uk] !

Re:Not an airship.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930528)

No, that's [mozilla.com] Thunderbird 2.

An Airship? (1)

Foobar of Borg (690622) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930396)

Oh, the humanity!

Blimps compete with trucks and trains - badly (3, Interesting)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930410)

The trouble with blimps is that they don't compete with aircraft, since they are too slow. They compete with trains and trucks, but don't have the carrying capacity to do that, while they do have the maintenance cost of aircraft. So altogether they don't make economic sense and they likely never will.

What about shipping? (1)

jesterzog (189797) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930518)

I'd have thought they'd mostly be competing with long-distance shipping, where speed of delivery isn't necessarily critical. If the developed world is going to try and cut down on carbon emissions and pollutants (which ships are great at even though it's largely ignored), or at least try to make it look as such and start taxing the use of cargo ships much more highly, massive heavy-lift airships might become more cost effective if a few problems are figured out.

Re:Blimps compete with trucks and trains - badly (3, Insightful)

brinebold (1209806) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930520)

They may be able to squeak out some profit carrying cargo internationally, where their competition isn't trains (for large amounts of cargo long distances) and trucks (smaller amounts and shorter distances), but instead ships (large amounts of cargo slowly) and planes (small amounts of cargo quickly and expensively).

If you'd bother to check, then you'd realize that winds are quite reliable along the ocean and tend to form very predictable patterns that at the higher altitudes would likely push a dirigible along at a respectable pace compared to most large ships at the cost of little or no fuel for most of the trip. You would obviously never be able to carry cargo from lets say the E. US to Africa but you could conceivably transport it from the E. US to Europe, Europe to Africa, Africa to US/Central America with very low costs along with a similar route through the W. US, S. Americas, and E. Asia. I don't believe it would be viable, however, for overland transport and I'm just not sure if there is enough of a market to support a fairly slow and destination-limited transportation method such as this but it could very well become a much less expensive method of transportation within some specific routes.


I'm not saying it'll ever meet with the the success of the rail system but I wouldn't be quite so quick to shoot the idea down.

Re:Blimps compete with trucks and trains - badly (1)

evilWurst (96042) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930966)

The possible use I see here for heavy freight is that, currently, you need the factories and the warehouses to all be either both by a rail station, both on the same big navigable river, or both on the sea coast... unless you want to have an extra fleet of trucks.

Feasible cheap airships would open up some new possibilities there. The warehouse would still need to be connected to major roads, but not necessarily to rail or river or sea. The factory could be anywhere and not necessarily connected to much of anything. And they need not be in the same geographical region or have an easy land/sea route between them. They can be in different countries or continents and still be connected by a cheap and fast air route. In other words, existing stuff isn't affected much because it's already tied into the old systems, but *expansion* would certainly benefit from the added travel option.

I'm not sure why you think it'd be slower than rail, either. The article lists 222kph. That's way faster than freight trains, and freight lines aren't always the shortest distance either. It's also a lot cheaper and easier to built a landing spot for these than it is to build new rail lines and rail stations. You also get rid of some potential inefficiencies in rail - for rail you have to schedule based on the availability of the physical route, or else cargo sits idle. For airports you only have to schedule based on the endpoints.

It still all depends on cost, of course, but I keep coming up with all these little cumulative advantages that might make the costs work out well.

Re:Blimps compete with trucks and trains - badly (4, Informative)

morethanapapercert (749527) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930664)

The Skycat 220 is supposed to have a payload capacity of 220 tons. (No, I dunno if those are metric, long or short tons) That handily beats any on-the-road wheeled vehicle I know of. They can go to remote places where roads and rails don't run. Thus beating the trains. They can carry more weight and go further than a helocopter for less money. They are also much quieter and cheaper to operate than a jumbo jet. And unlike those trucks and trains, LTACs are pretty good at crossing oceans. These things aren't intended to compete with trucks and trains, not directly in thier narrow fields anyway. They compete with trains on flexibility of destination, with trucks and helocopters on total payload, with conventional aircraft on cost and with ships on speed.
I agree with your basic point that a blimp is not nearly as good at other transport systems are best at, but for some particular uses it still has some advantages. Here are some cases where I can see a major economic advantage to using some sort of LTAC over more conventional transportation:
1) carrying heavy gear to remote locations. (Mining, military, telecom etc)
2) anything that involves hanging around in the sky for long hours. (police patrol, weather research, space launch monitoring, customs patrol.)
3) many things that involve getting a better view than you can get down here. (air traffic control, high altitude research, some types of cosmic ray research, military reconnaissance )
4) the Skycat in particular, with it's self landing systems, would make a damn fine traveling medical clinic and disaster response vehicle for Canada, Russia, Australia and pretty much most of Africa.
5) I'm not sure how such a large and light vehicle can handle itself in the turbulence of a forest fire, but if they can be made to handle that environment they'd have a LOT more capacity than any chopper for water or fire retardants and a lot more flexibility in where to refill.
6)Avalanche control. You could get right up close to a potential avalanche site without making as much noise as a chopper, giving you more flexibility and control in triggering it.
7)wild life monitoring. you can quietly drift over a herd or flock without disturbing it as much as a helicopter would. (come to think of it, it wouldn't be as vulnerable to bird strike would it?)

Bottom line, no one, not even the optimistic writer of TFA is claiming that these craft will render trains, trucks, heavier than air aircraft and ships obsolete. We're just in the process of bringing back a very unique tool into our logistics chains.

P.S. The Skycat company also promotes their design as a possible executive aircraft, something I am dubious on. But imagine what a wonderful RV it would make for the ultra rich! With a payload of 20 tons for even the smallest, you could pack out an entire cabin and camp site, preloaded and provisioned for any remote fishing or hunting spot you can imagine.

Re:Blimps compete with trucks and trains - badly (5, Funny)

scourfish (573542) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930800)

Blimps don't need to make economic sense because they are fun. Also, if we don't have zeppelins, then how am I supposed to fulfill my dream of throwing somebody off of one and then saying "No ticket"?

Only 40 Years Ago... (2, Interesting)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930412)

"The Aeroscraft ML866's potentially revolutionary Control of Static Heaviness system compresses and decompresses helium in the 210-ft.-long envelope, changing this proposed sky yacht's buoyancy during takeoff and landings,"

It was only about 40 years or so I read about this system. Of course, this was the Mad Scientists Club in Boy's Life magazine that competed in a balloon race and handled the buoyancy problem in this advanced manner. Maybe some of those Boy Scouts grew up to fly like Eagles and design airships.

(P.S. I also read Arthur Clarke's original short story Sunjammer in BL, before he had to go and change the title to the far less elegant The Wind From The Sun title, after some other author also used the same original title in another story that same year.)

People have been saying this for 40 years!!! (2, Insightful)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930424)

I have been reading about the return of the Zeppelin (mostly for cargo carrying) in the science magazines ever since I was a small child. Popular Science or Popular Mechanics have seemed to have an article on the subject just about every year... for many, many years. So pardon me if I am skeptical! I will pay attention when I actually see a commercial version fly overhead.

obligatory python reference (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930464)

The golden age of balooning returns!

Re:obligatory python reference (2, Funny)

Brett Buck (811747) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930496)

That means it's not too long 'till the Golden Age of Colonic Irrigation!

          Brett

Airships seem to be more common than most think (4, Interesting)

UnderCoverPenguin (1001627) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930480)

I've driven past Moffet Field, in California, which NASA uses part of, and seen several airship hangers. The ships I saw were not advertising or such, but appeared to be actual "workhorse" ships, whether for cargo or research, I don't know, but it seems airships have been around and doing useful work with almost no attention, so it is hardly surprising to me that more uses are being considered.

A very interesting use is being worked on by a company called JP Aerospace (http://jpaerospace.com/). Their idea is to build an airship-to-orbit system. Not in one go. It would involve transferring from a ground capable airship to an extreme high altitude airship.

mount washington 1870 (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21930550)

mount washington 1870
mount washington 1870

Two questions (1)

CriminalNerd (882826) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930560)

After reading this and brushing past the initial skeptical views expressed above through historical references (ie: The Hindenburg), I have two questions: 1) Will it run Linux? 2) How expensive will it be to ride in one from location X to location Y? I mean, if it's going at 222kph, and a person is not in a hurry and/or not willing to spend too much money on airplane flights (especially international ones), would it be a cheaper and stable alternative to riding a Boeing or an Airbus? If it isn't, it's going to be a tiny market to cater to.

Giant pokemon (1)

nbucking (872813) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930576)

The picture on the website looks like a giant pokemon. But besides that I used to prescribe to popular science 7 years ago and I recalled an issue stating the same vision.

Propper modding technique (5, Funny)

EGenius007 (1125395) | more than 6 years ago | (#21930662)

Shouldn't all comments referring to the Hindenburg be modded "Flaimbait"?
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