Sunday, July 06, 2008

Floating airliners & Hotels?


Barry sends in an interesting article from the New York Times that is a bit of what is old is new again and an interesting answer to both the rising cost of fuel and pressure to reduce carbon footprints.

For me, it's an excellent way to see where the cost of fuel and globalwarming may be taking us.

Since the Hindenburg zeppelin exploded more than 70 years ago, there hasn't been any realistic commercial forays into lighter than air craft past maybe the hot air balloon. Now, with the advent of of new materials and sophisticated means of propulsion, many government and private concerns are exploring blimps and dirigibles. Some visionaries foresee structures large enough to loft a hotel high into the air and slowly travel between destinations. Less lofty ideas are like the company that is talking with the French post office with the idea of transporting parcels by dirigibles. And of course there is the German company Zeppelin-Reederei which carried 12,000 passengers on sightseeing tours over southern Germany last year. But with top speeds of around 100 miles an hour and a maximum capacity of several dozen passengers, dirigibles are expected by most aviation experts to remain niche vessels for ferrying tourists, advertising and occasional scientific payloads. The US research has mostly been by the military who's interest was mainly in cargo and surveillance. The major hurdle at present is funding. Many initial project have failed over the past few years simply due to lack of cash not design problems.

photo ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik

2 comments:

Shaun A. Saunders said...

The Germans actually wanted to use helium for their dirigibles, not hydrogen, but could not get sufficient amounts of it (the US for eg would not trade).

I wonder how the course of (air) history might have changed had they used helium?

paul said...

Yeah, the US knew exactly what it was doing. I would not be surprised if there wasn't an incendiary round fired from some unobtrusive location. The US wanted to do everything in it's power to cripple the zeppelin program. They were well aware that it made an excellent long distance munitions platform (England found that out) Plus it made all other transAtlantic forms of travel look antiquated. The US view themselves as way behind the 8ball in that tech and wanted desperately to catch up. They viewed helium as a strategic commodity and treated it as such.

But what would have changed? Maybe the advent of commercial transatlantic flight would have been delayed for a number of years. Its very likely that we would have seen rigid airframes with turboprops for higher speeds. pressurized cabins most certainly for flight above 30,000. But their lack of cargo capacity and their unruly nature forever doomed them to fair weather niche technology.