4 Airship Designs That Are More Than Hot Air?


(Image via: Inhabitat)

Isn’t it about time airships took off in a big way? While report after report comes out condemning aviation as a grave threat to our natural world, the number of airline passengers worldwide is rising (set to double by 2030 in the UK alone). Surely we don’t need bigger airplanes or greener biofuels that save the skies but risk plunging the world into a food crisis. Why not rise above all of that with the oldest invention in the history of aviation?

There is no shortage of ideas for turning back the clock and ushering in a second age of zepplin travel. Everyone remembers how the last one ended – but these days, we aren’t so foolish as to fill our human-carrying vehicles with explosive substances (no, wait). Inert helium is cited as the safest way to get modern airships aloft – but we have come a long way from Hindenburg technology, and if we can render petrol safe to use under our very feet, surely cheap, versatile hydrogen has a place in our green future in the skies.


(Image via: Inhabitat)

From the sinuous Airbia (top), aiming to supplant commuter trains and gridlocked frustration, to the helium-filled Aeolus (above), modern airship designs are spectacularly other-worldly (looking like effects shots from ABC’s upcoming reboot of “V“) – and spectacularly green. For energy efficiency, it’s hard to beat a balloon.


(Image via: Popular Mechanics)

And all those acres of airship skin, lofted high into the air – what better place for solar paneling? Designs such as the Turtle Airship and the Aeroscraft (above and below) utilize layers of solar film to help generate power for the operation of the vehicle. In the latter case, the “air” (in fact helium) is completely conserved by way of being compressed, changing the lift of the airship and eliminating the need to take in more helium. Plans are underway for the Pentagon to view a test model.


(Image via: Business Week)

Downsides? Speed is the major problem, and a world of airship travel would certainly be a more leisurely-paced one. There is also the thorny question of weather. Fancy being in an airship during a thunderstorm? This is why designers are looking at the middle ground with well-powered rigid-framed dirigible hybrids (such as the Aeroscraft) offering powered flight and greater maneuverability. Could this finally be the design to capture the public imagination and start shifting those queues at the airport?