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Why haven't civilian air companies brought back dirigibles?

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posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 10:17 AM
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What I want to know is why, with skyrocketing fuel costs that show no signs of going back down, and global warming concerns about pollutants and emissions, and security concerns about hijackers using planes as flying bombs, why no one seems to even be considering the possibility of returning dirigibles like Zeppelins to service?

Yeah, they're slower than airplanes, but faster than a train, seats roughly as many people or slightly less than a plane, is much much much quieter, safer, produces a brazillion times less pollutants, and is considerably more fuel efficient, because your fuel is expended for turning, not lift.

I know people probably LOL'd at "safer" because of the Hindenberg. But Zeppelins had a _PERFECT_ safety record until the Hindenberg, and of the 36 passengers and 61 crew, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. That's less than half. How many airlines have had worse disasters since? Plus new advances in technology would make this travel method even safer.

Why isn't anyone even considering this for civilian air travel? Why aren't there already dozens of these companies offering their services?




posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 10:31 AM
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Several reasons imo: nobody would pay to travel in a ship full of volatile gases and non volatile gases are in short supply (or so I've read) which ruins the economics of it. The actual airships are slow, they are very vulnerable to weather as they fly low and slow, and there has been several crashes, not just the explosion of the hindenburg. They still need to burn fuel for thrust, so it's not as if they are cheap to run, you still have a massive object and air resistance. The size to weight lifted ration means you need enormous ships to lift the same weight as a commercial jetliner, so unit costs would be amazingly high.
Lighter than air ships is something that seems a good idea at first but once you start thinking about it they start to become very problematic.

With GPS and a weather monitoring grid it might be technologically feasible and economically viable to make airship cargo container transporters though, maybe equipped with airsails and kites for assisted navigation.

All this said, I think we should focus our research on electromagnetic or gravitic systems, I have a hunch the replacement of planes will come from there, not a step backward in history to the 20's and 30's.



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 10:45 AM
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Originally posted by Zepherian
Several reasons imo: nobody would pay to travel in a ship full of volatile gases


But they currently pay to travel in a ship full of volatile gas. I fail to see the difference. Except possibly that if there were a gas explosion in an airship, most of that explosion and flame would travel up rather than out and down.



Originally posted by Zepherian
With GPS and a weather monitoring grid it might be technologically feasible...


Among other things, like materials used. There've been a lot of modern advancements that would make this much more of an innovation than the blimps of old.

And I'm not talking about intercontinental travel, or from, say, Alaska to Florida, but surely state to state and city to city travel within a region, it would make this a much more efficient, and less expensive option for the casual traveller.


Originally posted by Zepherian
All this said, I think we should focus our research on electromagnetic or gravitic systems, I have a hunch the replacement of planes will come from there, not a step backward in history to the 20's and 30's.


I'm with you 100% on maglevs, but those won't be the end-all solution. Not all land (or waterways) are well-suited to such things. ESPECIALLY areas high in fireant populations and earthquake-prone, or littered with lakes. We need some form of air travel as well.



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 10:54 AM
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The Hindenburg disaster happened largely because the United States would not sell Helium to Germany. At the time we had a monopoly on it. Germany had to use the more dangerous and explosive Hydrogen instead. Now LTA ships are much safer than the Hindenburg.

I think they would be great for cruises and vacations, but I cannot see them doing any major work in the transportation department.

I think personal LTA craft would be VERY feasible and am surprised that has not been done.

[edit on 6-9-2008 by groingrinder]



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 11:19 AM
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My Grandfather worked as a cheif engineer in one of only 2 Hot Air Balloon factories in the US and also worked in a "Blimp Works".

He told me that we would never see the rise of Blimps or Derigables because partly of the Hindenburg disaster and that they aren't very practical in a day of heavy loading airplanes.

Even though the source for lift may be gas, you still must have engines for foreward motion, direction and stability. Derigables and blimps use a LOT more fuel that you would think!

The day of using Derigables as transports and heavy lifting are long gone. THese days, Hot Air Balloons and Blimps are for luxury and publicity stunts. I don't know if there is even a manufacture who makes Derigables.



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 11:52 AM
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I actually like the idea of using a dirigible to get to work in a city or even local travel from county to county.

There have been advances in control systems which make mooring a lot easier and fuel costs should not be to excessive.

For instance the Hindenburg used diesel engines for a good reason, ie fuel economy, diesel engine management systems have improved enormously since then as well further improving power and economy.

They would not necessarily have to use fossil fuels either they could easily run on vegetable oil, bio-diesel or waste vegetable oil.

The obvious choice for lift gas is Helium purely from a safety standpoint, the downside being that it does not have quite as much lift capability as Hydrogen.

The disadvantages though are greater susceptability to adverse weather conditions in flight and when moored.

City commutes and local holiday destination travel by air would have to be better than struggling in traffic jams on overburdened roads plus airships can moor from tops of buildings so no parking problems or large sprawling airports to build.



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 12:38 PM
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From Wikipedia:
en.wikipedia.org...


Modern airships have a natural buoyancy and special design that offers a virtually zero catastrophic failure mode. The internal hull pressure is maintained at only 1–2% above surrounding air pressure, the vehicle is highly tolerant to physical damage or to attack by small arms fire or missiles.

While on long-haul flights weather patterns would be flown to avoid bad weather, the hull’s mass largely dampens the effect of turbulence – just as a large tanker rides through rough seas.

An airship is usually a poor lightning target, as it is constructed mainly from composite materials. If it is struck, built-in protection devices minimise the risk to the vehicle and its cargo.

A series of structural vulnerability tests were done by the UK Defence Evaluation and Research Agency DERA on a Skyship 600, an earlier airship built by the Munk team to a similar pressure-stabilised design. Several hundred high-velocity bullets were fired through the hull, and even two hours later the vehicle would have been able to return to base. The airship is virtually impervious to automatic rifle and mortar fire: ordnance passes through the envelope without causing critical helium loss. In all instances of light armament fire evaluated under both test and live conditions, the vehicle was able to complete its mission and return to base.


There are a surprisingly large number of companies and government agencies working on airships of various types right now.

Airships are very durable and safe these days. Keep in mind that the above tests were carried out on regular old blimps, not one designed specifically to take that type of abuse.

The US has HUGE helium fields, mostly in Texas, and they refill themselves via radioactive decay; there is no shortage of the stuff. There may currently be disruptions in the refining and supply as the government handed it over recently to the private sector.

I've taken an interest in LTA craft recently because I was thinking of designing and building a manta style RC drone. Should make an interesting and fun project. It is amazing how far RC tech has come recently.



posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 01:33 PM
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The three most common reasons I'm seeing people say why Airships would never be practical again are:

  • Weight carrying limits - I'm not suggesting dirigibles replace airplanes completely. Obviously if you need a heavy load to get there very quickly, you send it via plane. If you don't need it there quickly, you send a train or a truck. I'm talking about civilian traveler flights, where a weight limit per passenger would be required per ticket. If someone goes over the weight limit, they can either leave it at the counter to have it shipped, or purchase an additional ticket (if they are available).

  • Weather - Not everywhere has volatile weather. Granted, Texas might be a serious hazard zone for airships. Our weather here is so monstrous it requires dozens of deaths and billions in property damage just to get a mention on the news. But then you have places like Seattle, where a single lightning bolt makes front page news for days on end. In areas of (on average) calm weather, within local regions, the airship would be much more sensible replacement for the plane.

  • The Hindenberg - Yeah, it was tragic, about 35 people died, and it's become a movie icon ever since. But what about 9/11? Thousands died! What about that Pan-Am collision in the 70's that killed almost 600 people? That Japanese 747 flight in the 80's where more than 500 people died? There's always the risk of disaster with air travel, but well-designed airships seem to have a far, far lower percentage of accidents per flight, and the accidents that do occur involve a mere fraction of the fatality numbers.

    And tt'd make perfect sense to use diesel fuel for propulsion and steering, as Sherpa said, biodiesel would provide a great alternative to ever-rising fuel prices.



  • posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 02:14 PM
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    My plan for the RC craft is to use Solar as much as possible. I'm hoping to build something that won't ever have to land. The only other consideration besides power is helium leakage. I have to see if I can find any materials that can completely contain the helium. The molecules are so small that they tend to leak right through the walls of most containers like latex and mylar is just yukky...

    The military WALRUS, while still a heavier-than-air craft, is being designed to lift 500 to 1000 long tons and carry it 14,000 miles, so lifting capacity on them is not a problem as long as you don't mind a huge helium envelope. For comparison, a C-130 Hercules can carry about 18 long tons with a range of 2,360 miles.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 02:48 PM
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    because your fuel is expended for turning, not lift.


    Well and propulsion too. They dont just magically go forward. Fuel economy may not be exactly what you think, since airships like that are slower, then headwinds have more of an effect on them than something much faster.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 03:06 PM
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    Originally posted by sherpa
    ... They would not necessarily have to use fossil fuels either they could easily run on vegetable oil, bio-diesel or waste vegetable oil.
    ...


    I don't know, if I were building one, I would run it electrically through solar panels on the top of the blimp. After all, they would be running in good weather, right?


    And, of course, battery backups when needed.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 03:07 PM
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    Originally posted by firepilot

    Well and propulsion too. They dont just magically go forward. Fuel economy may not be exactly what you think, since airships like that are slower, then headwinds have more of an effect on them than something much faster.



    This brings up another question. What if you have SAILING MASTS on the dirigible? Kind of a strange question, but ships have been doing it for thousands of years. This kind of ship is just bouyant in a different medium.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 03:26 PM
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    They have done so haven't they?

    There are Zeppelin flights right now.

    www.zeppelinflug.de...


    A Zeppelin Flight – Something very Different

    Cruising with the Zeppelin NT – a view from above, smoothly and gently along the Alps, over towns and cultural landscapes – a unique flight adventure from the bird's eye view. Large panorama windows provide an impressive view from every seat. Look forward to a flight of some special kind.

    The DZR offers a variety of different routes. Flights with a duration between 30 minutes and 2 hours are offered. The flight operation can directly be monitored from the check-in pavillon at the hangar and at the take-off and landing site of the Zeppelin NT.

    The check-in pavillon and the terrace next to it welcome all visitors. The hangar of the airship may also be visited. Competent guides will provide you with a vivid picture about the development of the Zeppelin NT. Enjoy an unusual atmosphere with interesting material at your fingertips.

    www.zeppelinflug.de...



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 07:45 PM
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    Originally posted by sir_chancealot

    Originally posted by firepilot

    Well and propulsion too. They dont just magically go forward. Fuel economy may not be exactly what you think, since airships like that are slower, then headwinds have more of an effect on them than something much faster.



    This brings up another question. What if you have SAILING MASTS on the dirigible? Kind of a strange question, but ships have been doing it for thousands of years. This kind of ship is just bouyant in a different medium.


    They are in effect a kind of sail, they already move along with the air mass. A sail would not do anything.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 08:49 PM
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    Couldn't let this thread pass withou putting My two cents in as well!


    The company I helped build has had a long history with LTA's; first with Rockoons, balloon launched rockets, currently with Airships, and eventually with Airships To Orbit (ATO's)

    I am in no way an expert in this field, but I have had enough experience to fully endorse the re-emergence of the Airship as a viable transportation alternative.


    To answer the OP's basic question as to why airships remain over-looked step-children, let me add one big possibility:


    The current Air transportation infrastructure is geared exclusively around the heavier-than-air craft already in use.


    And as we all know, once an infrastructure is in place, it takes a near catastrophe to nurture alternatives.


    Perhaps the skyrocketing cost of fuel will be the near-catastrophe that will nurture the rebirth of the Airship as a common mode of transport.


    As to design considerations for a modern airship, I have a few thoughts as well.


    As some one pointed out previously, airships are Huge. But their very size, in terms of available surface area, makes them ideal candidates for photovoltaic power generation. Why haul expensive petro-fuels, or even slightly less expensive bio-fuels, up with you when you can tap the power of the sun?


    Now, I know everyone seems to have this bugaboo about hydrogen, thanks in large part to the Hindenberg. But what actually caused the death and destruction of the Hindenberg disater was not the hydrogen itself, but the aluminum powder-based doping the Germans used on the skin of the craft.

    Aluminum powder is extremely flammable; in fact, it is a primary component of solid rocket fuel!


    Also, as pointed out, being lighter than air, when released, hydrogen rises into the surrounding air; when it ignites, hydrogen burns "up", away from the ground...or the airship.

    Additionally a hydrogen-based airship could be designed to use a part of its lifting gas as propulsive fuel as well, simply by incorporating hydrgen fuel cells to power its electric drive motors.


    And here's an idea for those still a bit squeamish about "All that explosive hydrogen over their heads":


    How about an H/He - hybrid Airship design?

    Primary lifting cells would be hydrogen-filled to provide greater lift at lower cost (and would tie in nicely to a increasingly hydrogen-based economy!), but would be separated from the passengers and crew by an intermediate layer of non-flammable Helium-filled "secondary" lift cells.

    The helium cells could be smaller, since nost of the lifting work would be provided by the upper layer of H-cells, but would provide some level of safety-backup for the larger cells. Additionally, since He is non-flammable, the He-cells would provide something of a "fire-wall" in case of emergency.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 10:06 PM
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    Allthough I don't think airships are the most viable alternative, as posted above, I guess that a helium airship covered in latest generation printed solar cells and running electrical engines off a lightweight battery back could be a viable alternative to say cruise ships for example. Reminds me of the end of Southland Tales. And of course maybe for high tonnage carge really big airships would have an advantage for landlocked cities, as they could reduce the expensive overland legs of transport.

    So I guess there could be a niche there. If anything they would make the life of the 1 mile high club that much easier, what with the private cabins and ample above shoulder legroom.



    posted on Jun, 9 2008 @ 11:51 PM
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    If I recall correctly the top speed of a typical "Goodyear" style blimp is about 130mph? I see no reason this could not be increased by using a flying wing or sting ray/manta design as the speed is mostly limited by the enormous drag of the balloon. The added advantage to this is more surface area for solar cells.

    The only thing I can think of that might make that unworkable is how stable such a design would be in bad weather. For all i know it might not even be an issue.

    You can also do wacky propulsion like this:




    posted on Jun, 10 2008 @ 12:52 AM
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    $100 a blimp burns FAR more fuel than a jet for a given payload. You're creating a whole lot more drag, and go a whole lot slower, while not being very high, hence you're mercy of the weather. If you go higher then jet streams become a problem.

    Solar cells may not work. They're expensive, although that is changing, but also if you're trying to go fast, you're going to need a butt load of energy to propel something. A Boeing 777 has two engines that each put out over 100 000 shaft horse power.


    security concerns about hijackers using planes as flying bombs,

    Someone could high jack a blimp with a bomb inside and fly it into a statium... ( It's off a movie
    ).


    global warming concerns about pollutants and emissions,

    Airbus state that their A380 consumes fuel at the rate of less than 3 L/100 km per passenger... That's with 555 passengers and no cargo. Average passenger airplanes in 1998 averaged 4.8 L/100 km per passenger. Substantially better now, and that's set to continue.


    with skyrocketing fuel costs that show no signs of going back down,

    Fuel prices are not the issue. The issue is competition which makes the airline buisness basically a suicide mission, fares are low that is just driving airlines into the dirt. Once the competition slows down and fleets decrease, then they'll start making money again.

    European and even Australian airlines are usually doing well with fuel prices far higher than USA.

    Heliumn is damned expensive!

    I would say the future is with mass transit and aircraft for longer routes.


    [edit on 10/6/2008 by C0bzz]



    posted on Jun, 10 2008 @ 07:07 AM
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    I'd thought about the solar-cell prospect on the dirigibles, but then immediately dismissed it for two reasons, the added weight of the solar cells might cause a significant problem for the airbag part of the blimp. And the other is the electrical infrastructure underlaying the solar cells would generate a helluva lot of static electricity, and probably make it a lot more likely to spark up.

    Anyone have more knowledge on those two risks? Regretfully I am not an electrical engineer...yet.



    posted on Jun, 10 2008 @ 10:18 AM
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    That German company that was mentioned earlier did indeed claim to be building a zepplin, but turns out it was basically a scam. When it was declared insolvent 300 million euros went missing.

    Now the giant hangar that they built is a massive indoor waterpark

    en.wikipedia.org...
    en.wikipedia.org...




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