Is The New Golden Age of Airships Upon Us?
The answer may surprise you.
If you're old enough, or remember much in your high school history class, you probably remember the golden days of airships. Not so long ago, blimps and their cousins were the darlings of pilots and many a pundit predicted they would take over aviation. But then jet engines stole their place in history and airships were relegated to the logo for a tire company.
Today, there is hope for their resurgence in aviation. A solar powered airship is currently being built and tested by a UK company. The company, Varialift Airships, is predicting a dramatic demand for their Airships for two reasons:
- They don't require runways to take off and land, meaning they can reach almost anywhere on the planet faster than existing logistical solutions.
- They use 95 percent less fuel than jets.
So while there is ample reason for optimism, there is also reason for skepticism. Airships are much slower than their modern jet counterparts, traveling at approximately half the speed of of a traditional 747.
The airship is made from aircraft grade aluminum and is capable of transporting 50 metric tons of cargo.
The airship also contains multiple compressed helium tanks. When the helium is released into the main chamber, it creates enough lift to propel 10,000 meters up into the atmosphere.
Varilift still has not produced a production model, but they do have a completed prototype so pilot training can begin. The prototype is located at an airfield in France and is 140 meters long, 26 meters wide, and 26 meters wide.
Other companies are also working on airship designs. One of these designs, The Airlander, is being developed by UK manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles. The Airlander features four diesel engines powering its propellors.
For the moment, however, airships remain in the idea stage. Because they are much slower then jets, it seems unlikely they will find a consumer audience. Rather, their future will include freight and commercial logistics. Surveillance and broadcasting are also being explored.