Airship development tends to come in waves, the most recent of which arrived in the mid-2000s. Facing two wars and a need for new surveillance and logistics craft, the Pentagon undertook a flurry of airship development. The Navy was first, with the MZ-3A, a technology testbed. The Air Force and Army followed, with their Blue Devil and Long-Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) programs. Both ships were about as long as a football field and capable of flying for weeks. But then the bottom fell out. The financial crisis hit (bad), the wars began to wind down (good), and a helium shortage struck (expensive). In June 2012, Blue Devil lost funding. Eight months later, the LEMV got the ax too. The MZ-3A is still flying, but its funding is on the chopping block. If there was an airship renaissance in the making, alas, it has come down to Earth.
This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Popular Science. See the rest of the magazine here.
The cancellation of the two programs was sad, but that hardly has any bearing on whether airships are a technology that deserves further development. The Aeroscraft and Solar Ship are still both in the game, and Lockheed is still working on its Skytug.
Granted, saying that airships are the "future of flight" is taking it a bit too far, because even if every endeavor goes perfectly, it would be more accurate to say "airships are the future of bulk VTOL air cargo."
Always defer to facts rather than speculation.
Helium can be extracted from natural gas, making it replaceable and cheaper.
Hydrogen can be mixed with the helium. Hydrogen will settle at the top and will be twice as buoyant as the helium. At the top, it will be separated from any other activity, and will not catch fire (unless shot with flame tracers.) If attacked by an enemy, the helium will mix with the hydrogen and slow its burn rate.
If need be, a propeller can be installed at the bottom (in the helium) and powered by an induction coil. It could mix the helium with the hydrogen, either continuously or as a fire extinguishe in the event of an attack.
It is possible that blimps could become the new drones. They can stay up indefinitely and use little fuel, especially if they are not travelling far. They can relay radio signals, put out radar signals and reception, or just spy on the ground.
I had a good idea for using airships. For building a building in the middle of a city, instead of moving cranes and a ton of stuff through a crowded city, build the building level by level at a remote location. Then the airship picks up the section of the building, flies over the city, and lowers the section on top of the previous section, essentially stacking a building layer by layer.
I think they need to rename Popular Science to Popular Negativity.
Guess the writers should have read this first:
I think the Russians and the Chinese, and everybody else on the face of the earth would differ with this article's assumption that the future of airships is sealed just because the Americans are broke.
If there's a use for it, someone will build it.
For example, I always thought it foolish of these Russian Oligarchs to build super yachts. If I had unlimited money, I'd build the biggest, most luxurious airship in human history and cast my shadow on all the little people, inviting the beautiful and superfamous aboard, and spreading lies about the debauchery.
Ah think of owning your own luxury airship! much better than private jet or yacht. You could fly wherever you wanted. Heck a large enough ship you can just live on it indefinitely. Cover the top in flexible solar cells and maybe have a wind turbine or two on top and you don't even have to burn any fuel for energy when your on the ground.
Why not use hydrogen for unmanned blimps? Combine with solar power to create more hydrogen from electrolysis and then use the stored H as battery power at night with a fuel cell they could stay up damn near forever.
Like any overpriced Yachts for the rich, these Airships will continue at least for them.
I do not think that there have been very many people, who after the 1940's still thought that Airships could be the future of flight. But there are certainly many niche applications where an airship could be used.
Ships are not the future of travel either but many thousands of people go on cruises. Why not "cruise" above land, game parks, glaciers the forests and towns?
Think how much easier it could be to deliver very bulky loads by air instead of via rivers canals roads and rail. Think reactor vessels, wind turbine blades. Could it not open a whole new dimension to transport?
Just because nobody is close to getting Airships off the ground at the moment does not mean the concept is dead.
I read they are being considered for delivering groceries to northern Canada native reserves.Apparently,roads are only good in winter,and when summer comes,they are impassible.
In a war situation all I see is a large, slow moving target capable of being easily punctured and brought down.
Just because the US military doesn't see a use for such aircraft, the rest of the world does and they continue to research and develop them. Thank fully, companies like Aeroscraft and Skycat are two such companies that see a growing need for aircraft that can go anywhere.
Airships are far from dead.
Also, we are not running out of helium, not by a long shot. Sure the US reserves are decreasing...but helium...we won't run out of it any time soon.
Here is why. 7% of all the worlds natural gas reserves(which is measured in the trillions of cubic meters) is helium. Helium is created by the decaying of radioactive Thorium and Uranium deep in the earths mantel and crust. It, like other gases(including methane) is captured in huge underground pockets. When gas companies refine the Natural Gas, Helium is one of the gases that is removed because it inhibits the proper burning of the Natural Gas(helium is not flammable). All it takes is for the companies that refine natural gas to capture it - which is not that hard to do. :) If these natural gas companies would capture the helium they consider a waste product - we'd have enough helium to fill thousands and I mean thousands of airships like this - airships 300+ meters in length!
Maybe the writers at Popular Science need to do a little research before they write their articles.
I believe it was Bloomberg News that did a feature on new commercial airship ventures. Aeroscraft is one of the most promising outfits - they're currently perfecting technology to actuate the helium levels within individual cells, allowing for more precise vertical control.
Further details of their story escape me, but it was in strong contradiction to this vignette.
but those programs even the Aeroscraft & the Canadian Solarship are not true airships. if a lesson is to be learned from all of this it is about hybrids just making the basic airship design unnecessarily complicated and more contentious. witness the instability of putting hoverunits or suction cups to avoid moorage installations. and they're making getting hybrids more expensive to operate and maintain. hence the military whose funding consistency and backing has always been fickle and subject to the whims of its Congress
just one last word: everyone here seems to have a pretty good grasp of the mechanics of it and the issues and are obviously airship fans. well, you may want to critique also on a new grassroots effort at crowdfunding to build -- get this, steampunk fans -- a prototype sail-equipped airship that can be operated by one pilot. Way back in the 1890's, a South American expat and engineer based in Paris used to build and fly one-man airships powered by 3- or 7-hp car engines like they were his personal runabouts (practically landing on a Parisian boulevard and go for a bit of aperitif at a sidewalk bistro). The fastest he got to was 15 mph at one time in a race. this crowdfunding project aims partially to revive the idea of personal airships but with a twist: equip it w/ with sails instead so it does not use any fuel for propulsion. It might become practical & cheap enough even for mass air travel, (but I'm also thinking along the lines of a new kind of racing sports perhaps?) . search for "skysail" in the crowdfunding website of Rockethub.com (in partnership with the A&E network and Popular Science). the project leader is an electronics not an aeronautical engineer - but he means & plans well and could sure use some feedback.
Actually, the need for this technology is here, right now. Airship technology can provide heavy-lifting capabilities with a fraction of the environmental impact of trucking or helicoptering (not sure that's a word) large loads into remote areas.
Case in point: Several companies have had bitter fights with environmentalists and local residents in North Idaho, who are opposed to the transportation of "megaloads" through to the oil sands of Canada. Those megaloads run as large as "520,000 pounds and... 300 feet long, 20 feet wide and 22 feet high." These megaloads often require the removal of overhanging wires, stoplights, telephone poles, and obstructions on the shoulder, and they tend to be very hard on the asphalt itself, leading to cracking and breaking of the roadway.
This would be the perfect application for a rigid airship. And while helium's price has skyrocketed in recent years, and hydrogen still carries the taint of the Hindenburg disaster, there may be ways of utilizing Buckminster Fuller's "tensegrity sphere" concept, wherein heated air does all the work.
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