back to article 'World's largest' airship inflated in colossal Alabama cowshed

The "world's largest airship" - according to its makers - was inflated for the first time yesterday and is undergoing ground tests inside a mighty roofed exhibition hall in Alabama which in normal times offers "the space for 1500 cattle". The "Bullet 580" ship measures 235 feet long and 65 feet in diameter. It is intended …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A whole tonne!

    Why that's 5% of the useful lift of an airship built in 1918 (the R34)

    Haven't we come far in the last 90 years!

    1. Ed Blackshaw


      Modern airships don't have that annoying tendency to rapidly burn due to not being full of large amounts of a highly flammable gas.

      1. Jared Hunt

        Hydrogen vs. Helium

        AFAIK there isn't a lot of difference in lifting ability between hydrogen and helium. The reason that the rigid bodied Zeppelins favoured by ze Germans were filled with the more flammable substance was cheifly because the yanks owned most of the worlds supply of helium and wouldn't sell it to them.

        Which, considering what the germans were using Zeppelins for during wartime, could be considered fair enough. :oD

      2. dr_forrester


        We don't paint them with thermite anymore. That also tends to reduce flammability.

      3. Stevie


        They also don't coat the covering with powdered rocket fuel any more. The flames given off by the Hindenburg were highly visible in the B&W newsreel footage. Hydrogen burns with an almost invisible blue flame, so non-radiant that it is quite dangerous to have your hands near a burning hydrogen flame (as I once discovered during my youth). Almost all the heat produced in a hydrogen fire goes up, not out, so not only can't you see the flame, you can't feel it either (until you pass your hand through it).

        What you can see in the Hindenburg footage is the outer skin burning off. It was doped using an alumin(i)um-based compound quite similar to the one they pack into the solid fuel boosters that the Shuttle employs.

        I think The Onion said it best: "Once again one of these seemingly invincible leviathans of the air has proved as fragile as gasoline-soaked tissue paper".

        I think probably the airship will remain an indescribably attractive yet unattainable nirvana. Not because of the flammability of the gas, though that is of course a concern, but because of the vagaries of the atmosphere. The Airship is so long that if the nose experiences lift due to non-homogeneous air density over its length it will try and stand vertical, at which point the pressure differentials and expansion behaviour of the gas in the cells fight to keep it that way.

        Of course, modern computer controls might be able to mitigate the behaviour, but the airship is a fundamentally unreliable device, IMO.

      4. John Fielder

        check your history please

        what turned out to be dangerous on the Zepplins was not the hydrogen, which everyone knew was dangerous and was treated with respect, but the dope put on the clothe covering to strengthen and stiffen it. It was highly enflamable and was set alight by the static electricity.

        it's always the things you don't think of that cause trouble

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Largest? 1 Tonne Payload?

    I think the size record still belongs to the Hindenburg doesn't it. IIRC that was about 800ft by 120ft. A bit bigger than this poxy blimp.

    As for the payload. That would be about a dozen healthy adults with no luggage.

    So nowhere near as big or capable as something built over 70 years ago.

    Not impressed.

    1. Pablo

      Key word: Was

      I think they're saying it will be larger than any airship still in use.

    2. Ian Michael Gumby

      Does size matter?

      Pardon the pun but the R series and Zeppelins were rigid air ships.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Normal times

    a mighty roofed exhibition hall in Alabama which in normal times offers "the space for 1500 cattle".

    What do 1500 cows get up to in there in 'normal times'? Line dancing, synchronised mooing or what? I think we should be told.

  4. Brutus


    Apparently, the 1000 lb payload is for maximum height (20,000ft). The ships are designed to haul payloads as heavy as 15,000 pounds up to 2,500 feet (from their press release). Still only manages 80mph, though.

  5. Jon Double Nice

    Couldn't you just

    box some of the helium up when you don't need it? You know, pump it into little canisters or something?

    1. leakyPC

      Sounds like a fair idea

      I would also think using Battery power would be another way to solve this problem, chuck some light weight solar energy collecting material on top (I know this kind of thing doesn't exist yet) and then there would be no need for batteries as long as your above the clouds.

    2. Ed Blackshaw

      The problem here...

      ...Is that gases tend to release heat (i.e. get hot) when compressed, and absorb heat (i.e. cool down) when expanded. Whilst I'm sure these problems aren't insurmountable, it does introduce engineering issues, particularly when dealing with large volumes of gases.

  6. Beaviz

    Wow, that's one huge


    I do look forward to the days these are flying overhead. The viewfrom inside one of those would be sweeeeeeet. maybe we're heading for another golden age of air travel?

    1. william henderson 1
      Thumb Up

      i name this skyship

      the USS John C Holmes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Golden Age?

      The golden age of air travel had nothing to do with airships. That was more down to lanes like the Empire class flying boats. Very few passengers = lots of room = high staff to passenger ratio = blooming expensive tickets. Also low flying speeds meant long journeys were completed over a number of days setting down every day for lunch and for an overnight stop.

      Airships were never really a serious proposition, although a few people tried to make them so they never made any money. And people are even less likely to want to fly that way now that everybody rushes everywhere.

  7. Andus McCoatover


    Ah, I get it. Methane's lighter than air - so now we have a recyclable airship. <parp>

  8. Ken 16 Silver badge

    But can it bomb London?

    (Ontario), if only to qualify as a proper Zeppelin.

  9. Dr. Mouse

    I have the answer!

    Power the balloon using hydrogen, and fill the balloon with hydrogen. As fuel (hydrogen) is used, Gas (hydrogen) is removed from the balloon. Win win!!

    Hindenburg? What's that? Basic understanding of what now?

  10. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    " Replacing the lost helium for another flight is costly and troublesome."

    ...especially if the US Gvt closes down the helium repositiry.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    "surveying or surveillance"

    I know those words mean different things, but somehow that just seems wrong.

  12. the old rang

    A little correct information, please

    It would be nice, to know that this is a balloon, not a rigid airship.. (no frame)...

    Blimp is ok...for this type of airship...

    Zeppelin is not

    But, cute article for those that are interested in airships... A little disturbing those liking Dirigibles.

  13. Johnny Canuck


    I don't know why but I feel a sudden urge to jab the thing with a large pin.

  14. Stevie


    Anyone up for forming a consortium to buy and operate these on the Huntington-Manhattan run?

    Anyone who has been a victim of the bloody Long Island Rail Road, the world's saddest excuse for a commuter mass transit system, would pay a premium to avoid having to do business with them any more. This is a market waiting to be exploited.

    With advance ticket sales you'd know how much operating capital you'd have to work with each month and could easily see where service needed cutting back or expanding, and by not running an off-peak service you could save a bundle.

    I wonder if the Empire State building management would be interested in using their observation deck for its original purpose?

    Best of all, speed wouldn't be a factor since the only competition is the bloody Long Island Rail Road and on a good day a snail with gout could beat one of their trains.

    I used to commute from Coventry to London in the time they take to get me the 40 miles from my house to Brooklyn. Or not, about five times a year, when it all becomes too much for the poor dears. So much for the 21st Century.

  15. Anonymous John

    World's largest airship

    In the sense that the X37-B will be the World's largest Space Shuttle a year from now.

  16. Marcelo Rodrigues

    Something I never understood...

    Is all this problem with excess lift after they burned some fuel. I mean, why not just make one or two large baloons inside the baloon?

    Then they could just pump atmospheric air inside the baloons. It would have a two fold effect:

    1) More weight inside the blimp (the compressed air)

    2) The helium would be compressed by the secondary baloons, thus getting denser. This would surely diminish the lift generate.

    Yes, yes. I know compressed gas gets hotter. But the pressure would be low, and the area huge. Wouldn't it have enough dissipating area?

    There must be something I'm missing here. It's just too easy and simple.

    1. Marcus Aurelius
      Thumb Down


      The fact that you will be burning fuel to compress the air you want to pump in....thus needing more compressed air.

      I'm sure you're violating a few more laws of Physics, but I'll let Scotty explain further

      1. Marcelo Rodrigues

        Don't know about the fuel...

        I mean, the air would be compressed at low pressures. Have You ever seen a jackhammer? They use a bloody huge compressor - and can run all day with... what? 50l of diesel?

        We are talking about much lower pressures here - so the ratio fuel/compressed air would be even better.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ANd then they realised...

    That they couldn't get it out through the door.

  18. Doug 3

    condensate system

    maybe using the huge gas chamber as a distributed storage system for the ballast fluid is what they're using. Circulation systems keep the gas and gasified fluid distribution equally throughout but forward and aft ballast systems extract fluid from the gas chamber as needed.

    it's about time we got back to using these kinds of things for cargo transport. The lack of understanding of what took out the Hindenburg destroyed a whole industry for decades.

  19. The Indomitable Gall

    The answer to the bouyancy problem is simple:

    OK, so you need to lose lift as you lose weight in fuel. So what if your fuel was your lifting agent? This takes care of itself.

    That means one thing and one thing only: hydrogen. Unsafe, you cry? Well they keep trying to put it in our cars, so it can't be that bad.

    Anyway, a hybrid helium/hydrogen airship could be very safe, with an envelope-in-envelope design.

    Have an outer inflation chamber (or series of chambers) filled with helium, and an internal chamber filled with hydrogen. In that way, if the hydrogen cell ruptures, it leaks into a 100% inert atmosphere and cannot explode. For hydrogen gas to escape, there would need to be a total failure of the entire balloon system, which would probably mean a fatal plummet anyway, so the added risk from the hydrogen is negligible.

    Besides, the Hindenberg exploded because of a fault in its skin and problems with sparking from static electricity -- modern materials aren't as succeptible to such problems, so a leak would simply be a leak. Explosions are unlikely.

  20. M 6


    " as many as 1500 cattle ("with milking parlor") "

    I saw this and thought it was what the airship could hold! Wouldn't that be cool though? Have a floating field with cows and a milk parlor. The home milk delivery in the morning would be much more exicting!

  21. Nick 10

    Buoyancy compensation

    Surely the easiest way to do this would be to pump some of the gas out of the flexible tank (thus reducing volume) and into storage cylinders (thus maintaining mass). This would increase the density of the aircraft, and allow it to sink.

    Can I patent this idea?

  22. E 2

    Samantha, suck ducts

    Is that a suck duct in the floor in the foreground of the pic on the second page? Samantha had best be very careful.

    1. Robert E A Harvey


      Nah, that's the cooling duct down to the reactor. Don't you know anything about narrative arcs and story imperatives?

  23. Rob 96

    Is this another "creating new life" story? I'm sure I've seen that before...

    from about 4:50

  24. GrahamT

    Nice idea but...

    The weather has more effect on these than heavier than air machines. Both in America watching the Goodyear blimp, and here watching a Virgin Lightship trying to navigate in winds that wouldn't worry a microlight, I was shocked at how uncontrollable these things become especially on take-off.

    You can't tack an airship. I saw a pilot try to once and all the headway he had made into the wind was immedately lost as the Virgin blimp was turned sideways by the wind and blown back past its starting point. The Goodyear ship was bucking and tossing like a rodeo bull as it headed into gusty wind. Any passengers must have been seriously airsick. I hadn't believed something so big could move so much, so quickly.

    Maybe if they are as big as the Zeppelins and above ground turbulence, then they could ride the weather better.

    As for bouyancy, submarines have been compressing and decompressing air forever to control bouyancy, I'm sure similar could be done with helium. A dirigible especially could have cells with membranes separating helium from air, with the proportion being varied to control bouyancy. The compression would be quite slow as the fuel is used, so the heat could be dissipated in the air, and decompression only happens during refueling, so the gas could be re-heated from ground station provided energy, i.e. plug the nozzle heaters into the mains. Failling that use the engines' waste heat to warm it.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Just one thing...

    They'll never get it out that door...

  26. This post has been deleted by its author

  27. Alistair MacRae

    I'm no engineer but...

    Couldn't you instead of vent helium just compress it with a pump and a tank?

    If you want to go down, pump more air in, if you want to go up release some?

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      obvious, innnit?

      That's what submarines have done to dive for the last century.

  28. crypt
    Thumb Up

    Who will fly transadlantic on a zepplin?

    Steampunks !

    I look forward to gliding slowly above the earth.

    More civilised than those nasty aero-planes dont-cha-know.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    The only advantage...

    ...I can see now, should it ever run out of fuel (be that diesel, hydrogen), it won´t plummet to the ground or inevitably glide towards it, like certain other heavier-than-air flying contraptions. Just vent some gas off or call for a helicopter with towing cables. Being adrift mid-air should proven absurd, but it beats forced landing.

    On second thought, given it doesn´t need runways to take off or land, it still needs something akin to airport facilities (and huge ones at that), which would be the main reason why airplanes must carry extra fuel; they either go back from where they took off, or land anywhere (not so) near their intended objective.

    Can it cross the Atlantic in 18 hours or less? Ok let's be fair, make it 24 hours. A cruise ship would make it in 24 days, perhaps...?

    On the other hand, we have the (military) Osprey, that can land almost anywhere, fly faster than any chopper, can carry the same or more payload, but got some proven reliability issues.

  30. damian fell 1

    volcano beater

    How would it handle volcanic ash??

  31. Yesnomaybe

    Someone do the maths, please

    How much could you vary the lift in a gas-bag (No insult intended) on the sort of scales we are talking about here, if you used modern materials for the bag (Mylar perhaps?) and compressed the gas within by squeezing the bag. Could squeeze the bag by having straps running around it, and use a winch (Quick response time) or have another, smaller bag inside, and fill this with air.

  32. william henderson 1

    1500 cows

    if they had been used to inflate that blimp, there would have been no need to speed up the film, if what the envirofascists tell us about cow flatulence is true.

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