back to article First rigid airship since the Hindenburg cleared for outdoor flight trials

Good news for airship fanciers this week, as it appears that the world's first rigid airship since the 1930s will soon take to the skies for flight trials: and better still, this ship has a new piece of technology which could actually change the existing landscape and permit the leviathans of the skies to return. Rigid ships …


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  1. returnmyjedi

    Good to see that Miriam Margolyes is forging a career away from acting.

    1. Alan Bourke



      1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

        Re: titter

        I was more wondering if this was a more sedate remake/reboot/sequel to Con-Air?

        Con-Airship perhaps?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Something about that picture makes me think of Ghostbusters.

      For the next photo shoot boys, stand the short one on a box, get his hair cut, and look serious.

      1. Frumious Bandersnatch

        re: Something about that picture makes me think of Ghostbusters

        My first thought (based on age, but definitely not the smiling) was Solyaris. Such a motley crew is the antithesis of Hollywood's "Right Stuff" view of advanced aviation, and rightly so.

      2. Greg J Preece

        Something about that picture makes me think of Ghostbusters.

        For the next photo shoot boys, stand the short one on a box, get his hair cut, and look serious.

        Does he not look a bit like Elliot Gould did in Friends?

    3. Roger Greenwood

      That is one mad scary boffin. I like him.

    4. Hollerith 1
      Thumb Down

      How witty

      And spoken like a true gentleman. There's nothing an elderly woman likes so much is a joke at the expense of her body size.

      1. Intractable Potsherd

        Re: How witty @Hollerith

        I think you may have missed the point of the joke. It refers not to the first picture in the article, but the second.

        In addition, Ms Margolys has shown total acceptance of, and comfort with, her body in interviews I have seen in the last twelve months.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    Back of the envelope calculation

    Looks like air at STP is only seven and a bit times heavier than helium. So compressing the helium to eight bar will make it sink; reasonably manageable I would have thought.

    Impressive bit of build there. I wonder if they're planning on launching a rocket plane?

    1. bitten

      Re: Back of the envelope calculation

      A good way to kill yourself was to pressurize a car tire to 10 bar and look at what happens when the tire explodes.

      1. Chris Miller

        Re: Back of the envelope calculation

        True, but aircraft tyres can be pressurised to 200 psi (13 bar), and rarely kill anyone - though you wouldn't want to be nearby if one lets go.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Back of the envelope calculation

        A bicycle tire is typically pressurized to 110-125 psi, which is right in the 8 bar range. They don't kill or even maim anyone when they blow up. Perhaps the difference is because a car tire is thick and has nasty stuff like steel belts in it, while the inner tube in a bike tire is not much more than a balloon made out of something that doesn't stretch as well as a normal balloon. Car tires are not built for 100+ psi, they're built for 35 psi. I'm sure they could make them able to handle 200 psi if they was a point to doing so, but that would add unnecessary expense and make for a very rough ride!

        Sounds like what COSH is doing is transferring helium from balloons (used during lift stage) to bicycle inner tubes (to reduce lift) With pressures in the 8 bar range I don't think we're going to need to worry about another Hindenburg because a few inner tubes give way inside a structure LINED WITH METAL. So long as they're durable enough such that one blowing up isn't going to cause the one next to it to blow up and start a giant chain reaction I think such fears are unfounded.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Back of the envelope calculation

          And when said inner tubes do explode, their only effect will be to make the the airship MORE buoyant.

          "May-day, May-day our COSH tanks have ruptured, we're crash-climbing into space!"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "Explode"

            When we say explode here, we really mean violently burst.

            The gas used for filling the tanks is Helium, which is inert. It is impossible for it to cause a chemical explosion or combustion of any kind.

            1. The Indomitable Gall

              Re: "Explode"

              "When we say explode here, we really mean violently burst."

              ...which is one of the dictionary definitions of "explode". Your point, caller?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: "more buoyant"

            Unless the designers decided to include the obvious safety system of a simple vent valve?

          3. scrishton

            Re: Back of the envelope calculation

            ... In a very squeaky voice.

  3. ecofeco Silver badge

    Rigid Airships have a place

    Rigid airships have a place, but never as military transport unless well to the rear.

    I would love to see commercial passenger travel using these, but alas, it will probably be an expensive boutique operation. Translation: I won't be able to afford it.

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: Rigid Airships have a place

      I was thinking that, if it was made plush enough it could be an alternative to a cruse ship, albeit one I would actually like to travel on*. Plenty of places an airship could go that a cruse ship can't.

      *You could make the interior styling that of the 1930's, rather than plastic tat, and specify that the crew wear monocles and such. Give every passenger a pipe and smoking jacket on boarding, I say. What what?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        Have you never seen Thunderbird 6? People getting popped off left, right and centre. Terrible business. And the decor!!!

      2. Fibbles

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        I love the idea of airship cruises. I don't see why they'd have to be a niche market though.

        The main disadvantage of a cruise on a traditional ship is that you're limitied to destinations on the coast or at the ends of rivers where they're still wide and deep enough to accommodate large hulls. Airships aren't restricted in such ways.

        Leisurely cruise to the heart of the Amazon anyone?

      3. thalass

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        Indeed. I would much rather a two and a half day voyage across the pacific in comfort than the current 15 hour sleep deprivation marathon. Never mind that the range stated on the Aeroscraft site is quite a bit short of the 6500nmi between Sydney and LA.

        Even a train-style cabin would be an improvement over cattle class.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Rigid Airships have a place

      "I would love to see commercial passenger travel using these, but alas, it will probably be an expensive boutique operation. Translation: I won't be able to afford it."

      I suspect so. And I'd guess that the main cost problem will be the low productivity of the asset, caused by its slow speed. In the time this takes to get any reasonable distance, a conventional jet could have flow there and back twice including the turnarounds. Not only does that mean that the asset is less productive, but any crew will be similarly unproductive.

      I'd love to see airships come back, but I can't see that they have any real advantages in any role other than perhaps high altitude unmanned surveillance (and the Yanks seem to have taken a good look and decided that's better done with conventional drones). Other slow endurance tasks (like maritime patrol) are probably ruled out by the need to fly in very poor weather at low altitude (and for military transport, it's too slow to be used other than outside of combat zones, which makes it a slow, inflexible, single purpose piece of kit. I don't see this supplanting C130s and A400M ever.

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        Their main advantage is extremely stable, extremely heavy lifting duties with no improved airstrip necessary.

        Transporting equipment by helicopter sucks and is only done because there are no other options. Even purpose built heavy lifting helicopters like the Sky-Crane are highly unstable, have limited lift capacity (compared to an airship) and are very fuel inefficient. Helicopters also have significant load balancing challenges which put a big limitation on the shape of things that can be carried. Airships can compensate for uneven loads far, far better than a helicopter.

        1. PyLETS

          Re: Rigid Airships have a place

          An application where existing technology is expensive and difficult, is lifting the largest and highest wind turbines on top of towers for offshore wind generation. Putting the towers up and nacelle units on top is relatively easy, it's the turbine blades which are so large and capable of generating dangerous and destructive forces in tiny windspeeds during installation. Offshore wind generators tend to be much larger than onshore ones. The ship-based cranes currently used for this purpose can only work on very calm days, and if an airship could do this job more quickly or safely in even very slight wind this would increase the time window during which this work could be carried out.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Rigid Airships have a place

            I never thought of that problem. It seems like an interesting solution would be "flying bogies". One might be able to attach drone fans or (eg: quadcopters or similar) at certain places along the length of the blade to help maintain station and orientation while the crane (or skyhook) actually bears the weight.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Rigid Airships have a place@ Don Jefe

          "Transporting equipment by helicopter sucks and is only done because there are no other options."

          Actually, its not done much at all except by the military, and the military do it because it is fast, doesn't require any landing strip, and when it does land it can do so on a pocket handkerchief, a small deck area, or a bit of road. And they aren't carrying 250 tonnes, they're carrying a few troops, or a few tonnes of cargo. Being able to despatch three main battle tanks via airship doesn't get you much benefit in Iraq or Afghan.

          Airships with large capacity will be slow, they will require very large cleared areas for landing, and I'm not convinced that they will be much more stable than a chopper when the airship has a cross sectional area not far off the sail area of the Cutty Sark. Think about 250 tonne point to point loads, and as I see it there simply isn't the volume of traffic in the civil sector - how many nuclear power station reactors or the like are there to transport?

          1. Don Jefe

            Re: Rigid Airships have a place@ Don Jefe - Helicopter Delivery

            Helicopters are used for moving heavy or large things more than you might think. In the last five years we've been the engineering leads on three jobs where large equipment was flown in. All three were at a sprawling factory that was receiving new equipment from overseas that couldn't fit through the facilities and their positioning wasn't optional as they performed inline processes that couldn't be rerouted without building an entirely new factory.

            The equipment was sent by barge to the edge of the facility then lifted into their new homes in large sections. It was nerve wracking to say the least as well as extremely complicated. We had to cut big sections of roof off, build six electrically isolated guy towers and clean. The cleaning alone took over a week as the downdraft from the rotors, trapped in a big metal box (the factory) would turn anything loose into a ricocheting projectile with an unlimited power supply (as long as the helicopter was there anyway).

            Sorry, neat (to me) but boring story over. My point was that we had to schedule the delivery of the components nine months in advance. The company that provides the lift service is that backed up. There are several in the US that do it but these guys had the helicopter we needed. It is a niche industry, but they are always busy. It is also very expensive, huge liabilities are involved and it is very complicated. If airships existed for the work they would be cheaper, less dangerous, and could completely alter the manufacturing landscape as many, many decisions are made based solely on getting equipment into a facility.

            1. TheOtherHobbes

              Re: Rigid Airships have a place@ Don Jefe - Helicopter Delivery

              Upvoted for information over opinionation.

              I suspect there are a lot of other potential markets, including intermediate speed deliveries.

              Currently surface takes months and is usually 'If we lose it, tough.'

              Air takes a week or less,

              Secure guaranteed delivery with the low cost of surface but the security of tracked air would be very interesting, even if takes 2-3 weeks.

            2. The Indomitable Gall

              @Don Jefe Re: Rigid Airships have a place

              I don't think an airship's a good option for precision lifting due to its poor stability in even slightly breezy conditions. Airships are really only any good for the haulage side of things, where they're competing with your barges, not the helicopters.

              Most industrial installations need large water supplies, so barges are normally reliable for plant & materials delivery. There's a reason airships are being touted for very specific purposes, such as oil drilling -- most other uses are always going to be close to existing infrastructure.

              1. Drew 11

                Re: @Don Jefe Rigid Airships have a place

                "I don't think an airship's a good option for precision lifting due to its poor stability in even slightly breezy conditions."

                Ah, but with an airship, you could tether it to the ground with 3 cables, increase the airship lift to take up the slack, then you pretty much have a giant tripod sitting over the target area. Then you can just alter the length of those cables to "winch down" the load to the exact spot you want it. Highly stable.

      2. Robert Helpmann??

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        "I would love to see commercial passenger travel using these, but alas, it will probably be an expensive boutique operation. Translation: I won't be able to afford it."

        I suspect so. And I'd guess that the main cost problem will be the low productivity of the asset, caused by its slow speed.

        Hmm.. How about turning this into an asset? Perhaps setting up one of these creatures in the same fashion as a cruise ship would work. On the plus side, ports of call could be inland. On the minus: "Man overboard!" would be a bit more serious.

        1. Anomalous Cowturd

          @Robert Re: Man overboard.

          At least you know exactly where to look for the body.

          Straight down...

      3. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge

        Re: Rigid Airships have a place

        "...I suspect so. And I'd guess that the main cost problem will be the low productivity of the asset, caused by its slow speed. In the time this takes to get any reasonable distance, a conventional jet could have flow there and back twice including the turnarounds. Not only does that mean that the asset is less productive..."

        Um.. productivity isn't just a matter of comparing ANY item with the fastest of it's type. The question is whether the craft can find a market.

        Interestingly, speed across the Atlantic is not a simple process of cutting minutes off to be better. You have to consider the entire experience. For instance, the big liners could have gone considerably faster if designed to do so, but that would have meant leaving the UK at an inconvenient time, or arriving in the States at an inconvenient time. They took 4 days, leaving and arriving in the daytime. To really clean up they would have had to do it in 3 days, because nobody wanted to take 3 1/2 and arrive at 2AM.

        It looks to me as if an airship could cross in 24 hours. That's a good marketable time. At the moment you take a day to travel anyway, with what getting to and from the airports. Having a day of luxury at the beginning and end of a trip is a saleable commodity...and no jet lag...

    3. Jess

      it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

      Would it?

      Traveling time would go up by a factor of 5, I guess. But space would not be an issue. You'd be able to walk around or sleep. England to Europe would be fine.

      Fuel efficiency would be in its favor. If the top surface were solar cells, you could have a daylight only ship with minimal fuel costs.

      The question is whether the cost of the ships will be low enough to make travel cheaper. (Crew costs will go up by most of the factor of 5) How long will they last compared to a jet? What are the maintenance costs?

      1. Steve 13

        Re: it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

        Surely the point wouldn't be to get from A to B, it would be a cruise in the same way that you cruise on an ocean liner. You stop at multiple point and eventually return to your destination.

        Nobody points out that cruise ships must fail due to the slow nature of the journey, because the point isn't the speed, but the journey itself.

        1. Boothy

          Re: it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

          I could see smaller ones being used to replace viewing flights by helicopters, assuming the price can be competitive of course, or even longer trips.

          Image doing a run through the Grand Canyon, or a photo safari in Africa (this one could last days if the ship was big enough for the supplies)..

          Helicopter =

          * Noisy (have to speak via a headset)

          * Cramped seats wearing a harness.

          * Massive vibrations.

          * No facilities (have to land somewhere).

          Airship =

          * Quiet, can talk at a normal levels.

          * Free to get up an move around, possibly with proper viewing galleries, or even external balconies.

          * Stable platform

          * Could have things like a restaurant, toilets on board etc.

          * Could stay in the air for days as long as your not burning fuel quickly, i.e. a leisurely pace to view, rather than rushing from A to B.

          Even if it was expensive, I can imagine there would be a lot of rich people in the world that would like to float effortlessly above the African savannah for a few days irrespective of price.

        2. Kubla Cant

          Re: it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

          Nobody points out that cruise ships must fail due to the slow nature of the journey, because the point isn't the speed, but the journey itself.

          Cruise ships seem to contain a vast amount of stuff* to keep the passengers amused between stops. This is easier for ships because they're very, very big. It also suggests that the journey itself is less alluring than you might think.

          *Water slides, gourmet meals, lectures, adultery... you can probably tell I've never actually been on a cruise.

          1. Boothy

            Re: it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

            @ Kubla Cant

            Most current (water) cruse ships tend to be about where you are going to, and keep you entertained on route.

            i.e. a couple of nights in location A, then sail across an empty sea to get to location B for another night or two etc.

            River cruses tend to be different, as you have more to look at, and smaller boats with less on them.

            Airship cruses are more likely to be over land, so plenty to look at during the day, and the routes would most likely be plotted to make sure the most interesting stuff was flown past/over on route to the really interesting places. So less need for things like Water slides etc.

            Although I did just think, how cool would it be to have a roof top pool, especially if it had the horizon type pool edge!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

        "Traveling time would go up by a factor of 5, I guess. But space would not be an issue. You'd be able to walk around or sleep. England to Europe would be fine."

        You must be American. I can already catch a train to Europe from the UK, on which I can walk around, and it runs at up to twice the speed of an airship. If I want to waste a few hours I could catch a ferry, and if I want to get there quick then jet is the answer.

        Cost of the airship is quoted by the company as around $55m dollars for the 250 tonne lifter. That's around what the airlines pay for a 737 with a 20 tonne cargo capacity. Obviously if you want to carry 250 tonne loads to runway free locations, there's only one choice - but if you are carrying normal air cargo then the 737 (or more likely a cheaper second hand 757 refitted) beats it hands down because most people aren't transporting 250 tonnes at a pop, most people live near enough an airport, and most people don't want to wait for an extra day for their air mail or air cargo to be delivered.

        1. Boothy

          Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

          @ Ledswinger

          I think your comparing with the wrong type of transport. I doubt that an airship would (or could as you state) compete with aircraft, for air freight as the service is different. Current air freight is usually about speed rather than cost.

          I think they would be more likely to compete with ocean going freight, As they would be faster, and could pick up and deliver closer to the door. So no need to ship to/from a sea port first. Also as this is more of a bulk service, the 250 tonne would likely easily be filled.

          This could become an intermediate freight option (for medium to long haul). At the moment you have high cost, but fast air freight, or low cost, but slow cargo ships. An airship would probably sit in-between the two.

          Also if the source location (e.g factory) and target location (e.g. local distribution warehouse) had enough space for one of these to land. You could ship 250 tonnes direct, point-to-point. i.e. 250 tonnes of TVs direct from the manufactures in Asia, straight to the local distribution warehouse of a UK retailer.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Boothy

            "I think they would be more likely to compete with ocean going freight, "

            I doubt it. Do the maths on the latest (and biggest) container ships, and you'll find you're going to need a lot of airships to replace a single ship. If we "go large" with the Maersk Triple E ships under construction, they carry 18,000 TEU, with a probable cargo weight of 180,000 tonnes. That's 720 of these airships, with a highly skilled crew of at least four or more (unless you land for crew changes). Obviously the airships travel at five times the speed of a ship on routes potentially half as long, but the Maersk Triple E has a crew of only 22. You point out that this would only be for intermediate loads, but where are they?

            The reason many goods travel by sea is because the product cycles aren't fast enough nor the value high enough to permit air travel. And airships won't be materially cheaper. The challenge to sea borne containers is actually proposals to revamp the rail links across Asia, which exist but are slow and unreliable - but there's no will to do that, even though the time savings would be as great as your airship proposal, and the costs a lot lower. I doubt there's much mid merit cargo desperate for airship speeds - and in fact, if that's a problem, you move production closer to demand, rather than saving money moving where labour's free, and then paying loads to transport it back.

            You posit point to point travel, but that's not going to happen for routine loads. Look at air traffic management systems, look at the volume of traffic carried by road - can you really see airships landing at you local Curry's? I can't.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Boothy

              Ocean freight also has the huge advantage of being shipped inside its own rent and tariff free warehouse. Planes, trains and trucks generally have their profit built into transporting the cargo quickly then (ideally) making the return journey with new freight.

              Ships on the other hand are often parked offshore, sometimes for months with just a skeleton crew. It is cheaper than paying the insanely artificial rates at on shore commodities warehouses or port side storage fees with all the longshoreman 'value added' charges and it frees space at the port it came from. Everybody is happy. If it can return loaded that's just a bonus, but the 'medium' size vessels that carry the majority of freight turn a profit on a one way trip.

              You could never scale a similar scenario with airships. The costs of them sitting unused are simply too great and I don't think any nation would be comfortable with a fleet of airships hovering constantly just inside International Waters :)

              The unknown component in this entire discussion is maintenance. There are no reliable projections or estimates on what a modern airship will cost to keep flying over a long period. Ships last a long, long, long time, spare parts are readily available, maintenance has very low levels of precision and they retain significant value even after removal from service as salvage, floating warehouses, and strategic blocking of shipping lanes, ports and coastlines in an invasion. In a worst case scenario you can still stick large guns or missile batteries on them too. Can't really do any of that with an airship.

            2. Faster Better Greener

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Boothy

              Container trains from China to Germany are already running. Serious cash is being invested in upgrading the infrastructure too. DB Schenker is coordinating.

          2. Richard Gadsden

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            I doubt that specific route will be a big deal; there's a freight route by rail from China to western Europe - takes 11-14 days for container freight (compared to 9 for passenger rail or 45 or so by sea). That's probably similar speed-wise to airships and certainly cheaper.

            Several additional routes across Asia are being opened up at the moment (including ones that don't go through Russia - Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran-Turkey).

            Trans-Pacific is the route that might be interesting for airships.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

          Quote: ".... You'd be able to walk around or sleep. England to Europe would be fine."

          <Pedant mode>

          If your in England, your already in Europe.

          <Pedant mode/>

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            "<Pedant mode>

            If your in England, your already in Europe.

            <Pedant mode/>"

            Speak for yourself....

            (And do watch your spelling when in pedant mode, it does detract!)

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

              @ Ledswinger

              Europe is a geographical location, it's not like there is an option regarding being in it or not. Don't want to be in Europe, then you'll have to physically leave the continent. Not much chance of getting England to do that (v large tug boat required).

              Now if you were talking about the EU, then that's another story....

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Pedigree-Pete

                Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

                There are a few Scots who think they can leave Europe & the UK without a Tug Boat.

              3. CCCP

                Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

                @AC 14:25

                Sorry, off topic but WTF? Two down votes for what? Has the geography knowledge of elreg commentards suddenly dropped?

                Actually, they're probably down voting because they wish England wasn't so physically close to France. Or they're angry at Putin for the small island comment...

            2. cortland

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

              Up with which, etc . . .

            3. Peter Rowan

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

              If England isn't in Europe where has it moved to?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            XML parsing error

            Opening and ending tag mismatch

          3. Pedigree-Pete

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            "If your in England, your already in Europe"

            Sadly all to true in more than the Geographical sense.

          4. The Sod Particle

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            If you're going to be pedantic at least do it properly.

            <double pedant mode>

            If you're in England, you're already in Europe.

            <double pedant mode/>

          5. TheRealRoland

            @ac Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            Your what is already in Europe?

            If you want to be pedant-ish, show some real effort next time.

          6. cortland

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            When I went to Prep School there in the 1950's, it was a point of honour NOT to be European. (And never to react, no matter how many applications of the cane.)

          7. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            ... and syntax.

          8. tojb

            Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

            No, my friend. Europe is a continent, which Britain is in, but it is also a state of mind, which it is not.

            1. Peter Rowan

              Re: it will probably be an expensive @ Jess

              Not everyone who is British is a little Engerlander, I feel very European, then again I am from London, a bit more open minded.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: it will probably be an expensive boutique operation.

        Traveling time would go up by a factor of 5, I guess. But space would not be an issue. You'd be able to walk around or sleep. England to Europe would be fine.

        Not sure it would be so onerous, London to New York would be around 35 hours if they could get it going at around 100mph (The Zeppelin's could do 80 I think).

        I'd happily take a sleeper in preference to cattle class on a plane.

    4. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Re: Rigid Airships have a place

      but never as military transport unless well to the rear

      So a force of Scouts and Dragoons on the vanguard, backed up by long-range fire from your Carrier, then? Preferably backed up by Arbiters. Got ya!

    5. John X Public
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Rigid Airships have a place

      Once we have even just a few of these forging an established place in aeronautics Phase 2 can be implemented: Die Überluftschiffe or megadirigibles.

      Huge airships that are small cruising cities and do not normally attempt to land. Passenger boarding and resupply by small aircraft or airships that come up to meet it. I can see it now. Time for some Kickstarter trawling.

    6. Amorous Cowherder

      Re: Rigid Airships have a place

      I remember living near the Cardington hangers in Beds., back in the 1980's when the secret airship trials were going on. The number of UFO stories went up but then 6 months later it all came out and no more UFO sightings reported.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm curious

    If it only takes the pressure of a bike tyre to neutralise the lifting power of helium, why has it taken until now to make the technology work?

    1. MrXavia

      Re: I'm curious

      Because there has been little research into the technology,

      the great thing is that advances in other areas really make this a possibility now..

      Lighter/Stronger composite materials,

      Lighter more efficient & powerful motors (Brushless digital things) enabling the compression.

      the idea itself is not new, its just the implementation is now possible!

      The Hindenburg disaster killed off the Airship as a means of transport (even though the only people that died were killed by the fuel or jumping before it touched the ground... No one died as a result of the Hydrogen fire itself... And with modern flame retardant materials I am sure a Hydrogen airship could be built segmented enough that even a gas bag exploding would not destroy the whole ship)

      1. Don Jefe

        Re: I'm curious

        The Hindenburg and the very public US Navy airship failures all combined to kill off the technology. Look up pictures of the Akron (I think it was anyway) ground crew member dangling from the mooring lines (he falls right after the image was captured. He dies.) as well as the twisted wreckage with human limbs poking out. Those pictures got a lot of press and scared everyone off.

        1. graeme leggett Silver badge

          Re: I'm curious

          The R100 drove into a French hillside in 1930 and it didn't stop German work on airships nor people choosing to fly on them in preference to trains or ships.

          There may have been the novelty value at the time, so why not exploit it again.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: I'm curious

            "The R100 drove into a French hillside in 1930"

            R101 did. The R100 flew to Canada and back and was then scrapped after the R101 disaster and shutting down of the Imperial Airship Scheme.

            1. graeme leggett Silver badge

              Re: I'm curious

              mea culpa - I typed in a hurry and got it (embarrassingly) wrong.

      2. Frumious Bandersnatch

        Re: I'm curious

        I am sure a Hydrogen airship could be built segmented enough that even a gas bag exploding would not destroy the whole ship)

        ISTR that they used that logic with the TItanic, too. Interestingly, they reckon that if the captain had just ploughed straight into the iceberg the ship wouldn't have sunk. As it happened, the evasive action gouged all along the side, breaching many bulkheads in series. I can imagine that an airship pilot would probably take the same sort of evasive action in similar circumstances.

        Now if they had something like an aerogel with the ability to absorb a lot of hydrogen in the case of a leak ... though maybe not (since the resulting fuel/air mix might actually make any explosion more potent than pure Hydrogen).

        1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Re: I'm curious @Frumious

          " I can imagine that an airship pilot would probably take the same sort of evasive action in similar circumstances."

          Not sure there are *that* many icebergs floating around at a few thousand feet... I've been in and out of a cloud or two, but never met a flying iceberg!

          1. Frumious Bandersnatch

            Re: I'm curious @Frumious

            > never met a flying iceberg!

            There was a Michael Caine film called "Blue Ice". Imagine some mixup in plumbing between the toilet systems and the gas compression system and voila: lighter-than air icebergs :)

          2. Robert Helpmann??

            Re: I'm curious @Frumious

            I've been in and out of a cloud or two, but never met a flying iceberg!

            And I hope you do not! To paraphrase Pratchett, you have to be careful when flying through clouds as they might have rocks* in them.

            * Rocks of this nature are more typically referred to as "mountains."

        2. Don Jefe

          Re: I'm curious

          The Hindenburg burned anyway. It didn't explode. Filling a soft envelope (or envelopes) with pressurized flammable gas in a daily use machine is dumb. The Nazis didn't even want to use hydrogen, they wanted helium but we wouldn't share.

          Besides the lift advantage at all but very high altitudes is fairly minimal with Hydrogen vs Helium. At airship scale, at intended altitudes and combined with safety concerns all sum up to mean Hydrogen is an unnecessary risk with little real advantage; other than availability and this technology appears to mitigate the availability/cost concerns as well.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I'm curious

            "They wanted helium but we wouldn't share"

            In our defense, they were totally acting like a bunch of fucking Nazis.

            1. Don Jefe

              Re: I'm curious

              I didn't know that everyone didn't know the Hindenburg was a Nazi aircraft. Two guys at work didn't believe me and I had to find pictures. Isn't it odd how things get swept under the cultural rug when they turn out really embarrassing? It isn't actively hidden, just nobody talks about it, then everyone forgets.

            2. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

              Re: I'm curious @David W.

              But you wouldn't share it with the Brits either...

              1. Don Jefe

                Re: I'm curious @David W.

                The British are Ok to have a beer with or maybe go to a match with, but you really can't trust them. Besides, the helium hoarding era was completely the doing of the then nascent Party Balloon Insustry. The unimaginable scale of horror and slaughter of WWII was the only thing that stopped them. Party balloons just weren't popular during rationing then recovery from the war. Another unintended, but happy, side effect of global conflict.

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: I'm curious

      You have bike tyres pressurised to 8 bar? I really wouldn't want to run a tyre much above 3 bar and car tyres run closer to 2 bar.

      1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

        Re: I'm curious

        Routinely, road bike tyres run at 100psi, with professional road racers up to 150psi. That's a range of 7-10 bar.


        1. Geoff Campbell Silver badge

          Re: I'm curious

          Also, it's just occurred to me that you don't need to make the helium heavier than air. Just compressing it to two bar will reduce the buoyancy somewhat.


      2. leaway2

        Re: I'm curious

        My bike tyres are 110 psi. As a general rule of thumb, if the bike has drop handle bars, the tyres will be this pressure.

  5. Evil Auditor Silver badge

    "helium ... compress it to the point at which it is heavier than air"

    What I don't quite understand is, when the helium is compressed in a tank it is taken out of the hull. The hull being rigid maintains its volume so the helium taken out of it must be replaced (I can't believe that it could resist low pressure), probably by air. Is there some sort of diaphragm within the hull to separate helium from air or how does it work?

    1. Justicesays

      Re: "helium ... compress it to the point at which it is heavier than air"

      Rigid airships are essentially just a load of weather balloons stuffed into a vaguely aerodynamic frame. The outside "skin" is just to stop things blowing around etc. It doesn't hold in gas, that is stored in interior "cells".

      So having air vents etc isnt really a problem.

      1. Evil Auditor Silver badge

        Re: "helium ... compress it to the point at which it is heavier than air"



  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Fuck! I'm trapped in Groundhog Day

    Someone help me pleeeeeaaaaaaaasssssssssssseeeeeeeeeeeeee.....

    1. MrXavia

      Re: Optional

      The first one would be when it did the Hanger testing, the FAA just cleared it for outdoor testing, so it took them 8 months, not too shabby really!

      and The British one is a blimp/plane hybrid, NOT a rigid airship...

  7. codejunky Silver badge

    You couldnt hit the broad side of a barn

    Yeah... well you couldnt hit a Walrus with a shoulder launched missile

  8. Benchops

    Paint it green

    with exchangeable cargo hold and a big white "2" and I'll buy one

    1. Pet Peeve

      Re: Paint it green

      As cool as this ship looks, I don't think that International Rescue wants to putter along in an airship. Thunderbird 2 was supersonic, wasn't it?

      1. monkeyfish

        Re: Paint it green

        Sure, but maybe you could take the airship and strap a couple of hypersonic jet engines to it? Thunderbird 2 will be left for dust!

    2. Boothy

      Re: Paint it green

      Glad I wasn't the only one who thought the same on first look! :-D

  9. Benchops


    Great article, lots of knowledge imparted there, thanks!

    If the lighter than air gas is in cells, how about strapping a cell to each item of cargo (person) of a size that doesn't quite counteract the cargo's (person's) weight.

    That way you don't even have to land, you just open the trapdoor under them and let them gently waft to the ground. That'll definitely work.

    1. Roger Greenwood

      Re: Cargo/ballast

      You go first.

    2. hamcheeseandonion

      Re: Cargo/ballast

      I wonder if there's anything they could feed the self-loading cargo, that would make them fart helium?

      Just a thought...

      Btw.. mine's the one with the perpetual motion device in the pocket.

    3. lunatik96

      Re: Cargo/ballast

      somehow I hear the Jetson theme, his boy elroy ...

  10. Simon Rockman

    Where will the test flights happen?

    The article says FAA approval, so presumably in the US, but where?

    1. PJD

      Re: Where will the test flights happen?

      They're based in San Diego, but that photo is in front of the Tustin hangers: Which have their own quite remarkable history.

      1. Jan 0 Silver badge

        Re: Where will the test flights happen?

        Eh? Why is a Ukranian company doing its first flight tests in the USA? Do they have money to burn?

        1. Don Jefe

          Re: Where will the test flights happen?

          Because the US is where the market will be, at least initially. Every attention starved company and Internet billionaire will have to have one. It also saves on airworthiness certification hassle and cost as they'd have to repeat a lot of the same tests done in Europe to get certified here anyway.

      2. IvyKing

        Good excuse for lunch at The District

        For those unfamiliar with Tustin, "The District" is a shopping center with several restaurants in what used to be part of MCAS Tustin. It also happens to be a very short ride from work...

  11. HippyFreetard


    I'm guessing the fuel consumption for one of these things is low, even with the internal pumps. The materials look pretty standard, and since most of the size of the thing is gas, they would be relatively cheap to mass-produce.

    This could really turn a profit.

    Overnight sleeper flights, similar to the sleeper bus that Megabus is trialling at the moment, only in one of these things! Might even be cheaper than the Megabus. No traffic concerns, an as-the-crow-flies route, and most of the energy is used on forward momentum.

    Since it seems to be a form of VTOL, you could stick the stations on the tops of hills and buildings in urban areas, away from the airports themselves.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Megairbus?

      They should shine as affordable long(ish) haul transportation. Sure, a plane can do it faster, but they are insanely fuel inefficient, have limited load capacity, are expensive to maintain and require huge dedicated ground facilities to accommodate take off/landing.

      Your bus comparison is a good one. Faster, leaner transportation would become more expensive and airships would become the mode of transportation for those who don't have to be there this afternoon.

      1. Squander Two

        "the mode of transportation for those who don't have to be there this afternoon."

        Furthermore, as long as it's got decent wifi, lots of people these days don't need to be there this afternoon even when they're working.

      2. HippyFreetard

        Re: Megairbus?


        I have been flown around the country for meetings by bosses before. Not the "business meeting" type meetings, playing golf with Japanese oil barons or whatever, but the kind where a small company drags all it's regional and line managers down to HQ for training and mutual humiliation games.

        In these cases, the PA just books everybody a cheap flight or train, and a room in a travelodge. If the Megabus sleeper had been going back then, we probably would have been shoved on there.

        That's the kind of market I see for this. Summer music festivals, bank holidays, backpackers, and any other situation where time isn't an issue, but money is.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Megairbus?


          Oddly enough, I couldn't get anyone to agree to do that when I was putting in the business travel miles, ten years ago. We had offices in 2 major European cities. It was a ten hour drive or a €700 flight. Until Ryanair gave Lufthansa the shafting they so richly deserved for their gouging... But, there was a sleeper service on the train. Leave at about 11pm, get in at 7am, only €150 for a double room to yourself, and of course, no need for hotels. I couldn't persuade anyone to do it. I never had a meeting there, so never got to do the trip.

          I bet the miserable buggers would have even refused to go by airship too!

          1. Pedigree-Pete

            MotorRail (UK)

            Back in the day I used this quite often. Good days work in Southern England. Leasurly drive to Euston/Bristol. Few beers & a bed (car elsewhere on the train with all my stuff). Arrive, Edinburgh, Carlisle, Aberdeen early doors. Tea & bickies from the steward. Prper breakfast in smack bang in the city centre in time to get to the 1st meeting before the target staff arrived. About £100 1 way. Suited me.

        2. monkeyfish

          Re: Megairbus?

          Summer music festivals

          Yes. Yes please. On the airship. Yes.

      3. Pedigree-Pete

        Just Curious. Altitude?

        To cut a long story short I have a friend who suffered a lung injury on holiday{(vacation :)} in Florida. Once released by the Docs {Medics:)} he & his family had to travel home to the UK on a cruise ship.

        It's a small application but would a commercial passenger Airship fly at a suitable altitude to negate this situation.

        (Ironically, on arriving home, their insurance policy had small print indicating thay could have chartered a sub 10,000 feet flight home. (v.good insurance).

    2. Jess

      and most of the energy is used on forward momentum.

      Overcoming friction surely?

      1. Captain Scarlet

        Re: and most of the energy is used on forward momentum.

        Sky Docks so they don't have to dump as much gas, TO THE FUTURE!

      2. Drew 11

        Re: and most of the energy is used on forward momentum.

        Hurrah for jetstreams!

    3. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Megairbus?

      Hmmm, airships as buses. Now I have this vision of getting up early, and commuting to work on a combined airship/bus/cafe. Hey man, I'm living in the future! Where's my silver jumpsuit? Now pass me the bacon sarnie and tea.

      Even better would be if the bus station was some sort of giant tower with a lift to get up to the top and a slide to get down.

      Clearly this isn't going to happen for us normal peasants. But maybe Google will do it? They already have free buses with Wi-Fi to their offices, cafes and a tendency to go mad with slides and cushions when decorating. Plus a huge surface on which to run adverts in the sky, what's not to like?

    4. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: Megairbus?

      If you think people moan about delays on Ryanair, just see how they would react to budget airships -- fog, heavy rain, even just a stiff breeze and you'll be seeing delays rack up. "On time" would be a very rare occurence indeed....

  12. Robert E A Harvey
    Thumb Up

    Sorry, but I have to say it.

    That is Cool as Fuck!

  13. hugo tyson

    Sky Submarines!

    That way of controlling buoyancy is exactly what submarines do: suck in and store compressed the lighter-than-outside substance (air resp. helium) and let in the outside neutral substance (water resp. air).

    With gasses you can use flexible bags for the buoyant part (instead of open-at-the-bottom tanks) and inflexible bags for the compressed storage (instead of high pressure cylinders). Density of He is 4, density of air is about 30 (molecular mass of N2 + some O2) so you only need squeeze the He to about 8 bar and it's no longer at all buoyant.

    Fair enough, subs discard the air when they dive, and use air they stored compressed earlier when they blow tanks; and it vents as it expands as they surface and pressure drops, but.... it's the storage that they have in common.

    And yes, it is Thunderbird 2, hurrah!

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

      Re: Sky Submarines!

      As mentioned in another post above, it's not necessarily a matter of compressing the helium to 8 bar. If the thing is designed to be neutrally buoyant at the ceiling altitude and maximum loading, then it is a matter of compressing enough of the helium to reduce its buoyancy as cargo is offloaded, or you wish to descend. This could be a large amount of the helium compressed to a lower pressure, or a smaller amount at a higher pressure. For instance, compressing half of the helium to 2 bar would reduce the lift by 25% (if my mental arithmetic is right), which depending on how large the thing is could account for a significant amount of cargo weight. I would imagine that there is a trade-off between the size of the pressure tanks required, and their pressure rating, with an optimal balance at a somewhat higher pressure than this.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Something new

    Isn't there a bit of a risk that if you attempt an analysis based on "this is how freight and passengers currently move around the world using method X,Y and Z so new method Q will only be able to take r% of the traffic" then you are not taking into account new traffic generation? The last couple of decades have shown that, yes, some new technogies really are just solutions looking for needs (and disappear shortly thereafter) but that in some cases it turns out there was a hidden need that just wasn't serviced by X,Y or Z but for which Q is just perfect. I don't have any ideas what that might be in this case but, for example, everyone who analysed the mobile phone market 10 years ago and said "I've analysed current phone usage and there is no demand for a phone that is too big to fit in your pocket and, seriously, why would it need a camera?" is probably feeling pretty silly now.

  15. Wize

    Rather than dump helium to land...

    ...why not use a compressor to push it back into its pressurised tanks. Or would that take to long?

  16. Richard Boyce

    Why compress helium...

    when you can take in and compress air instead? Much more weight for a given pressure. If you add carbon dioxide from the exhaust, that would improve things further. So trap, compress, and chill exhaust gases.

    1. Boothy

      Re: Why compress helium...

      Presumably compressing air is just off setting the lift from the helium.

      So ballast is increased. But the lift being generated is the same, but does produce an overall loss in buoyancy.

      Whereas compressing the helium does the above plus also removes the lift it was providing in the first place. So a double effect.

      So ballast is increased again. But the lift being generated is also reduced, so a greater overall loss in buoyancy.

    2. Frumious Bandersnatch

      Re: Why compress helium...

      > when you can take in and compress air instead?

      Notwithstanding the excellent reason given by another poster, compressing air rather than helium could also be quite handy for giving the ship an extra push when taking off or as an aid to manoeuvring. You wouldn't mind ejecting compressed air at all, as opposed to expensive helium. Given the quantities involved it's probably not practical, though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why compress helium...

        I agree that Richard has an excellent point. You have to compress helium to 8 bar to offset its buoyancy, if you compressed the same volume of air to only 2 bar you'd get the same effect. Or compress 1/4th as much air to 8 bar. Either way it should require less energy.

        Moving the helium around increases the risk you lose some, and moving air around only takes place one way (since you just vent it when you want your buoyancy back) meaning twice as much plumbing or more complex two way valves for the helium solution.

        I also like the idea of squirting air to aid maneuvering. Having some air outlets around the bottom controlled by computer to aid maneuvering during takeoff/landing is cheaper than having a bunch of small extra propellers used only a few minutes per flight.

    3. starsilk

      Re: Why compress helium...

      from aeroscraft's own website:

      Another way to understand VTOL is to compare the Aeroscraft to a submarine. For example, when a submarine needs to dive into the water, it takes on water to make it heavier. When the submarine needs to surface, it releases that water to become lighter. Similarly, the Aeroscraft can control its weight by releasing and taking on air, controlling the heaviness or lightness of the vehicle.

  17. poopypants

    Here's a thought

    Perhaps they could be used to bring high bandwidth internet via long distance microwave connections to outback Australia. (There is already a microwave connection over 580 km between Adelaide in South Australia and Broken Hill in New South Wales, using towers.) In that scenario they would be fully automated to remain at specific latitudes and longitudes, with height maintained through the use of COSH.

    1. monkeyfish

      Re: Here's a thought

      You could do that with a small blimp (as google are doing in Africa), you don't need a 250 ton payload airship for wifi.

  18. Captain Scarlet

    Engine Lift

    The bit about if an engine is used to provide extra lift, if it fails it will have a softer landing?

    If an engine fails then when it does crash can't it be put nose first to act as a large crumple zone?

  19. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    I think most of us could do with the ability to "Control Static Heaviness."

    Now if I can lever myself out of the chair it's time to be gone.

  20. Dave Bell

    New Materials since 1939

    We can use a lot of new materials developed since the last rigids. Carbon fibre composites replacing aluminium alloys, synthetics replacing cow intestines in gasbags, kevlar replacing steel wires; there are so many better choices.

    And sometimes the engineers of that era just got it right. What might Barnes Wallis have done with our tools?

  21. Christoph

    How big can they go?

    Sod the practical applications - can they build Castle Wulfenbach?

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Re: How big can they go?

      Upvote for Girl Genius reference!

  22. Jerky Jerk face

    And the award for most UFO reports for a non extraterrestrial air vehicle go to.....

  23. HuwLewis
    Thumb Up

    Make way for RyanAirbus

    Can you imagine how much Ryanair could charge if they flew five times slower? A one hour fight seriously limits the time to sell rotten sandwiches, fake e-fags and lotto tickets. Five hours and you'd have no money left for your holiday.

    How can they resist.

  24. Will Godfrey Silver badge

    Although hinted at by a few other commentards, I think leisure trips (air cruises) could be the greatest money spinner for this. It has just about everything going for it. Quiet smooth travel, lots of room, stunning views, and can comfortably go where absolutely no other form of transport can.

    I'd never entertain the idea of a sea cruise, but I'd certainly pony up for a week over Europe.

  25. Vladimir Plouzhnikov


    Are rather nice. I like.

    I am quite sure I have seen an old Soviet rigid (or a semi-) in the air when I was a kid and I thought it looked awesome.

    To pass time while we are waiting for the test results of the COSH ship I would recommend listening to the magnificent "Curly's Airships" by Judge Smith:

    Walking her out

    Curly takes us up

    The whole songstory is about the R.101 disaster but these 2 tracks are about the R.33

    There isn't much more on the internet - get a CD from Amazon while they are still in stock...

  26. mmeier

    Small note: LZ129 "Hindenburg" was not the last Zeppelin, just the last in commercial service. LZ130 did fly after it

  27. NotesDev

    Ironic how an ideal job would be...

    collecting Airbus parts from around Europe, and dropping them off at the factory in France. Doesn't the current Airbus wings have to do a barge-boat-truck trip from Wales to Toulouse?

    Vertical take off and landing from hanger door to hanger door with minimal packing would save lots of hours and £££.

  28. Bill Stewart

    It's not the First - there was Airship Ventures

    For about four years, Airship Ventures ran a Zeppelin in the San Francisco Bay Area and occasionally took it on the road around the US. It was built in Germany, and while it was a lot smaller than the Hindenburg, it was a real dirigible. It used helium, and held a dozen passengers. It was based out of the old Moffett Field blimp hangers in Silicon Valley, and ran tours, usually flying at 500-1000 feet for an hour or two, and it was an amazing ride. It was also used for some local scientific research. In spite of the economic decline, there were still enough people to keep a Zeppelin flying around, though the 10x rise in the price of helium finally killed them.

    1. mmeier

      Re: It's not the First - there was Airship Ventures

      That was a Zeppelin NT. IIRC it is a "semi rigid" design but a real Zeppelin since the company is part of the Zeppelin Group.

      The next generation Goodyear Zeps (from 2014 on) will be Zeppelin NT based units

  29. Daedalus

    There's a misunderstanding here.

    Flotation is all about your mass versus the mass of the air you displace. If the air mass is greater, you float. If not, not.

    Now the point of all the jiggery-pokery is not to lose any mass at all from the airship. it follows that you can compress, decompress or dance the conga, it won't change your flotation unless you displace more or less air in the process. So COSH must either change the displacement (by inflating or deflating bags) or the total mass (by taking on or releasing something, probably air).

    1. pepper

      Re: There's a misunderstanding here.

      You could change the mass by compressing the helium, letting more air in and even changing the state of the helium at which it isnt lighter then air any more.

  30. streeeeetch

    Big bags

    So if you only need to compress the gas to the bike tyre pressures to get the thing to work, just a have a big bag of helium with a sodding great mangle and roller at one end?

  31. lunatik96

    COSH - where's my calculator?

    COSH seems similar to an idea i had about adding to full industrial size quad copters. Never calculated the feasibility. But the pressurized helium would be in rigid tanks and the envelope would be flexible and retractable. It would aid in take off, hovering and landing. Saving fuel in the most thirsty portions of a jaunt.

  32. Herby

    Simple solution to this Helium problem.

    Just get a Helium generator! Get something that emits lots of alpha particles, and wait for them to grab a few electrons. Seems pretty simple to me!

    Easy Peasy!

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Simple solution to this Helium problem.

      Yeah! Line the gas bags with Polonium 210.

  33. Stevie


    If the crew has been named, why not name them? The photograph would seem to have provided a perfect opportunity to identify the crew properly.

  34. John 98

    High cruising speed?

    If COSH offers the chance to choose your own height then you maybe have an airship that can cruise at 30,000 ft like a modern jet. Then you're above the weather and drag will be a fraction of what the Zeppelins experienced down at 3000 ft or less - so with good aerodynamics 250 kt cruising? And I guess loitering up there for a few days is no problem

    Some of the technology already exists. German diesels from WW2 gave full power at 40000ft and had fuel comsumption still impressive today. And all this talk about tyres bursting - 19th century train brakes operated at 5 bar, truck tyres come in around 8 bar and don't even ask about aircraft hydraulics.

    1. pepper

      Re: High cruising speed?

      Well, aircraft hydraulics operate at about 3000 PSI(Roughly 200 bar) with an expected increase to 5000 PSI in future components.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let her rip!

    oops, i meant left her fly.

  36. Ian Michael Gumby

    Rigid ships do have some merit...

    I think that one area could be in forest fire fighting tech.

    You can load it up with far more water and fire retardant material that conventional aircraft.

    You have greater loiter time that conventional fixed wing aircraft.

    As you dump water, you run a compressor to remove the helium from the lift bags.

    (There are a couple of options in terms of tanks and compressors.... )

    In terms of replacing ocean shipping...

    Depends on what is being shipped.

    Same for air transport.

    If you're shipping foodstuffs it would be cheaper than air freight, and you don't need it right away.

    Other materials, it would depend on how costly it is for sea freight.

    Once you get to your destination, which would be a port of call, you could tether up, and have larger pumps and storage tanks offload the excess helium quickly. As the cargo is unloaded, you refill the on board tanks and the cells as needed. Return home. You could in fact ship back the heavier tanks if you don't have enough cargo.

    In terms of electricity... solar films could be an option...

    Definitely a nice slow boat that doesn't have to worry about sharks, Somali pirates... ;-)

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Does anyone else...

    ...find it reminiscent of the Bristol Brabazon?

  38. Ben79

    I thought I read recently that there's concern that we're using up too much helium already?

  39. fearnothing

    Why has nobody mentioned the possibility of airship piracy yet?

    1. M Gale

      Because unless any enterprising and rather ballsy Somalians get a bit daring with lawn chairs and weather balloons, it's rather unlikely?

  40. Andus McCoatover

    COSH - new idea???

    When I was a kid, I thought that's the only way they could control the boyancy - recompress the gas. Blimey, I was about 10 at the time. I thought it was exactly how they worked.

    Didn't know it was a new-ish idea, 40-odd years later!

    1. Fat Northerner

      Re: COSH - new idea???

      "Didn't know it was a new-ish idea"

      It wasn't a new idea, I solved this in about 1976, around the time of the drop in aluminium canisters into floors safes, when I thought that filling the safe with mercury would bring them to the top.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Normally, the only way to get high is to take off with less gas"

    I wouldn't bet on that if I were you.

  42. leeCh

    You can't think of too many uses!?

    What planet are you on!

    Most of the Pacific Islands would be substantially more cheaply served by these things. They're too far away to use helicopters, many of them are too small to put a runway on or the runway takes up most of the island (e.g. Nauru) so getting that land back would be enormously valuable, and many of them don't have any kind of deep water port, or even safe anchorage.

    That same pattern of isolated communities with difficult access occurs over the entire planet. Making those communities viable, or at least less dependent would only be possible with something like practical airships.

    If they want a real test they should try a trans-pacific run that stops in at Anuta. It is the hardest permanently inhabited place on the planet to reach (when someone leaves they have a funeral service because they will probably never return). If they can get there then there's a massive market of small places to cover.

    1. janimal

      Re: You can't think of too many uses!?

      I suspect he meant economically viable uses.

  43. TimChuma

    Thunderbirds Are Go!

    That looks quite a bit like Thunderbird 2

    The movie Thunderbird 6 is centered around an airship also.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    You know, I've been trying to come up with a good little verse about all this, involving rhyming 'blimp' with 'limp', but for the life of me I can't figure out anything to go with 'Zeppelin'. 'Tarpaulin' is the closest I can think of at the moment, at least as far as single words go, but it doesn't really rhyme and it's a bit archaic.

    Oh well.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Try writing in blank verse?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        A team from Ukraine made a blimp

        but faced the refrain: It's too limp!

        they gave it a frame

        and now seek their fame

        damn, but that Zeppelin's pimp!

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          LOL! A nice limerick.

          Here is a more solemn attempt (in the mood of Curly's Airships) :-)


          Some years ago, under Californian sunlight

          A Ukrainian inventor built a prototype

          Of a rigid airship that won't lose gas in-flight

          But noone believed it would work


          Now in 2013, on a hot September morning

          The doors of an old war-time hangar slowly slide apart

          And floating like a UFO over Orange County grasslands

          A silvery giant emerges...


          The US military tested it inside its shed

          And declared it meeting all its demonstration objectives

          Now the time comes for the Pelican to take to the air -

          A "Control of Static Heaviness" ship.

          I run out of ideas at this point...

          1. Andus McCoatover

            Roses are red...

            Violets are blue

            Some poems rhyme

            That one donẗ.

            1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

              Re: Roses are red...

              Yep. Not supposed to :-)

  45. Steven Davison


    AFAIK, the main reason that Titanic wasn't as unsinkable as they thought was not the fact that multiple bulkheads were breached, but actually due to the fact the bulkheads did not reach the deck, and make fully watertight compartments....

  46. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    One possible use...

    ... is to lift entire prefabricated sections of a building to speed up construction.

    The Skycrane helicopters don't have anything like the lifting capacity of this new airship, but they can still do this: – and that was a hell of a long time ago. Now, imagine what an airship capable of hoisting *250 metric tons* could do...

    These airships could make a *huge* difference in construction alone. If you watch any recent "How we built [REALLY TALL BUILDING X]"-type documentary, you'll notice that, especially in tight urban areas (e.g. 'Ground Zero' in NYC, during the construction of the new WTC towers), an awful lot of effort is spent simply ensuring all the materials are brought in on time and in the right order. It's very much like a modern factory production line. If the site is in a tight urban location, you're talking about *hundreds* of trucks and other vehicles that need to be marshalled into and out of the site without causing massive disruption.

    Now, imagine what you could do with some larger versions of this airship, rated at, say, 750 or so metric tons each: you could literally hoist entire *prefabricated floors* into place, including cladding and the concrete floor for the floor above. As most of the workers would be at ground level, rather than on some windswept steel skeleton hundreds of feet above the ground, they'd be much safer and could work more quickly without the need to keep unhitching and hitching their safety lines. You could build each floor at a more convenient site, along with the cladding and stairs, and keep only a handful of people on the roof of the previous floor to help guide each new floor into place and bolt it into position.

    You could easily complete 5 or more floors in a single day, vastly speeding up the construction process. At present, the fastest average is typically just one floor per day. And that's usually just the steelwork and concrete slabs.

    Even with the current model, you could still save a lot of time by lifting entire sections of pre-bolted steelwork into position, instead of just one or two beams at a time, as is currently the norm.

    (The down-side of these beasts is that they're going to make the "Monster Moves" documentaries rather dull and predictable: just hoist whatever you're planning to move up into the air and fly it to its destination!)

    1. Andus McCoatover

      Re: One possible use...

      And they've all got "Eddie Stobart" written on the side..........

    2. Andus McCoatover

      Re: One possible use...

      ...unhitching and hitching their safety lines...

      What are these new-fangled "safety wires" of which you speak, Sir?

  47. CCCP

    Firefly anyone?

    For the cargo version Josh Weadon's excellent Firefly TV series springs to mind, minus the space faring of course.

    Rugged, land anywhere, carry anything craft. Tough crew, or at least odd looking at the photograph. They might even have a detachable mini dirigible for the, ahem, companion.

    Just watch out for the Reavers...

  48. Ellis Birt 1

    Don't write airships off too quickly.

    How many human beings and their luggage would weigh 250 tonnes. If we assume a passenger weighing 120kg (to allow for Americans) plus 30kg luggage

    That is about 1667 passengers. If you had another 100kg of fixtures to accommodate the passengers, that would bring it down to a capacity of 1000.

    Looking at the travel time, at the 125km/h cruising speed of the Hindenberg London to Brussels would take a little over 2 1/2 hours(similar to Eurostar). An Airbus worker travelling from Bristol to Toulouse could chose between a flight of a little under 7 1/2 hours or a 13 hour train journey.

    This is starting to sound more realistic than HS2!

    Longer Haul, London to New York would take 44 hours, the thought of cooping kids up for that time is appalling, probably enough for parents to choose to fly in a jet, leaving child-free, leisurely flights for people who are happy to relax, maybe work or read a book or four.

    It might not be essential for a pilot to be on board and physically in control of the airship for the whole time. Ground-based pilots and autopilots taking commands directly from ATC with just one crew on board, resting but available in case of emergency could be enough cover.

    As for cargo, there are a number of high value cargoes that currently travel by air, not because they need to arrive within 24 hours, but because they need to arrive within a few days.

    A good example is fine beans or chilis from Kenya (check out the origin of fresh supermarket veg sometime). An airship might also be able to make multiple pick-ups removing the need for long, unrefrigerated ground transfers to the airport and would take something like 60 hours.

    We should not forget that surface cargo transport is vulnerable to hijack and pirates and is limited in where it can go. An airship that can efficiently fly high enough to not be vulnerable to all but military attack and in a straight line could be appealing to many shippers.

    As fuel prices soar, they really could come into their own!

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Don't write airships off too quickly.

      Long time ago I read a sci-fi novel. Can't remember who wrote it, might have been Russian.

      Anyway, there, in the not-so-very-distant future, some giant airships were circling the globe non-stop, never to land, except for maintenance. The ships had hotels, restaurants, business centres etc as well as docking ports for short range SST shuttles for transfer from/to the ground and between the airships.

      So, to go from London to HK you take a shuttle from Heathrow to a West-East ship, check into the airship hotel, relax, do some work then take a shuttle down to HK. Or, if you changed your plans mid-flight, book a transfer from the West-East to a North-South dirigible and go to Australia...

      Thought it was an interesting idea that might work. Still think so today.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I vaguely recall a while back some chap called Lewis Page insisting that compressors were much too heavy.

  50. Neil Craig

    Putting prefabricated houses in place. Since the width of road moved loads is 3m normally, being able to deliver much larger units and pretty much leave them in place (at least initially in non-urban areas until flying over urban stuff is proven safe) would probably be cost effective. After all conventional building there is horrendously expensive.

  51. MrScott

    Ship? Did someone say ship?

    Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Arthur Dent. Add one Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster and you have, well, ahem, a flying Arcturan Megavoidwhale or a flying Babelfish depending on how much PGGB ones consumed.

  52. John Sturdy

    Another possible use

    For the suitably rich, such a craft might make an interesting alternative to residential ships (such as Residensea's "The World").

  53. zappymax

    the strong uplift when downloading heavy cargo at ground level can be controlled through ropes and traction from the ground, and meanwhile the system can be compensating or leveling the weight modification before going up again slowly.

  54. Mike Somers

    Paging Dr Loggins

    Lana ..... LAna .... LANA .... LANA!!!!!!!!!

    Danger Zone!

  55. Panicnow

    Steam option

    There is another lighter than air gas... steam. Just need to keep enough of it >100C tripple glased cells would do.

  56. MarkmBha1

    Good luck.

    Looks like a good idea.

    See how it pans out.

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