Monday, November 16, 2015

The return of airships?

Hoping to lighten things up a bit, and thought I'd speak on a much more interesting and uplifting subject. It's uplifting in more ways than one! Back in the day dirigibles were intriguing novelties with some practical purposes, but soon became eclipsed in the wake of faster and safer modes of transportation. The Hindenburg was the railroad spike in the coffin for most directed lighter than air craft.

Interest for them has lingered, but for the most part there hasn't been much practicality for dirigibles. After all, planes and jets are faster, smaller, and overall seem vastly superior. But once again the climes are changing and with advances in technology it seems as though dirigibles might indeed make a return. The setup that sticks out to me the most is a fairly new group, Solar Ship. Take a look!

What strikes me most about this company is the utter practicality of not just the ship design itself, but it's intended use. Old dirigibles and airships had torpedo shapes and relied primarily on the lifting force of hydrogen or helium with ballast to keep it under control. This is a fascinating hybrid system in which the balloon itself not only holds the light gases, but also functions as a wing so that when speed it built up in can ascend, meaning that it has no need for ballast and thus frees up a great deal of space for valuable cargo.You can also take off and land on much shorter landing strips than are required for plains or jets. Even in the event of losing propulsion, the descent should be slow enough that the passengers shouldn't be pulverized into jelly. Brilliant!

It's power is also a hybrid system, using the tried and true gasoline engine but also utilizing the large surface area on top of the gas bag to incorporate solar cells, giving these models two different types of power to utilize. Now that is robust, efficient and clever!

All of these help aim towards their goal of having an efficient and reliable means of transporting people and goods throughout Africa. For those of you who aren't bush savvy, there are many isolated territories in the veldt that are hard to reach. Scrub, trees, rough landscapes and the like are extremely hostile to land cruisers and trains. It can be done, certainly, but it's brutal work. So the folks behind Solar Ship decided that utilizing the easy take off and landing capabilities of a dirigible would be a godsend to the folks of Africa, and they seem to think so. I recall reading in this company that people who get injured often die because they can't reach help in time. Transport is of course difficult and slow. Planes are sometimes utilized, but you require a big runway, something not always available in the scrub.

But these airships can land on much shorter runways, and with lower fuel requirements it could lead to saving hundreds of lives, being able to evacuate them with ease in even some of the harshest spots. They also aim to deliver disaster relief supplies to those who are hard to reach in the wake of problems, something Africa is never short of.

I'm very impressed by the wise and practical application of these features into real world scenarios, and hope that they continue to build and become more mainstream.
Dirigibles of this type are actually becoming more attractive to airlines. With fuel shortages growing and the cost of materials involved in making aircraft, they are becoming far more costly to maintain. A dirigible though such as these require far less materials and offer backups for actually moving. They are slower, sure, but these models can do everything from pleasure cruising to large scale cargo transport. They'll have a bit of trouble in a hailstorm, true, but with the advent of carbon fiber nano-tube technology I think even that can be solved.
Modern airships are far safer than their ancestors. Building techniques and advancements in technology have armed engineers with an impressive array of assets that they can use to make craft we never imagined before.

Solar Ship in particular I hope gets further support and becomes successful. I would relish the return of airships, being able to float through the sky and have an affordable way to connect with our foreign neighbors. With prices of things increasing, these might very well be an excellent and cost effective alternative to other forms of transportation. Who knows what the future holds?

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