FEW THINGS—APART FROM AN AIRSHIP—CAN LIFT AND TRANSPORT REALLY HEAVY BULKY THINGS OVER BOTH LAND AND SEA
NONE CAN BEAT AN AIRSHIP’S COST
You can theoretically build a vast conventional winged aircraft capable of carrying bulky objects weighing hundreds of tons—but both the capital and running costs are prohibitive—as are the associated support costs. You need proportionately huge airfields—and then how to transport the large heavy object ‘the last mile’ to where it is actually needed? It is almost certainly too large for roads—and, in many parts of the world, there aren’t any roads. Then you have to consider the environmental implications. A vast aircraft would burn a vast amount of fuel and produce a vast amount of pollution (probably including noise).
All in all, vastly impractical.
An airship has long seemed like the best solution, but the fundamental problem with an airship has always been controllability. The sheer bulk of such things makes them vulnerable to the wind—and the lift generated by helium gas makes them hard to land unless you bleed off (and thus waste) the expensive gas. Accordingly, you waste the minimum which means your now only-slightly-heavier-than-air airship is vulnerable to every passing gust of wind when on the ground. So, you both tie and weigh this large thing down--which is labor intensive, awkward, time-consuming, and expensive. And the wind does not necessarily abate while this tom-foolery is going on—so, sooner or late, something is going to go seriously wrong.
Airships haven’t caught on—so far—for good, practical reasons—as well as the normal ones of vested interests, ignorance, human inertia, and so on.
Years ago, I came to the conclusion that the best solution would be to compress the helium—and this reduce its power to lift—but somehow no one seemed to get around to actually trying that approach—and my world is that of words, not applied technology (though if you looked at my track record, you would wonder—I have been involved with technology surprisingly often—though more in a strategic sense than hands on).
A company called AEROS seems to have come up with the best series of solutions—including compressing and not wasting the helium—and seem well on their way towards producing a commercially viable airship.
Included in a range of airships, they have projected a model capable of carrying 500 tons which can cruise at 100 knots, travel an impressive 5,100 nautical miles, fly at up to 12,00 feet, and carry something up to 455 x 74 x 54 feet in size.
That would be a truly extraordinary capability—which would totally transform a whole range of human activities from agriculture, to building construction to disaster relief. You could mass produce complete houses and fly them to where they are needed. The possibilities are practically endless.
Check out their particularly informative website at www.aeroscraft.com
There are a few things to note about the above—the DRAGON DREAM.
- It is a dirigible—in that it has a rigid frame.
- By airship standards, it is highly maneuverable because of its Vectored Thrust Engines and low-speed control system. So it can take off and land vertically—and even hover.
- It doesn’t have a conventional undercarriage. It has ‘landing-cushions’ which operate rather like a hovercraft except that the thrust can be reversed so that the landing-cushions actually grip. This ingenious capability allows it to tolerate heavier wind conditions.
- Its large cargo bay is internal—and can be loaded or unloaded by hoisting the payload into the hovering airship. This solves numerous problems—and means that no special ground facilities are required.
- Fuel consumption is projected to be roughly a third of that of a traditional aircraft. Find a way of giving the external skin solar cell generating capability—which we are close to doing—and, under some conditions, it could be totally solar powered.
It is seriously impressive—American ingenuity at its best. If we applied such thinking to the rest of our current challenges, we wouldn’t have any! I have no doubt at all we would come up with new ones.
Are we investing serous money in it yet? So far—about $35 million has been involved. That is minute—and entirely inadequate.
Here it is worth recalling that vested interests—who do very nicely out of the status quo—do not necessarily want to be faced with a whole new mode of transport which turn the economics of their industry upside down.
Could solar-powered airships function as ‘airship trains?’ Well, they wouldn’t be as fast as we would like—but there would be no cost of either land or tracks—fuel costs would be minimal--and, very roughly, you could cross the U.S. in a day. That would be entirely adequate for many purposes.
The one category of aircraft I haven’t looked into in detail as yet are Wing In Ground Effect aircraft which also are not receiving the attention they deserve.
Watch this space.
VOR words 804.