Travelling via airplane is safe for you as an individual, but collectively all of using planes is unsafe. At ground level the emissions from airplanes are bad and are even more damaging when released high in the atmosphere (where you know, planes fly). If we’re going to survive the climate crisis then we’ll need to all reduce our use of modern airplanes.
Let’s use airships instead. More commonly known as blimps, these large airborne vessels can transport cargo more efficiently than boats or planes, they are just lacking the airport infrastructure. Lockheed Martin has recently found a way to make them more efficient and is proposing airships as a new way for luxury travel.
A paper in the journal Energy Conservation and Management published in September posits that just one airship could move 21,000 tons of stuff using almost no energy at all if we used airships to harness the free winds of the jet stream, the narrow band of fast-moving air above the troposphere, where planes fly. These winds, which average 100 miles per hour and can be as speedy as 250 mph, could propel an airship from Denver to China in about seven days or from Los Angeles to Tokyo in four, says Julian David Hunt, of Austria’s International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis and the paper’s first author.
These lower-flying vehicles, known as hybrids, are likely what we’ll see in the nearer future. Aerospace company Lockheed Martin’s hybrid prototype sports three cartoonish bubbles up front to help with navigation and engines to assist with maneuverability. The company’s hybrid design uses 20% aerodynamic lift — a lightly fuel-powered boost for a bit of a “plane-like effect” — and helium for the remaining 80% buoyant lift, Boyd says. The end result uses significantly less fuel than a plane and can access many areas other vehicles can’t.
We’ve looked at airships before and they just keep getting more interesting. New uses of this old technology keep popping up, and the BBC has a short interview with Sir David King looking at using airships to do some heavy lifting.
Airships have never quite taken off as a means of transport. Somehow planes got the better of them, and anyway they kept crashing.
But we’re more eco-conscious than we were in the days of the famous blimps: the Hindenburg, or the R101. Could the airship provide a low-energy means of carrying freight around the world?
Former chief scientific advisor to the government Sir David King discusses why he believes airships could be used for transporting cargo in a more environmentally efficient way.
Listen to the interview on the BBC
Airships are really neat, and so is going places under human energy (like bikes!). Combining two neat things can equal something awesome – a human powered airship!
Setting the bar pretty high for airship design is this one from Christopher Ottersbach: Called the Aeolus Airship (named after Aeolus, the Greek wind god) it is designed to be aerodynamic than conventional airship designs, and stay aloft for up to two weeks on a supply of helium and, furthermore, is pedal-powered by the crew of 2-4 people. That’s about all the tech detail I’ve come across; it’s certainly made the rounds in the past couple of days but no specific website or contact info seems forthcoming. Christopher, I’d love to talk to you if you come across this.
Airships are really fun! We haven’t looked at them in a long time though, last time airships were mentioned here was in 2006. Well, there has been some development since then and now a company has designed an airship for really heavy lifting.
SkyHook International announced Tuesday that it will build the Jess Heavy Lifter (JHL-40) in conjunction with aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co.
The JHL-40 takes elements of a blimp and a helicopter to lift up to 40 tonnes in one load and travel up to 320 kilometres without refuelling. It will have a top speed of 70 knots.
“The perception is ‘Oh, it’s going to blow up. It’s a Hindenburg or something like that.’ And it’s going to be our job to educate people as to what this thing is. You can’t get around the fact it’s a large envelope full of helium, and it does look a little bit like a balloon,” said the aviation engineer and former helicopter pilot.
“It’s a blimp on steroids because it’s got more than 20,000 horsepower on it and it’s a serious working machine.”
The company said that unlike blimps, the airship is neutrally buoyant.
Large airships, like a Zeppelin, will be floating overhead and beaming cell phone calls to planet’s surface if a Swiss inventor has his way. The airship will use a new way to broadcast that produces less radiation, which is nice considering the ongoing debate about the dangers of cellphones.
Additionally, the airships will be solar powered and be robot controlled, which means that the cost will be low and nice on the environment.
“Thanks to a GPS steering system developed by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the 60-meter long helium-filled balloon will remain stationary at 21 kilometres above the earth.
A small-unmanned aircraft outfitted with a mobile phone antenna and other devices for transmitting digital data will be attached to the zeppelin. The X station has been equipped with giant propellers to help counter the almost constant buffeting from the wind. “