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The Airships of the Future

Aeroscraft_550x440_2_2If you watch just about any SciFi movie or TV series, or read any book where the Nazis won in World War 11 as historical fact, then you will most likely have seen an airship! They seem to be the stuff alternate time lines are made of, with movies like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and books like Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials both preferring airships, zeppelins or dirigible to a good old-fashioned airplane.

So in a carbon conscious world where doing something for the environment is critical, it makes sense that airships are once again being talked about.

Sadly though, for the moment, airships are most normally seen emblazoned with advertising, such as the Good Year Blimp. And though there are occasions where the good old fashioned airship might be viewed as a step forward, will it ever make a comeback?

We have long been on the airship bandwagon, and have celebrated by showcasing our three favorites. They are airships that, we believe, will have a good chance at changing the lack of passenger transport.

The two-football-fields-long concept Aeroscraft pictured above is not a Blimp. Think of it as a flying "Queen Mary 2" that will ferry pampered passengers across continents and oceans as they stroll leisurely about the one-acre cabin or relax in well-appointed staterooms.

Unlike its dirigible ancestors, the Aeroscraft is not lighter than air. Its 14 million cubic feet of helium lift only two thirds of the craft's weight. The rigid aerodynamic body—driven by huge rearward propellers—generates enough additional lift to keep the moster craft and its 400-ton payload aloft while cruising. Six turbofan jet engines control the craft during takeoff and landing. To minimize noise, the aft-mounted propellers will be electric, powered by a renewable source such as hydrogen fuel cells.

The Aeroscraft is the brainchild of Igor Pasternak, whose privately-funded California firm, Worldwide Aeros Corporation, is in the early stages of developing a prototype and expects to have one completed by 2010. Pasternak says the craft would have a range of several thousand miles and, with an estimated top speed of 174 mph, could traverse the continental U.S. in about 18 hours. "You can land on the snow, you can land on the water," Pasternak says. "It's a new vision of what can be done in the air."

Our favorite is the SkyCat, and not just for its reference to our favorite furry friends. No, SkyCat is looking at an actual business plan that has benefits for everyone. They hope to step in to the shipping market, to provide shipping that comes in between the high priced high speed delivery, and the low cost but much slower ground delivery.

SkyCat (a portmanteau of "Sky Catamaran") designs incorporate hover cushion technology in place of wheels, so they can take-off and land anywhere, including remote regions without need for airports or sophisticated forward-based infrastructure.

In addition, they’ve already run a test run of their mockup, the SkyKitten. Working at 1/6th scale, the SkyKitten has been produced and flown by remote control to great success. Thus, their first prototype airship, the SkyCat 20, is already under construction.

The obvious benefits of a vessel that doesn’t require huge amounts of fossil fuel to get it off the ground are enormous. And in a day and age where entrepreneurial endeavors are oft taking the green route – to fulfill both financial and green criteria – we can’t be far away from the day when airships make their return to the skies.

Posted by Josh Hill with Casey Kazan.

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"Hey, let's paint the outside of the envelope with solid rocket fuel!" - unknown Zeppelin employee.

The problem with using airships for passenger or freight traffic should be immediately obvious. The amount of fuel consumed in getting from London to New York will depend directly on the drag. And a monster airship has much more drag than an A380. Or even ten A380s...

Wikipedia has this to say about drag, “…the power needed to push an object through a fluid increases as the cube of the velocity. With a doubling of speed the drag (force) quadruples…”. Large airships will fly somewhere between 10 % to 15% the speed of an A-380. So even though their surface area is very large, the power needed to push airships through the air is low because they fly so much slower. Remember, the Hindenburg (which could fly at 83 mph, and had a useful lift of 100 tons) was powered by just four diesel engines that produced 1200 maximum horsepower each. Airships sip fuel, airplanes guzzle it!

It's 2010 now. Where is this thing? Maybe we could call the first one "Oasis Of The Skys".

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