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New Aircraft is Part Blimp and Part Airplane 484

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-just-a-lot-of-hot-air dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Canton Rep has an interesting article on Ohio entrepreneurs who hope to get their business 'off the ground'. Brian Martin and Robert Rist think they are close to testing a prototype of their patented Dynalifter hybrid. They announced last week that their airship -- part blimp and part airplane -- has been completed, and they hope to conduct a test flight this spring. Martin and Rist hope the Dynalifter will help bring in a new transportation era. They see it as a way to move materials at a lower cost than jets and at a higher speed than ships. From the article: 'They think it could be used in emergency situations, such as Hurricane Katrina, to transport supplies. It might have military uses, such as delivering equipment and supplies to sites that might not be easily reachable.'"
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New Aircraft is Part Blimp and Part Airplane

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  • Just a Blimp? (Score:4, Informative)

    by dakirw (831754) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:05PM (#14393565)
    After reading the article, it looks like it's just a blimp with more engines, and not really an airplane. The article doesn't provide much info about the speed, range and payload capacity of this "hybrid", so it's hard to say how cost effective it would be.
    • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rufty_tufty (888596)
      My impression was that it was a true compromise, it wasn't as fat as a blimp, so could go faster and was less susceptable to cross-wind; but also had some of the fuel economy advantages of a blimp. But lost in speed compared to a try aeroplane and was less fuel economical than a full blimp.
      Also it would have limited hovering capabilities not quite up to that of a helecoptor or true blimp...
      • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:3, Informative)

        by General Fault (689426)
        Actually, it seems that they are using lift to generate a forward vector. This is not a new idea, however it has not been used with great sucess yet. The idea is that a blimp can move forward the same way that a glider can move forward. Only with a blimp, the forward motion can be generated by both lift and gravity. When the blimp is lighter than air, it trades lift for forward motion. When the blimp is heavier than air, it trades altitude for forward motion.
        • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:2, Interesting)

          by rufty_tufty (888596)
          I wonder if this lends its way to a new propulsion scheme?
          mode 1) {when you're high enough}Take the gas in the bag and compress it into internal cylinders so that you loose lift - then glide as above.
          mode 2) {when you're too low} Release gas from cylinders into bag providing lift.

          Or is that what you're describing above?
          I also wonder if waste heat from the engines is used to warm the gas to provide extra lift?
      • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Savantissimo (893682) * on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:59PM (#14394154) Journal
        The lifting body and wings allow the craft to operate under a much wider envelope of loads and bouyant lifts. A huge problem with airships is maintaining desired buoyancy despite variations in temperature, altitude, barometric pressure, fuel expenditure, and condensation or icing loading - helium is too expensive to vent when the airship is light and cannot be generated in filght as can hydrogen, hot air or steam*. Being able to descend or ascend without losing ballast or lift gas and to operate without massive ground crews and facilities should significantly reduce the operating expense associated with helium airships. The Ohio Airships people have gotten an amazing amount done with very little money, and they seem to be selling their idea effectively to US government buyers, so it seems possible that this design will avoid the fate of all the other large airship projects of the past 60 years.

        The main innovation in the Ohio Airships design is in the novel rigid internal structure which uses a keel beam supported by stays (cables) from a tower in the manner of a suspension bridge. This should allow greater loads relative to the airframe mass, including positive or negative loads from the wings.

        *Steam is potentially the most economical lift gas since it gives 60% of helium lift or 200% of hot air lift, is essentially free if generated as a by-product of a steam engine, and the airship envelope acts as a condenser for the engine, reducing weight. This makes both the lift gas and propulsion much more efficiently produced than helium bags or IC engines See www.flyingkettle.com for more details.
    • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:4, Informative)

      by TripMaster Monkey (862126) * on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:09PM (#14393601)

      There's a lot more info to be found regarding the Dynalifter technology here [ohio-airships.com].
      • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dakirw (831754)
        Thanks for the link. From the company's description, this concept has two main advantages - it's heavier than air, using wings and such, so problems with ballasting and the need to release the buoyant gas are reduced or eliminated. The second advantage is that it can supposedly land like an airplane, with wheels, that eliminates docking/landing issues of traditional airships.

        However, the concept summary notes that it is designed to take crosswinds of up to 30 knots when unloaded. I'm wondering if that's
        • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:5, Informative)

          by daraf (739813) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:31PM (#14393834)
          Airports have multiple runways (and land both ways on one runway) to mitigate the effects of wind. So, for example, when the Santa Ana winds are blowing at LAX, all flights take off on runways 7(L/R) & 8(L/R) instead of 25(R/L) & 26(R/L), so they are going into the wind. When airports are built, the runways are oriented relative to the most common winds in the area, so the crosswind component is relatively small. A 30kt crosswind component is enormous, and found very rarely.
        • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:3, Informative)

          by tompaulco (629533)
          30 knots is higher than demonstrated crosswind component on most any airplane. That's not to say that some of them can't handle higher, but during testing, whatever is the maximum corsswind that they happened to land and not crash in is by definition the "maximum demonstrated crosswind" and that is what goes down in the books as that planes crosswind component. Since 30 knot winds, and particularly the perpendicular component of the wind which makes up the direct crosswind, is very rarely 30 knots, most pla
    • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:4, Informative)

      by AKAImBatman (238306) <akaimbatman@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:28PM (#14393803) Homepage Journal
      Actually, it's more like a REALLY light airplane. The craft itself is heavier than air, but only a bit heavier. It's buoyancy makes it easy to get it off the ground at low speeds, and easy to keep in the air. That's why it only needs the small "fins" you see for wings.

      Of course, that's all what the brochure says. We'll have to wait to see how it performs in the real world.
    • SPECIFICATIONS (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:03PM (#14394201)
      There is a lot of erroneous information on this /. discussion. Allow me to correct several misconceptions.

      1) The concept of a hybrid airship is older than the "Pumpkin Seed". Some of the earliest work was performed by Howard Hughes with his "Mega Lifter" concept. The Dynalifter has several unique twists, most significant of which is its use of "stayed-bridge" architectural concepts that will allow large point load masses.

      2) The Dynalifter is not a blimp: it is a hybrid airship. Approximately 48% of its lift is aerostatic (helium) and 52% is aerodynamic. As a result, it takes off and lands like a normal airplane. The heavy freighter design uses 8 engines for take off (3 on each wing, one on each canard wing) and cruises with 2-4 engines engaged.

      3) Its cruising speed is 90 knots (max speed is 120 knots) in the current heavy freighter design.

      4) It can carry a payload of 320,000 pounds in a detachable cargo bay measuring 150x40x15 feet (volume of 90,000 cubic feet).

      5) Range is 3200 nm with a full payload.

      6) Aircraft size is 990x168x21 feet.

      7) There are many, many possibilities for this airship: both commercial and military.

      Please mod this up if you find this informative. Thanks.

      -- from someone who knows a lot more than the Canton reporter ;)
      • Re:SPECIFICATIONS (Score:3, Informative)

        by demigod (20497)
        Range is 3200 nm with a full payload.

        3200 nm, that not far, ... let's see a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers thick ...

        Oh, you must mean Nautical miles :-)

        So almost 6000 km, not bad.

    • Re:Just a Blimp? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014)
      If you look at web site, this point is very clear:the concept is for a heavier than air vehicle that gets 50% of its lift from bouyancy and the other half from its wings.

      The chief advantages over a blimp are operational. First, it can be landed without having to provide a ground crew, and doesn't require mooring against crosswinds. Second, since there is no danger of it floating away, it can offload massive cargos without having to take on ballast. Third, since the ship is heavier than air it never becom
  • The blimp's revival? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Doom bucket (888726) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:06PM (#14393566)
    Makes perfect sense to me. With advanced technology and more experience then say, the people who made the hindendburg, I'm sure we could make it work better this time.

    I wonder how long it will take other formerly taboo technology to come around... I'm not all that afraid to have a nuclear reactor in my backyard(My neighbors would disagree)
    • by Inominate (412637) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:27PM (#14394435)
      The Hindenburg wasn't all that bad. The people who died were mostly the people who jumped. Burning hydrogen rises quickly, keeping the passengers safe despite the inferno.

      It's remembered because it's one of the first spectacular disasters caught on film.
    • Fuel savings? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ThePyro (645161)
      As stated on the Dynalifter web site, their airship is NOT lighter than air, even when empty. So the only "savings" in weight are limited to the weight of the mass of the ship. That doesn't seem like a large percentage to me, when compared to the weight of the payload that the ship will be carrying.

      Looking at a couple other aircraft:

      Boeing 747
      Weight Empty: 361,600 lbs
      Maximum Take-Off Weight: 825,600 lbs
      Empty Weight ~= 43% of maximum take-off weight

      C-5 Galaxy cargo plane
      Weight Empty: 374,000
      Maximum Take-Of
  • I want to believe! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thud457 (234763)
    BBDs are real?! [slashdot.org]
  • by xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:07PM (#14393576)
    Better link/picture of the dynathing - mostly a blimp

    http://www.ohio-airships.com/Old/Default.htm [ohio-airships.com]
  • by xoip (920266) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:09PM (#14393608) Homepage
    Good thing the patent has expired on the Zeppelin
    • The Dynalifter isn't a Zeppelin (rigid airship): It's a heavier than air aircraft that incorporates some static lift into its design. It's not a new idea, as they point out on their site. Their patent is for the structure itself, not the concept of a "not much heavier than air" aircraft.
  • by daivzhavue (176962) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:10PM (#14393615)
    Its not a balloon...its an AIRSHIP...
  • Deforming body (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Winterblink (575267) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:12PM (#14393628) Homepage
    Why not have a deformable body? Flatten it out so it can travel at higher speeds, then whe it slows down, puff it up and it can be more blimpy.
    • Re:Deforming body (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:29PM (#14393810) Homepage
      That sounds like the engineering involved would be rather complicated. Current airship-type designs basically have a light, rigid frame inside to support their envelope. If you're going to make that frame delibrately deformable, you're going to have trouble keeping it from deforming in an undesirable fashion when it's under stresses (such as crosswinds) - there would need to be a lot of engineering behind it, and the frame would probably end up being a lot heavier. Needless to say, for an airship, you generally want to be as lightweight as possible so you can lift cargo instead of just lifting the ship itself.

      A rigid airframe is much simpler, cheaper, easier, and sturdier.

    • "More blimpy"? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by roystgnr (4015)
      What exactly is this quality of "blimpiness" you want to improve? The important characteristic of blimps is their buoyancy without cargo, and blimps become more buoyant if they carry a higher volume of gas or if they have less structural mass. Blimps are designed to look "puffed up" only because that shape reduces the structural mass necessary to support a given volume of gas, and a shape-changing structure would be more massive still.
  • I will most likely have a series of long flights ahead of me in a month(Munich to Pittsburgh and then a few days later Pittsburgh to Osaka), and while I know I am too early for this tech, I have been looking for an alternative to flying because I HATE airplanes. First off, they waste tons of fuel and the environmentalist in me hates that, secondly for me they are the most uncomfortable things ever. I am over 6'2(185 cm) and since I'm not rolling in the dough I can only afford coach. Of course, a few days
    • What are the options besides flying for quick(define quick as can make a cross-ocean trip in a weekend) alternatives to flying that are both fuel efficient and don't do irreversible knee damage?

      And cheap?

      Cheap, comfortable, fuel efficent. Pick 2.

      -everphilski-
      • >Cheap, comfortable, fuel efficent. Pick 2. Tramp steamer. Try: fast, cheap, comfortable, fuel efficient. Rigid airships could be fast, actually: they can be built in the ideal streamlined form, so all your drag is due to wetted area rather than induced and separation drag. Strap some big jets on, and off you go. In the 1930's, the German Zeppelins were flying nonstop from Germany to Argentina. In the NINETEEN THIRTIES. Back when flying across the Atlantic in an airplane was a somewhat big deal.
    • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker @ g mail.com> on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:24PM (#14393759) Journal
      From my quick research a 747 gets around 100 miles to the gallon per passenger when completly full. Lets say its 75% full so 75 miles to the gallon. So flying versus driving alone is hugly economical, of course if you pack 4 people into a car it becomes more economical, though the waste of time driving isn't nessesarly worth the savings.
    • I believe it's still possible to book passage on many trans-ocean ships. I swear I read once that even many cargo ships actually have space to take on a very few "passengers" for a very no-frills voyage. (We are not talking a Cruise line here.)

      It's also possible to book one-way trips on most cruise ships, though that's certainly not going to be cheap.
    • by nemesisj (305482) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:01PM (#14394173) Homepage
      I'm 6'4" and have regularly flown from the Eastern seaboard of the US to various cities in China. Flying sucks, but it sure as hell beats the alternatives. Plus, planes don't waste fuel - they're actually much more efficient than cars or trucks in terms of gallons per mile and the amount of people and cargo they can carry. Not to mention the time/value of money savings.

      I've never understood the irrational annoyance that people get when someone in front of them reclines their seat - who fucking cares? Just recline your seat too, then you're back where you started, and a little more comfortable to boot.

      I've flown long flights (at least 12 hours on a single hop) for 24 years, and been over six feet tall for the last 9 of them, and I've never had ANY knee damage, not to mention irreversible knee damage.

      Get real.
    • As usual, price(resource), speed, comfort, pick two.
  • It might have military uses, such as delivering equipment and supplies to sites that might not be easily reachable.

    I know that was just marketing speak, but still, military use is the one thing I do not see happening for this flying thing. It's big, it's slow, it's target practice for the other side. As for getting stuff to 'not easily reachable' places... well, such as? Specifically, where could a blimp get to more easily than a helicopter?
    • Heavy deployments... helicopters have very limited payload mass over a very short range. You would deploy one of these over a longer range distance over a relatively safe area (IE... from the US to a foreign zone, not passing over an engagement area). You generally don't send stuff over in 1 trip, it generally gets sent overseas in a cargo plane, then hopped to a base, then airlifted via helicopter or sent via jeep (whichever makes more sense). This would probably fill the first role the best.

      -everphilski-
      • Some military use is likely.

        I could see these used as high altitude portable communication platforms near hot spots. I could see a fleet of UAVs being controlled from one of these. And these would fit the traditional blimp role of coastal surveillance very nicely.

        Wish the web site wasn't slashdotted.

        I would think a heavier than air blimp would be easier to land.

        I have the impression from the few pics and diagrams I've seen that the blimp has a lifting body shape and the "wings" are primarily control

    • Helicopters have limited range and can't carry that much weight. While I wouldn't want to fly a blimp in hostile airspace I can clearly see these being used over friendly airspace. The lack of a need for a super-long runway would mean than even small military bases could be supplied directly via the air.
    • High altitudes. Helicoptors, especially those heavily laden with cargo, have a practical ceiling for how high they can fly. The record is on the order of 40,000 feet. We have been sending balloons into the fringes of the atmosphere for decades. Whether or not a heavily cargo-laden balloon could do this (or why you'd want to), I don't know. I can see a use for an airship for lifting space vehicles into a very high altitude before firing the main rockets. Dunno if it'd be any cheaper or safer than groun
    • "Specifically, where could a blimp get to more easily than a helicopter?"

      They can fly higher and longer than helicopters.

      But in general, the perfect use for airships is AWACS. They don't have to come down to refuel periodically (they'll need food more often than they'll need fuel), so that's one less major hassle for an aircraft carrier crew to deal with.

      It would also work well for similar work over land, and might work well as an anti-balistic missile laser platform.
      • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:54PM (#14394086) Homepage
        Speaking of AWACS, I recall an article from The Wall Street Journal a while ago to the effect that some companies were looking at stratospheric blimps as a replacement/supplement to satellites. It's not very windy up there, and launching them is probably a lot easier and cheaper than depending on NASA and friend, and they can be replaced much more readily, as well. A quick Google search on the topic turns up a BBC article [bbc.co.uk] as well.
  • Some admin is reading /. and realizes that's his webserver and is thinking FUCK.

    Right now his boss is burning up his pager/cellphone.

    I really would have liked to RTFA, but seeing as how the /. effect has taken hold.
    From teh write up, it is supposed to deliver aid/supplies to places that don't allow for easy access by conventional means. Hrmmm seeing as how there is no where in the world this thing can go that a conventional helicopter or plane can't, well the plane can't land, but that's what cargo parach
    • This would work great as a sky crane lifting heavy objects. Think of the lumber industry where instead of clearcutting they cut down specific trees and lift them out. I am not sure how useful it would be as a fire fighting tool. It can probably carry more water in one load but a helicopter may be able to do multiple loads that equal its one load in the same amount of time.
  • doesn't burn up as fast as their servers!
  • "Since the terror attacks on our homeland, a need has developed for superior, cost-effective aerial patrolling vehicles for our cities and national borders. Dynalifter® Patrollers are quieter, less expensive, and can fly three times as long as patrolling helicopters. Patrollers can "walk the beat" looking for trouble and call in helicopters for tactical response."

    Why is it that inventions always have to have some military/security use in order to be deemed cost-effective or useful? That being said
    • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:34PM (#14393867)
      Why is it that inventions always have to have some military/security use in order to be deemed cost-effective or useful?

      Because that's a good way to get the government to pay part of your R&D costs.

      I also wonder what would happen if someone shoots at it repeatedly? Would it just pop and fall to the Earth? It must be moving slowly, making it an easy target

      Of course...no one in the entire development stream ever thought of an airmachine, at least partially for military use, ever getting shot at.
      Not once. They will thank you for reminding them of that possibility. Now they'll have to change the entire design.

      The potential for transporting goods seems like its best use, although I don't think the trucking industry/lobby is going to like it very much.

      Too bad. Either they can a) suck it up and adapt, or b) build a fleet of their own and compete.

    • "Why is it that inventions always have to have some military/security use in order to be deemed cost-effective or useful?"

      Because the defense industry spends four and a half fuck-tons of money, so they fund a lot of this stuff.
  • by TedTschopp (244839) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:16PM (#14393680) Homepage
  • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ixne (599904) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:18PM (#14393696)
    a use for those docking ports at the top of the Empire State Building. [glasssteelandstone.com]
  • Airplane + Blimp = Airpimp
  • by voice_of_all_reason (926702) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:25PM (#14393772)
    "The fools! They should've built it with 7,001 hulls! Oh, when will they learn!"
  • by Josh Booth (588074) <joshbooth2000NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:27PM (#14393794)
    This sounds similar to the Deltoid Pumkin Seed [johnmcphee.com], another airplane/blimp hybrid. It was more of a helium-filled flying wing that was tested in the seventies.
  • Does each airship come with a pilot named Cid?
  • Hindenburg (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Phoenix666 (184391) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:30PM (#14393814)
    Another thing I don't get about why people don't like dirigibles is the Hindenburg disaster. Every time something comes out about blimps, every Tom, Dick, and Harry screams "Hindenburg." It doesn't make sense that one crash would doom an entire, civilized way to travel. When passenger jets are mentioned, no one screams "Lockerbie" or "9/11" as a reason why we shouldn't fly in airplanes anymore. They just go back to the drawing board and figure out how to make it safer/better. Why are dirigibles held to a different standard? It would be really nice to see people break out of groupthink on this one.
    • Re:Hindenburg (Score:4, Insightful)

      by argStyopa (232550) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:32PM (#14395036) Journal
      I don't think it's 'phear of the t3chn0logy' that's stopping adoption of LTA craft. It's practicality. Right now, the LTA craft provide an unattractive compromise between cost/speed.

      If you want it there fast, or if it's really lightweight/small, you ship by truck or air.
      If you can wait a long time, or if it's really heavy, you ship it by rail/sea/barge.

      LTA craft offer the load capacity of air (poor), at the speed of oceanfreight (slow).

      What, aside from some very narrow-range applications (heavy lift of non-urgent bulk cargo into rough undeveloped areas) would this be good for?
      • Re:Hindenburg (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Phoenix666 (184391)
        Well, I can think of a few.

        As a passenger transport taking a dirigible would be awesome, since you could dock it in a city center instead of having to land in the great back of beyond Long Island and deal with either cabs or the silly AirTrain, or (shudder) Newark. You don't have to fly as high as a 747 so you might actually get to see what you're flying over. Sure it takes longer, and if you're a business traveller you'd probably always opt for the 747. But (and I don't know what the economics of what a
  • by phpWebber (693379) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:31PM (#14393827)
    Oh, it's crashing...oh, four or five hundred kilobytes per second, and it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. There's a white screen, and there's database errors, now, and the browser is crashing to the desktop ...Oh, the humanity, and all the sysadmins screaming around here!"
  • They think it could be used in emergency situations, such as Hurricane Katrina, to transport supplies.

    Until some idiot shoots at it.

    -Adam
  • Hybrid???? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by erbmjw (903229)
    Ummm what part of this airship is plane like? 2% ... maybe 5% on a good day? How does that makew this a hybrid? It's a blimp with tiny wings that are control surfaces; because it seems to me that the amount of lift the wings could provide, would be insignifigant. I have seen concepts of a delta wing blimp - that could reasonably be called a hybrid ariship-plane
    • The linked to article doesn't have much to it, but the ohio airships site has some more info. The vessle is not boyant like a blimp. Fully loaded on helium with no cargo it will sit on a runway with a 30 knot cross wind. (or so they claim)

      -Rick
    • Re:Hybrid???? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)
      Ummm what part of this airship is plane like?

      Still haven't seen TFA, but the pictures at ohio-airships.com show a craft that appears to be a lifting body.

  • Back in 1963 (!) the great documentary writer John McPhee published The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed, telling how, to quote from the editorial review on the Amazon book page [amazon.com],

    ...in the 1960s, an unusual band of inventors, engineers and investors ... created the Aereon, a strange, wingless hybrid airplane/dirigible. The Aereon--the Deltoid Pumpkin Seed-- promised to be a safe workhorse of the skies, capable of carrying the payload of entire freight trains with minimal cost. ... McPhee ... makes us wonder why this pro

  • The website has been /.'ed, so I assume the blimp/airplane moves about as fast at their web site currently is. I.e. not quite supersonic like this B-1 Bomber exhibiting how Jet Noise is the Sound of Freedom! [komar.org]
  • by wintermute42 (710554) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:41PM (#14393929) Homepage

    The idea of hybrid lighter than air lifting and an aerodynamic hull has been around for a while. In his 1963 book The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed [johnmcphee.com] essayist and journalist John McPhee covers the story the the Aereon, which was an early avitar of the dynalifter. There was a brief resurgence of interest in this aircraft design during the oil crisis in the 1970s. It now seems to be back once again now that oil has risen in price.

    One of the things that those pushing this design may not be mentioning is that increasinly helium is both scarse and a strategic resource. Helium is actually "mined" from underground domes where it has been trapped (I assume formed from radioactive decay). If fleets of airships were helilum based, the price of helium would seen rise to the point where the airships were no longer cost effective. The alternative is hydrogen, but as the Hindenburg demonstrated, hydrogen has its own problems. These issues could be the reason that after over three decades this idea has not caught on.

    • by 0xABADC0DA (867955) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:21PM (#14394378)
      Helium is just a place-holder. You make some ships and prove that they work and are cheap, then you replace the helium with hydrogen. It can even be generated from the ship's fuel if there are slow leaks. The hindenberg's shell burned, not the hydrogen. Hydrogen can plenty safe in airships with the right designs... far safer than using thousands of gallons of jet fuel. You aren't going to shoot a hydrogen airship with a handgun (or a rocket for that matter) and have it explode.
    • by GPS Pilot (3683) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:18PM (#14394887)
      the Hindenburg demonstrated, hydrogen has its own problems.

      It's a shame that this meme is so widespread in the collective consciouness, because it's very damaging to the airship industry. Hydrogen is a superior lifting gas, it's inexpensive, and there's virtually a limitless supply.

      Try to check out an article called "Odorless, Colorless, Blameless" (Air & Space Smithsonian magazine, May 1997, pp14-16) by NASA employee Richard Van Treuren. (Unfortunately this article is no longer available online.) It will convince you that the Hindenburg would have met the same fiery fate, even if it had been filled with helium. The flammable aluminum-based paint that covered the vehicle was to blame.
  • This is interesting, but the links seem to leave out a lot of very important specifications. Things like approximated air speed, load limitations for the various proposed sizes, fuel efficiency, takeoff and landing airstrip length and whatnot. It would be great if they could be used to get a lot of our trucks off the road, but if the fuel efficiency is worse per pound of freight then it won't make sense. I doubt it'll ever match railroad efficiency, but it should have more flexibility.

    I would be particul
  • by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:52PM (#14394059)
    They think it could be used in emergency situations, such as Hurricane Katrina, to transport supplies.
    There's something wrong about the idea of a blimp in a hurricane, just can't put my finger on it :)

    But seriously, I wonder if they have run the numbers to determine whether this is more efficient than trucking. It doesn't seem impossible when you include the cost of roads, and real estate for roads.

    Also, a steady stream of payload-moving craft overhead might even be a workable platform for broadband connectivity. There are already several companies [wired.com] working on using airships as wireless relay platforms, but perhaps the idea would be more economically feasible if the airships are making money in two different ways.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @02:57PM (#14394122) Journal
    in a brilliant book called "The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed." He writes about an extraordinary variety of subjects, from rustlers to growing orange trees in Florida, although much of his work is about geology. But TDPS was/is entirely about this airframe and its evolution through the '60's and '70's, and includes some great material about flight into known icing conditions, the stuff that dooms small aircraft. blimps and dirigibles can often accumulate eight inches of ice and keep flying. (A small Cessna is screwed if you put on 1/2" of ice, and a jetliner isn't much better.) McPhee also wrote a lot about the quarter-scale and tenth-scale flying models of the hybrid lifting body. It's a fantastic book, and as is usual with McPhee, turns into a book about obsession and human devotion to ideas, rather than just being about the ideas themselves.
  • Good Lord, Cousin Oliver [wikipedia.org] is designing airships now?

    I mean, I know he eventually turned out to be a physics genius [scifi.com], what with inventing time travel and all, but still... Can you imagine 12 channels of Brady Kids music in coach? *shudder*

  • cargolifter redux (Score:5, Interesting)

    by avi33 (116048) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:19PM (#14394367) Homepage
    2001:
    CargoLifter AG based to the South of Berlin in Germany is developing "Lighter-than-Air" systems for logistics and other applications. The Company's first product, the CL 75 AC balloon based system has been in prototype flight test since October 2001.

    2002:
    For reasons of insolvency the CargoLifter AG Board of Managing Directors today filed an application for the opening of insolvency proceedings on the assets of CargoLifter AG at the Cottbus District Court.

    I'm not saying it can't, or shouldn't be done, it makes sense on some levels, i.e. not having to ship your tons of goods via truck->rail->boat->rail->truck, but I remember reading about the operation mentioned above a few years back. It was no garage business, they had a wealthy shipping magnate with a lot of vertical expertise, a slew of aerospace engineers, and a ton of capital.

    The problem, IIRC, was that the infrastructure to handle these things (big hangars) are gone, and real estate is too valuable to go around scooping it up near transportation hubs, where they could be integrated into existing systems. I think they went broke, not because the airships were too costly to build, but there weren't any other facilities to land/unload/service the things, and they had to build those too. The problem is easy to spot when you look at their plans [aerospace-technology.com].
  • by Merlyn_3k (943281) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:41PM (#14394539)
    And I'll say it again. RTFA! and then RTFWS! http://www.ohio-airships.com/Old/Default.htm [ohio-airships.com] Over half the lift comes from the wings. Yes, they look awfully small for the body, that's because the body is filled with helium and as such weighs very little (but is not actually lighter than air). The advantage over LTA transport is that it does not require a groundcrew or sophisticated mechanisms to land. It also has no problem with lift changes due to fuel use over long flights. It is more stable in high winds. Also it can fly faster for a geiven fuel usage because it has less drag. The advantage over conventional airplanes is mainly fuel economy. I imagine that a fleet of these could compete with a fleet of semis based on economy and speed. My 2 bits Merlyn
  • by delong (125205) on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @03:52PM (#14394652)
    The first application that came to my mind after reading their site was air deployed rocketry.

    I'd be interested to see the numbers for cargo tonnage carrying capacity and max altitude of a full size (~1000 ft) freighter craft.

    Combine this airship with t/space's air-launched lanyard rocketry, and there is an awesome potential for large tonnage air launched private spacecraft.

    http://www.transformspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction =projects.view&workid=EE0A866A-F1C1-C18B-7D3CB327B CAF3542 [transformspace.com]

  • by pomakis (323200) <pomakis@pobox.com> on Wednesday January 04, 2006 @04:16PM (#14394870) Homepage
    They see it as a way to move materials at a lower cost than jets and at a higher speed than ships.

    Human psychology is interesting. This sounds great, whereas stating the truth from the other direction - "at a lower speed than jets and a higher cost than ships" - sounds terrible. But I suppose this polarity of viewpoint is present in every comprimise, by the very nature of comprimises.

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