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Transportation Technology

Dirigible Airship Prototype Approaches Completion 231

Posted by samzenpus
from the float-away dept.
cylonlover writes "The dirigible airship, the oddball aircraft of another era, is making a comeback. California-based Aeros Corporation has created a prototype of its new breed of variable buoyancy aircraft and expects the vehicle to be finished before the end of 2012. With its new cargo handling technology, minimum fuel consumption, vertical take-off and landing features and point to point delivery, the Aeroscraft platform promises to revolutionize airship technology. The Aeroscraft ship uses a suite of new mechanical and aerospace technologies. It operates off a buoyancy management system which controls and adjusts the buoyancy of the vehicle, making it light or heavy for any stages of ground and flight operation. Automatic flight control systems give it equilibrium in all flight modes and allow it to adjust helium pressurized envelopes depending on the buoyancy requirements. It just needs one pilot and has an internal ballast control system, which allows it to offload cargo, without using ballast. Built with a rigid structure, the Aeroscraft can control lift at all stages with its Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) capabilities and carry maximum payload while in hover. What makes it different from other cargo vehicles is that it does not need a runway or ground infrastructure."
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Dirigible Airship Prototype Approaches Completion

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  • by Bruce Perens (3872) <bruce@perens.com> on Thursday December 06, 2012 @01:21AM (#42201105) Homepage Journal
    As you can see on their web site, Airship Ventures [airshipventures.com] is out of business and there's a campaign to save the airship from being scrapped.
  • by MMORG (311325) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @01:26AM (#42201129)

    Helium is a non-renewable resource, even more so than liquid hydrocarbon fuels. At least with jet fuel you could synthesize it if you really wanted to and had a large enough energy input, but the only way to synthesize helium is to fuse hydrogen in large quantities and if we knew how to do that in a controllable fashion we probably wouldn't need to mess around with dirigibles. Once you extract helium from the ground it eventually ends up in the atmosphere and then escapes to space, so once it's gone it's gone for good.

  • Re:FedEx (Score:4, Informative)

    by wvmarle (1070040) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @02:07AM (#42201285)

    Try landing any of those in a typhoon, for 500 ton lifting capacity the blimp must be huge, and no matter how streamlined it's going to catch a lot of wind. Keeping them grounded in a typhoon will be a tall order even.

  • by afidel (530433) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @02:59AM (#42201487)

    My dads company ships tankers and half-tankers of industrial chemicals all the time, they also ship lots of those same chemicals via truck, but if it's going inter-city and the recipient is buying at least a half-tanker it's always cheaper to do it via rail. Also look at automobiles, 70% of autos are shipped via rail, those can obviously be shipped via truck, and they're not exactly low-margin or low-value items, so why do you think that is? Perhaps rail doesn't work for your industry, but there are obviously plenty of industries where it does work.

  • by A nonymous Coward (7548) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @03:02AM (#42201493)

    Prop plane max ceiling is due to losing lift for the wings and oxygen for the engines at high altitudes, same as jet planes. Jets being faster, and lift being proportional to the square of the speed, jets can go higher, but it's got nothing to do with resistance of props.

    Prop planes have a lot more trouble breaking the sound barrier. I know sometimes prop tips go supersonic, but they lose efficiency, and I don't think any prop plane has ever gone supersonic, even in a dive out of control.

  • by Catmeat (20653) <mtm@sys.uea.a c . uk> on Thursday December 06, 2012 @05:43AM (#42202035)

    I should point out that aside from the Hindenberg, the only time airships ever went down in flames was during World War 1, when they were being shot at. Even then, German Zepplins could take a lot of damage, and it was only when British aircraft started carrying a mixture of explosive and incendiary rounds (called Buckingham and Pomeroy mixture, after the inventors of the two bullet types) that they could feasably destroy a Zeppelin. Even then, aircraft attacking Zeppelins sometimes found themselves firing hundreds of rounds, at a range too close to miss, and having no. Remember, today we don't doubt the safety of 747s, simply because World War 2, B-17 bombers used to come apart when they were shot at enough.

    Also during World War 1, the British operated hundreds of SS Class [wikipedia.org], Coastal Class [wikipedia.org] and NS Class [wikipedia.org], non-rigid blimps. Not a single one was lost to fire during 10's of thousands of flying hours. Admittedly, several WW1 British airships were destroyed in a catastrophic fire in a hanger, but that was because one Darwin Award nominee decided to get busy with testing a radio, while he was standing in a puddle of petrol that was leaking from a broken fuel tank.

    So I'm inclined to write off the Hindenberg as a on-off, at a time when aircraft routinely dropped out of the sky. I might even go so far as to give a tiniest whisker of credence to the conspiracy theory, that it was down to an anti-Nazi saboteur.

    Now, I fully appreciate hydrogen dirigibles will absolutely never, ever, ever, fly again simply because of PR and (well justified) safety fears. But I guess my point is that they could be made safe, or at least, safe enough if there was a need.

  • by efalk (935211) on Thursday December 06, 2012 @04:17PM (#42208553)

    OK, speaking of one who's actually taken dirigible flying lessons, I have a couple of points to make:

    Other posters are right: propellers are just little airfoils.

    The ceiling of a prop plane is a combination of three factors: thin air limiting the lift of the wings, thin air limiting the thrust of the prop, and lack of oxygen to the engine. Superchargers can help with the oxygen problem, and longer wings and/or higher airspeed will help with the lift problem, but there's not much you can do about the prop.

    Airships have altitude limitations too, even worse than airplanes. Every airship contains air bladders called "ballonets" which displace some of the lifting gas. As the airship gains altitude, the ballonets are deflated to make room for the expanding lift gas. Once the ballonets are completely empty, the airship is at its maximum altitude, beyond which it can't rise without venting and losing lift gas.

    Airships are *not* "extremely efficient at sending hundreds of tourists plunging to a spectacular death". The Hindenburg caught fire a hundred feet in the air, and most people on board still walked away. You can't say that about most aircraft. We think of airships as dangerous because the Hindenburg disaster happened in the relatively early days of aviation, and the disaster was broadcast live, searing it into the collective consciousness.

    The Hindenburg itself was a very safe design. The disaster happened because they screwed up and used highly flammable paint on the skin. If they hadn't done that, things would be very different today.

    All that said, there are a number of factors that will keep airships from ever coming back.

    First, the cost of Helium is going through the roof. This is essentially what killed Airship Ventures. You could make a reasonably safe airship using hydrogen, but nobody would be willing to fly it. This might work for cargo transport, but not for passengers.

    Second, they're slow. Third, they don't operate in high winds.

    Flying one was one of the most seriously awesome fun things I have ever done, but I have no illusions that they'll ever be a practical means of transportation again.

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