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Sci-Fi Transportation Technology

Large, Slow Airships Could Move Buildings 184

Algorithmnast writes "The Economist has a short article on using big, slow-moving airships to move large objects without the need to dismantle them. The company mentioned, Skylifter, refers to the lifting ship as an 'aerial crane,' not a Thor weapon. It could easily help move research labs to new parts of the Antarctic, or allow a Solar Tower to be inserted into an area that's difficult to drive to, such as a mesa in New Mexico."
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Large, Slow Airships Could Move Buildings

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  • by xaoslaad ( 590527 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:54PM (#33837702)
    The first time a house falls on a house they will be out of business from the lawsuits.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Unless it's Xzibit putting a house in your house so you can be at home when you're at home, dawg.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't know, there have been incidents where a flatbed carrying a house has crashed into things and destroyed them, they haven't shutdown all flatbeds yet. I'm sure insurance on something like this would be astronomically expensive, at least until the method is proven, but I don't think a single incident would immediately shut them down.

    • by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:28PM (#33838104)

      That or the owner's pissed off sister is coming back to reclaim her shoes.

  • by Draconi ( 38078 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @12:54PM (#33837704)

    Because I know a very well educated coyote that would be really interested in this sort of innovative technology with his work in high speed pest control.

    • Last I checked, blimps weren't exactly "high speed". I can't see the boys at Top Gun coming up with a course for zeppelin pilots any time soon ...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Draconi ( 38078 )

        Wile E. Coyote? Road Runner? A high speed pest?

        Giant building sized anvil dropped from excessive heights courtesy an ACME Skylifter?

        The joke - it is now explained

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        I can't see the boys at Top Gun coming up with a course for zeppelin pilots any time soon ...

        I can foresee airship recon, but Zeppelin [] would have to undercut other airship makers by 50 percent to win the contract under the Buy American Act, Berry Amendment, or other applicable law.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:02PM (#33837796)

    And I thought local builders were relatively safe from outsourcing. Now it seems like China has a way to take another industry...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by WindBourne ( 631190 )
      They do not need to. They simply fix the Yuan against the dollar, subsidize, and then dump the product. With their QA, we even have a double entendre here.
    • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @03:06PM (#33839366) Journal

      I thought local builders were relatively safe from outsourcing

      Easy enough to do with panelized construction, components, etc. When they were still building houses like crazy, most of them were probably framed by illegal immigrants, and fitted with imported appliances.

      Now excuse me while I prop another 2x4 against my office wall...

      In all seriousness, I've been told that when looking for a house you want to find one that was built during a recession. In theory, people were able to chose better contractors during hard times, whereas boom-time houses are more likely to be slapped together quickly to make a buck.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by vux984 ( 928602 )

        In all seriousness, I've been told that when looking for a house you want to find one that was built during a recession. In theory, people were able to chose better contractors during hard times, whereas boom-time houses are more likely to be slapped together quickly to make a buck.

        I don't think that is a reliable indicator. Its true boom-time houses are often built as quickly as possible to get on to the next project; its true some developers cut corners get cut to save time.

        But recession housing has a cou

    • I doubt moving buildings long distances in their final form will ever be economical, the value density isn't high enough.

      Flatpack is probablly a better option if you want to import buildings.

  • I would have preferred this title:

    OMFG HUGE and putting me to sleep kind of slow airships MAYBE could move buildings IF the company in question ever gets investment and builds them and it all works out at the end.

    It's a freaking startup, not jesus.

  • by SpiffyMarc ( 590301 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:03PM (#33837808)
    It was super sad when that dude's wife died. The talking dog was funny though. Wait, what?
  • Well, until now I thought that feature among Terrans was useless...
  • by Jumperalex ( 185007 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:06PM (#33837862)

    use it to move the ever increasing wind turbine parts that, a year ago, seemed to be getting too large to move over roads especially as regulations pushed them into less and less accessible areas.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)


      You think too small young apprentice.

      One of these could conceivably move a complete wind turbine into place. Just bolt it to a waiting foundation.
  • Helium (Score:3, Interesting)

    by snookerhog ( 1835110 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:07PM (#33837868)
    there might be a bit of a speed bump when we start running out of helium []

    anyone care to do the crossref math and tell us how much helium it will take to lift 150 tons and how that relates to the dwindling supply?

    • by Nadaka ( 224565 )

      They can use hydrogen almost as easily.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Those building will soar high above the skyline, just like the Hindenburg! Wait...
        • We deal with explosive stuff all the time. As long as you're not going to move humans around, though, it's not that big a deal.
          • As long as you're not going to move humans around, though, it's not that big a deal.

            So nobody’s on the thing if it happens to blow...

            but what about under it?

        • Thermite paint (Score:3, Insightful)

          by tepples ( 727027 )

          Those building will soar high above the skyline, just like the Hindenburg! Wait...

          It wasn't just the hydrogen; it was also the fact that the envelope of the Hindenburg was painted with thermite. Zeppelin learned its lesson, and its modern airships use far less flammable materials for the envelope. So even if airships did have to go back to hydrogen, it'd be far less risky than in the 1930s.

          • Hydrogen gas (dihydrogen or molecular hydrogen) is highly flammable and will burn in air at a very wide range of concentrations between 4% and 75% by volume. Hydrogen gas forms explosive mixtures with air in the concentration range 4-74% (volume per cent of hydrogen in air) and with chlorine in the range 5-95%. The mixtures spontaneously detonate by spark, heat or sunlight. []

            Uh, yeah.. far less risky.

          • I've never understood why it matters that it was painted with thermite. I don't care what it was painted with, it was the hydrogen that blew it up.
    • by rossdee ( 243626 )

      The helium stays in the airship, it doesn't use it up when lifting.

    • by Sneftel ( 15416 )

      Okay. The density of helium is about one sixth that of air, so one kilo of helium can lift about five kilos of not-helium. They mention lifting 150-ton loads, which would require 30 tons of helium. Worldwide production of helium is about 30 million tons a year. I think it'll be okay.

    • Re:Helium (Score:5, Informative)

      by MagicM ( 85041 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:39PM (#33838228)

      "to lift 1000 grams (1 kg), you need about 163 grams (~0.16 kg) of helium" []
      150 tons = 150,000 kg []
      150,000 * 163 = 24,450,000 grams of helium needed []
      24,450,000 grams of helium = 137,000 cubic meters []
      "A billion cubic metres - or about half of the world's reserves" []
      2 billion / 137,000 = 14,598.5 []

      14,598.5 airships before we run out of the current reserves. I think we're good. (Except for that last half airship, it'll be kinda screwed.)

      • thanks. that's the math I was looking for.

        but wolframalpha? seriously?


      • 14,598.5 airships assuming that the entire planet immediately halts all welding of metal.

      • Not necessarily correct. You only need that much helium if it's at atmospheric pressure. Perhaps one could design a reinforced balloon where the increased weight is offset by the increased lift?

        And a word to the wise: you don't need to show your work when you do simple multiplication/division. And you certainly shouldn't need Alpha to convert tons to kg. For shame.

        • by blair1q ( 305137 )

          I thought you could just ask Wolfram Alpha to read the summary and compose the post for you.

          Or maybe it did.

      • by danlip ( 737336 )

        You don't need helium - hydrogen is way more abundant and cheaper, and gives you slightly more lift. Sure there was that minor incident with the Hindenburg, but if we are dealing with a cargo ship servicing remote locations (which seems like the best application anyway) the risks to the humanity are much less.

        I also think you could build a 2 layer balloon, with the outer layer containing helium and the inner hydrogen. The separating layer could be very thin (and thus not weigh much) and the outer helium l

    • There is no rational explanation for the proliferation of "Monster Airship" articles given the helium shortage. I've stopped trying to understand it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dare nMc ( 468959 )

      Helium is not the only lighter than air substance, large balloons are mostly hot air today. Also we know Hydrogen, methane, and ammonia will also work, each with at least one downside. Personally I think birthday parties would be way more fun with Hydrogen balloons anyway (then again, maybe that's why I never had any kids.)

  • This idea is full of hot air. It will go over like a lead balloon. It's just an idea to puff up managements' egos. I hate to burst everyone's bubble, but the budget will balloon out of sight.

  • by Spectre ( 1685 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:28PM (#33838118)

    Skyscrapers may be vastly more affordable if built from interlocking modules on the ground that could be airlifted into place. Would such a structure be feasible (I'm not an architectural nor a mechanical engineer)?

    As pointed out by somebody else, if anybody (these people aren't the first with this idea) could get this to market, it would be a boon for the growing wind turbine industry.

    • Skyscrapers may be vastly more affordable if built from interlocking modules on the ground that could be airlifted into place

      Unlikely, I would think : how could using airlift ever be cheaper than a temporary crane on the top of the structure?

      • Construction on the ground instead of in the air is the point. Those cranes lift single beams, not whole floors at a time. It's a lot faster to build six floors at a time and airlift them into place as they are finished rather than assemble each one in situ.
    • There are already construction methods for buildings which resemble assembly lines. They involve a construction module that rises with the building. I recall reading of a Japanese company which developed a process, if I recall correctly, where the building is raised as a new floor is built underneath. My memory is vague on that and I can't find a link.

      But the point is that there already numerous efficient processes for building construction without having to complicate things by using airlifting.

      The more I

  • Fat chance (Score:3, Funny)

    by digitaldc ( 879047 ) * on Friday October 08, 2010 @01:30PM (#33838134)
    If obesity rates continue to climb in this country, we could be looking at a new way to commute to the local KFC/Taco Bell.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Large airships have been a recurrent proposal for moving large and bulky items which exceed the routine capabilities of the transport system.
    The problem is that the airship needed is huge. That makes it very difficult to operate in anything other than good weather, even before attaching a massive but somewhat frail payload.
    The record is full of airship and air lifter crashes because of bad weather or unexpected turbulence. Until that problem is resolved, the proposal is not serious.

  • Apparently, they have an issue with other nations/companies ignoring IP laws and stealing their tech. [] While many other companies have thought to do airship lifters, this UFO approach is unique. Even the propulsion appears well thought out. Good luck to them.
  • It is time for America to quit dumping our Helium. It is going to get very expensive soon. In addition, it might be time to encourage capture from out many natural gas wells.
    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      In addition, it might be time to encourage capture from out many natural gas wells.

      Don't worry; when big oil sees dollar signs from doing so, it'll do so.

  • an airship that can lift 150 tons has a lot of crossectional area, even if a sphere need some serious motors to keep it stable in crosswinds, updrafts etc this was brought out in a great book by the new yorker write john mcphee, I think most of /. would love reading this book
    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      And drag.

      There's a good reason that Zeppelins are long and narrow and filled with hydrogen, instead of just the natural shape of a balloon that has minimal ratio of mass to lift.

      But there's no good reason to paint them with rocket fuel [].

      BTW, as the link mentions, the Hindenburg carried its own hotel, with 50 cabins for passengers and berths for 59 crew members, plus common areas and a bridge, while fully occupied, and had short flight capacity for 20 more passengers, so the concept of moving buildings with a

  • Here in Colorado and most parts of the west, we do not have have easy access to water. BUT, if something like this could carry 150 tones of water to a fire, well, that can help make a difference. In fact, with a good design, the carrier can be quite a bit lower than the lifter which means that they can put this close to the fire, prior to dumping the water.
    • by XorNand ( 517466 )
      Fire hydrants put out about 5000 gallons per minute. A gallon of water weighs 8.345 lbs and 150 tons is 300,000 lbs. Therefore, the airship could carry 35,949 gallons, or enough for 7 minutes of fire fighting.
      • There are not that many fire hydrants floating around the mountains and parks that form the west slopes of Colorado. In fact, the VAST majority of Western USA has very little fire hydrants (I would guess that less than 5% of our lands have hydrants). That is why we get large fires that form over 1000's of miles of land. And most of the ariel firefighting equipment is small. On the order of 5-10 K gallons. The largest currently available is the evergreen 747 which holds at most 24 K gallons. And it costs a F
  • by Wdi ( 142463 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @02:22PM (#33838714)

    Remember Cargo Lifter []?

    One of the most spectacular failures during the wild technology startup stampede a decade ago in Germany. They burned several hundred millions before folding.

    The only remaining legacy is a huge indoor pool in their former airship hangar...

  • The lift capacity of this VapourTech is 150 tonnes. That's not a very big building.
  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Friday October 08, 2010 @02:43PM (#33839034) Homepage Journal
    Me'n the crew 'ere took o'er this 'ere buildin' some 12 years ago now, matey! If it were just a wee bit more mobile, we could plunder and pillage other buildin's! We'll be in touch with this 'ere company an' then we'll set sail on the high plains, movin' from city to city an' plunderin' buildin's as we go! Haaarr!
  • This looks like a fantastically expensive way to move things to places where the cost of building is astronomical. The shape of the beast looks very uneconomical, though. It's rare to see this shape of pressure vessel (outside of very small pancake air compressors). It takes a lot of force to restrain a surface from becoming a sphere or tube (which is why historic ships are built the way they are, and why nearly every airplane has a circular fuselage).

    This also has the disadvantage of being dynamically u

  • not because they can not make it


    it takes a sphere of 66m Diameter filled with H2 to get a lift of 150 t.

    The H2 hull is surrounded by another hull filled with He to minimize H2 combustion risc

    and catalysts oxidize escaped H2 safely outside, and diffused O2 inside the H2 hull


    the reason it will not be made is that a balloon technologfy like that would allow the construction of a stratospheric radar platform which would be capable to discover stealth aircraft and low altitude flying cruise missile.



God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"