Friday, May 12, 2006

Bring back the passenger blimp...

Airships. Blimps. Dirigibles. Zeppelins. What could be a more exciting and yet relaxing way to venture up the coast of California, or float from Barcelona to Nice, or through the Valley of the Kings, or along the Great Wall?

Airships are fuel efficient, low in emissions, quiet, safe, and aesthetically pleasing. I know what you're thinking. Hindenburg. But those days are long gone. Blimps no longer use flammable hydrogen to keep them aloft. American airships have been filled with helium since the 1920s and modern passenger-carrying airships are often, by law, prohibited from being filled with hydrogen. Safety is not the issue. It's public doubt. But passenger travel by airship was once the last word in luxury travel and could be again. For a taste of airship travel, have a look at this wonderful Hindenburg brochure.

Some terms: A blimp is typically an airship without a rigid framework. They use a pressure level in excess of the surrounding air pressure in order to retain their shape. Some metal framing may be used along the keel for added support. Today, a derigible or zeppelin (a brand that's become the generic, a la "Kleenex"), refers to an airship with a rigid framework that uses muliple non-pressurized gas cells to provide lift. The problem with these rigid ships is that they need expensive storage facilities and maintenance. On the flipside, you do get a world that looks more like this...

In war and peace, Germany has been the traditional leader in airship technology and they maintain that advantage today, even though the business ain't what it used to be. (But please stay away from their website, your computer will crash like a lead zeppelin).

In January of this year, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT) shareholders gave the airship company the green light to build a fourth Zeppelin NT 07. The 12-seat passenger airship is reported to take to the skies by spring 2008 to coincide with the annual start of Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei's (DZR) operating season. By then it will almost double DZR's present passenger capacity. In the meantime, the Reederei has to make do - as it has since summer 2005 - with only one NT 07 airship as one Zep NT 07 was sold to Japan earlier, the other is in South Africa since September searching for diamonds.

But where Germany sticks to tradition, others are thinking outside the sausage and positing wild new airship models. Such as this, this, and this. And who can wait for this monster?

Let’s hope this catches. The sky whales have been absent far too long.

I'd like to suggest to future airship investors that just because these machines can be used as floating billboards, doesn'’t mean they should. Once again, the folk at Zeppelin mostly get this right. They don't try to cloak their dirigibles behind a brand. Nor are they pimping every square inch of blimp for crass product placement. They understand that spare elegance, good design, and clean lines enhance the sky rather than polluting it with visual noise and kooky camouflage. I hate to sound stuffy, but, the ticket to getting blimps off the ground is by giving these much-maligned airships some dignity, not infantilizing them into cutesy balloons.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been think the same thing and totally agree! I can see a time when these balloons will again be used to move people over long distances. Perhaps not as quickly as a jet, but in a more environmentally friendly way. What was old becomes new again!

6:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too agrea with this idea. I expect that airships will come back, but unfortunately jets, and other future fast and small crafts will have the majority of the market. But there is hope for the revival of the zeppelin

9:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i would totaly enjoy a revival of the blimp as i believe that some things come before speed and monetary value

2:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like that to happen...

9:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would love to spend a night on a blimp it would definitely be more comfortable than a coach non reclining seat with absolutely no room on a jet

4:35 PM  
Blogger jeffreyjames said...

your wish is granted:

10:45 AM  
Blogger a stained glass said...

there's little hope for the future of alternative air travel when the helium runs out in a decade or so.

10:52 AM  

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