The revival of the airship: Cargo transport today, sky resort tomorrow?

Before the infamous Hindenburg disaster put an end to the airship era in 1937, lighter-than-air zeppelins were slated to become the future of transportation.

That vision was put to rest for the better part of a century, but today several companies are intent on reviving airships to carry incredibly heavy cargo payloads with increasing levels of success.

Airships offer advantages over other forms of cargo transport. Their value lies in their weight capacity, paired with the ability to land almost anywhere without the need of an airstrip or ground crew. This feature reduces costs and increases efficiency, allowing for quicker loading and unloading.

Airships can travel long and treacherous distances, landing in near-unreachable areas to deliver goods and supplies.

An American company called Aeros is one of the forerunners in the modern airship movement. It launched a high-tech cargo airship called the Aeroscraft last year.

Aeros’s prototype is able to carry payloads of up to 60 tonnes. The company is now developing a ship that will more than double this weight.

The airship was designed through a partnership with DARPA and NASA. It can achieve a vertical takeoff and landing with no ground support, operating through a helium tank.

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With these high-tech capabilities, airships have the potential to revolutionise transport in a number of fields.

Aeros foresees using the Aeroscraft to deliver heavy cargo to hard-to-reach locations, transporting disaster relief supplies and aiding military transportation.

UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles is another leader in airship technology. The company is currently in the process of designing two different airships.

One of the prototypes is focused on endurance. It is able to stay airborne for 5 days at a time, conducting surveys and research, providing communications outlets and acting as a surveillance platform.

The second is a heavy-lifting airship similar to the Aeroscraft that can land on nearly any surface, making it optimal for disaster relief and the gas, oil and mining industries.

Airships set themselves apart from typical cargo planes because of the ability to land almost anywhere without the need of an airstrip or ground crew. This feature reduces costs and increases efficiency, allowing for quicker loading and unloading.

In addition, airships present a more environmentally friendly alternative to plane transport because they need less fuel to operate and fly at a lower altitude, producing fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

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As hybrid airship technology continues to develop, so will the uses for it. These companies already foresee using their ships to globalise world markets by quickly transporting products like fresh fruits and vegetables to revolutionise daily cuisine.

They also haven’t forgotten the airship-era dream of cruising the sky for pleasure, maintaining that one day airships will allow people to enjoy the amenities of a resort or a cruise in the clouds.

Of course, the airship tragedies of the past cannot be forgotten, but these companies are incorporating advanced safety features into their prototypes to ensure their reliability. One day soon, we will be able to fully realize the potential of the airship technology that was all but abandoned last century.


Featured image courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles, body images courtesy of Aeros.


Spread your wings: Electric flying bicycle will let you soar above the traffic

Imagine waking up in the morning, getting on your bike for the ride to work and when you hit traffic, extending the wings attached to it to fly over the congestion.

That’s the vision of one group of inventors who are making an electric powered ultra-light aircraft that has been built upon a lightweight tricycle frame.

The bike will create a personal and portable aircraft that in theory should be easy to fly.

The best part of the so-called Fly-B is that it will, for a limited time, only cost $12,000 dollars – which is much cheaper than many cars and avoids the hassle of traffic jams and paying for petrol.

The creators say the Fly-B is a: “Radical solution to the commuter blues or for any free spirit wishing to take the high road.”

It has been created by two flying ‘free-thinkers’ and who claim it is the world’s first electric flying bicycle.

As well as the physical cycling power, an electric propulsion system is also included for those who feel like putting their feet up and resting.

No pilots licence will apparently be needed as the device is said to fall under US regulations for ultra-light aircraft.

The creators say the designs involved weeks of engineering and when not in use the bike-come-aircraft can be folded up and put in the corner of a garage.

The creators have now put the vehicle out to a crowd funding campaign which they believe is the best way to raise manufacturing funds.

They say: “The Fly-B is an ideal Indiegogo project: not suited to large corporate mass market appeal, but able to tap an energetic niche market of adventure-oriented free spirits already involved (or wanting to be) in the recumbent bicycle movement and ultralight aircraft.”

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We can’t see the project taking off but there’s no reason not to dream big when it comes to flying personal transport: every slightly crazy, but successful idea has to start somewhere.

That said, the funding target set on the bike’s crowdfunding target is set at $28,000 – which is much lower than many aim to achieve, such as a recent flying car that was looking for €2.25m.

The money is to be used to finance the tooling and production equipment for the initial production runs.

Al money that is raised will go to the project, even if it does not hit its modest target.