The Past and Future of Airships

Alternatives to Ballooning and Why They May Return

With aeroplanes making uninterrupted laps of the skies, today air travel is just a part of our day to day lives. Hopping aboard a flight may be a hassle thanks to security checks and the stop start of airports, yet the sheer convenience of flying to another country much outweighs these inconveniences. Flying on planes however is vastly different from the blissful, nature exposing drift of a hot air balloon. In the balloon you are comfortable and placid, whereas commercial flights often put your comfort last. Things weren’t always this way though, as air travel was once much closer to ballooning than aeroplane flights, so why have things changed and how can we embrace the wonder of flight in the same way that ballooning does?

Blimps

Blimps were a lot more common back in the early 20th century, today we rarely see them unless they are being used for advertising. Blimps are very similar to hot air balloons in the fact that they don’t have a rigid body, instead their trademark bullet-like shape is a result of filling the inside with helium much like a party balloon. Unlike hot air balloons though blimps can be directed thanks to the fans underneath them allowing them to be a much more directive means of transportation. Blimps are safe and can reach great heights, but their passenger capacity holds only about 6 people, not much more than an average balloon.

Zeppelin
Zeppelin

Zeppelin

The blimp evolved into the bigger badder zeppelin. This larger air creation did have a frame, a metal one and thus took a lot more effort to keep airborne. This is where hydrogen gas came in, a much different and more volatile element than the helium used in balloons and blimps, though many zeppelin flights went ahead without issue. In fact, Zeppelins became hugely popular and unlike plane flights today they had large interior spaces that created a much more leisurely journey. Big open areas featured different rooms much like a cruise ship and of course many people would want to take in the view which they could from the open-air hatches below. The demise of the zeppelin came as a result of the Hindenberg disaster in 1937 where an airship ignited and fell to the ground killing 36 people.

Airlander
Airlander

Airlander

Back in 2001 the Skycat was patented, today the company that now owns this trademark is Hybrid Air Vehicles and their latest models have some impressive capabilities. After taking its first flight in 2016 the Airlander; a modernised iteration of the blimp; has become one of the most promising successors to air travel today. This large and very safe airship has low emissions, low upkeep and unlike planes can sustain its place in the sky for extended periods of time. This thing can hang in the air for up to 5 days without a worry, meaning that everyone has the peace of mind that gravity isn’t constantly trying to bring them back down to earth in a hurry. The functionality and sustainability that this and its big brother the Airlander50 offer may just change the way we fly in the very near future.