The Electric Airship Revolution Is Almost Here. Are We Ready?

The Electric Airship Revolution Is Almost Here. Are We Ready?

The first airship era was destroyed by fire. The next starts with the entire planet in flames.

With the warming climate fast melting the glaciers, animals blinking out of existence, and one-of-a-kind weather occasions often filling the forecasts for seven days, Scientists, politicians act, activists, engineers, and anyone else who loves the planet Earth are scrambling to find ways to switch from fossil fuels and switch to renewable energy sources.

Specific changes are apparent. Switch internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. Duh. Remove CO2-spewing power stations and invest in solar, wind, or nuclear. It’s a no-brainer. However, there’s a massive elephant in the room. One that has two turboprop engines, a lack of space for a leg, and an unending desire to consume jet fuel.

Jet airliners are known for releasing carbon monoxide cars, carbon dioxide sulfur oxides, and nitrogen oxides, which are all harmful. While valiant efforts to develop environmentally sustainable jet fuels and alternative fuels that are fully electric have led to certain promising outcomes air, airplanes require too much energy to keep 100,000 lbs of metal in the air sustainably and effectively.

What if your plane may become more light than air?

“The First World War is what gave planes their first boost, and the Second World War pushed them to jet engines… but the new war is the war against carbon emissions,” Barry Prentice, director of the Transport Institute at the University of Manitoba and co-founder of Buoyant Aircraft Systems International (BASI) says to Popular Mechanics. “Climate change… is changing how we look at technology and also the airship itself.”

Resurrected from the ashes of the aviation industry, aircraft have become the top engineering priority of businesses across the globe. The one in California, Google co-founder Sergey Brin backs LTA Researchis preparing for tests on the Pathfinder 1 rigid airship. The FranceCanadian-based company Flying Whales, which received hundreds of millions of dollars in funding (including some from the French government), is currently conducting tests of its 650-foot-long LCA60T dirigible. After ten years of development, Hybrid Air Vehicle in the U.K. is getting ready to launch production of its Airlander 10, a blimp.

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Many people (with plenty of money) claim that airships have a bright future, but what is the exact look of that?

Old Name, New Tech

Airships are among the oldest aircraft that humans have ever built. They were first introduced in the 18th century. They transported the Montgolfier brothers across Versailles’s palace. Versailles and, 100 years later, they were the reason that the U.S. military used them to establish its first aviation unit in the Civil War, called the balloon corps.

A Civil War observation balloon. Thaddeus Lowe’s Intrepid near Gaines Mill, Virginia, circa 1865.Buyenlarge//Getty Images

  • The Civil War Balloonist Who Invented Aerial Recon

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

Due to this long-standing lineage, airships can seem like technology from the past. However, comparing modern-day airships with the legendary Zeppelins from the post-war era is like saying that a Douglas DC-3 is like one of the Airbus A320. They’re identical aircraft. However, that’s the point where they differ.

“The big old airships had cow intestines pasted on linen sheets to create the gas bags,” Prentice declares. “Today there’s no reason take a flight in an aircraft which hasn’t flown using a computer in the first. The equipment has become much better, and the materials have also improved. You’re no longer using cow intestines any more.” Instead, you’ll use advanced materials that maximize each inch of lift produced by the airship’s helium (or hydrogen) gas bags.

The Rolls-Royce for the next generation of airships may come from LTA Research’s Pathfinder 1. It was founded in 2015 and is backed by Google co-founder Sergey Brin; the company has kept its secrets about its airship plans; however, in June 2023, the Bloomberg newspaper finally had an insider’s view of the. On the Pathfinder 1’s specification sheet are phrases such as “Kevlar,” “carbon fiber,” “ripstop nylon,” and “hydrogen fuel cells”–all technology that was utterly inconceivable for airship engineers 100 years back.

In other words, this is different from the airship of your granddad’s.

➥ Anatomy of a Modern Airship

Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

“Just one example of the novel engineering found in Pathfinder 1 is a tool using lidar , which measures helium volume in gas cells in real time. It’s an airship tool that never existed before and an LTA invention that increases the safety of our next-generation airships,” LTA Research CEO Alan Weston told Popular Mechanics in an email. “LTA intends to increase the capabilities of Pathfinder airships, with the possibility of solar or hydrogen fuel cells to power our electric propulsion system.”

LTA Research sees the role of the airship as a cargo transporter and not a mover. Although airships can transport cargo more efficiently as air freight (usually handled by the earliest, and therefore most inefficient, planes), they will not be able to compete with planes in terms of speed.

“The jet engine is a fabulous invention and I certainly don’t want to give them up,” Prentice states, “But there’s not justification for a cargo jet because freight doesn’t complain… I think people will look back and, if anything, they’re going to pick out and say ‘what the hell were they thinking,’ it’s going to be cargo jets.”

However, even in a cargo capacity, airships could significantly contribute to the reduction of carbon emissions in the world and reach areas of the world that planes and helicopters can’t reach effectively.

With the ferocity of climate change fueling the flame, Prentice thinks the single biggest market for airships for transporting products over the oceans. However, one question remains whether they can even travel to the oceans.

Picturing the Solar-Powered Dream

Christoph Pflaum is not an engineer of airships. Instead, he is the universe of computer simulations. An expert in leveraging numerical computations to answer complex problems, Pflaum is a mathematician at Friedrich-Alexander-Universitat Erlangen-Nurnberg who figures out the nitty-gritty realities of how things work, including optical simulations of thin-film solar cells.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *