The Future of Transportation: Dirigibles

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The visual impact of one of today's small advertising blimps is awesome. The grandeur of a dirigible of yesteryear is legendary. But even more impressive is the raw lifting power of a gigantic lighter-than-air craft

The lifting power of a dirigible increases as the cube of its size. The increasing size of large dirigibles in the past did lead to some structural failures. The need for incredible strength to weight ratios has been since met with new materials developed for airplanes.

While airplanes meet a need for the rapid transport of people, they are grossly inefficient users of fuel for bulk cargo. Even a significant number of the human cargo would prefer a little less speed in exchange for an increase in comfort, such as "leg-room". Thus clearly there is a use for dirigibles to carry heavy and bulky cargo unthinkable for aircraft while providing more luxury and space totally unavailable on a plane.

Some critics suggest that trains and trucks are naturally superior to lighter-than-air craft for moving cargo. Their utility can not be denied in some specialized areas. Yet passenger comfort from lack of noise and vibration is unmatched in a dirigible. No truck or train can provide vertical lift capacity from a congested city center, for example. Nor deliver such cargo directly unencumbered by surface topology such as rivers, lakes, mountains and oceans.

Indeed, in cross ocean transport the dirigible is many times faster than surface ships. Cargo sensitive to vibration would find a unique carrier in a dirigible. It is a wonder that they aren't demanded even now.

Hysteria is the main obstacle to dirigible usage today. The German Zeppelin dirigible company flew millions of miles with tens of thousands of passengers with only one serious accident. But it was a doosey, the infamous crash and burning of the hydrogen filled Hindenburg in 1937. There hasn't been a commercial passenger carrying dirigible since. That tragic accident has slandered hydrogen as a lifting gas. Actually it was the skin that famously burned, it was unknowingly painted with a chemical that later turned out to be rocket fuel! Avoiding using inflaminates around hydrogen makes it use safe. Indeed combined with inert helium in a certain way, the combination provides a totally safe lifting gas.

A modern dirigible might conserve expensive helium by utilizing the advances made in using hot air as a lifting gas. A hybrid lifting system thus could easily provide a neutral buoyancy from hydrogen and helium but have dynamic lifting ability though the use hot air. A dirigible built with a hybrid lifting gas system would thus be totally safe (also avoiding rocket fuel as a paint!).

The time has come to resume using the oldest form of air transport. A modern dirigible made of modern light weight components utilizing aircraft technology is feasible today. It would be more efficient than competing transportation systems in moving many cargoes, especially people who value their comfort!


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