2/8/12 Airships of the Future 1/5 www.asktheexperts.org.uk/airships-of-the-future.html Airships of the Future Tuesday, 07 February 2012 10:44 By Dan Swinhoe Follow Follow @DanSwinhoe @DanSwinhoe 61 followers The AEROS 40D Sky Dragon , MAV6 M1400-I, Hybrid Air Vehicle HAV 304, and the Lockheed Martin P- 791. On paper they don't sound like very much, but in reality they are part of a new wave of Airships being designed both in the UK and US. Airships, also known as Dirigibles or Lighter Than Air (LTA) Vehicles, are some of the biggest of aircrafts in the world, but they make up the smallest branch of aeronautics. Why? "A combination of bad luck and widespread misunderstanding of their true nature and complexity," says Peter Ward, Chairman of the Airship Association. "Traditional airships have had several barriers to wider acceptance, that have not been addressed due to lack of investment over 70 years. Primary among these barriers were perception of safety; ground handling and load exchange." History has had its part to play as well. "The second world war had seen massive advances in aircraft technology, funded by the need for national survival, with little corresponding investment in LTA Technology. LTA technology had played a small, important, but often overlooked role in both the UK and US war effort, with little development effort since 1918." "After the Second World War, with a vast number of surplus transport aircraft and ships being disposed of cheaply, with hundreds of ex military airfields across the world, commercial ventures naturally used the ex- military equipment and facilities until newer and faster alternatives were made available by industry. With the advent of the Cold War; the continuation of the Arms Race, and commercial spin-offs; cheap fuel; no environmental concerns and rising standards of living, the business case for developing an alternative to aircraft was non-existent." Airships have been around for over 150 years. First developed in the late 1850s, they reach their hey-day was in the 1930s. At the time they were still miles ahead of heavier aircraft and were pushing the boundaries of flight . Crossing the oceans, reaching the poles, they were giants of the sky. But by the late 30s they had fallen out of favour. Speed, cost, vulnerability to weather and the rise of aeroplanes had swept the airships aside. Since then there has always been just enough interest to keep the myth alive. Various companies have built smaller airships, mostly for advertising or tourists, and as time goes on more new concepts and big projects have brought the iconic blimp into the 21st century. Our Latest Jobs... Fea N J e Art Sc Inv De Bu Re The F10 Group F10Group Join the conversation Send 2 people recommend F10Group Campaign Project Manager, London, £30k-35k, Advertising & PR idi.to/bFV 4 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite F10Group Junior Campaign Project Manager, London, £25k- 30k, Advertising & PR idi.to/bFU 7 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite F10Group Mechancial Design Engineer, Wimborne Minster, £0, Engineering idi.to/bFK 33 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite F10Group Engineering Support Manager, Wimborne Minster, £0, Engineering idi.to/bFJ 39 minutes ago · reply · retweet · favorite F10Group Recruiter / Recruitment Consultant, Milton Keynes, £18k-25k, Recruitment Consultancy idi.to/bF1 2 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite F10Group Satellite Communications Consultant, London, £30k-40k, Telecommunications idi.to/bDz 19 hours ago · reply · retweet · favorite Home Articles & Reviews Members Area About us Member Services Jobs Search... Videos page eBook library Q & A
Airships of the FutureTuesday, 07 February 2012 10:44
By Dan Swinhoe
FollowFollow @DanSwinhoe@DanSwinhoe 61 followers
The AEROS 40D Sky Dragon , MAV6 M1400-I, Hybrid Air Vehicle HAV 304, and the Lockheed Martin P-791. On paper they don't sound like very much, but in reality they are part of a new wave of Airships beingdesigned both in the UK and US.
Airships, also known as Dirigibles or Lighter Than Air (LTA) Vehicles, are some of the biggest of aircrafts inthe world, but they make up the smallest branch of aeronautics. Why? "A combination of bad luck andwidespread misunderstanding of their true nature and complexity," says Peter Ward, Chairman of the AirshipAssociation.
"Traditional airships have had several barriers to wider acceptance, that have not been addressed due to lackof investment over 70 years. Primary among these barriers were perception of safety; ground handling andload exchange." History has had its part to play as well. "The second world war had seen massive advancesin aircraft technology, funded by the need for national survival, with little corresponding investment in LTATechnology. LTA technology had played a small, important, but often overlooked role in both the UK and USwar effort, with little development effort since 1918."
"After the Second World War, with a vast number of surplus transport aircraft and ships being disposed ofcheaply, with hundreds of ex military airfields across the world, commercial ventures naturally used the ex-military equipment and facilities until newer and faster alternatives were made available by industry. With theadvent of the Cold War; the continuation of the Arms Race, and commercial spin-offs; cheap fuel; noenvironmental concerns and rising standards of living, the business case for developing an alternative toaircraft was non-existent."
Airships have been around for over 150 years. First developed in the late 1850s, they reach their hey-daywas in the 1930s. At the time they were still miles ahead of heavier aircraft and were pushing the boundariesof flight.
Crossing the oceans, reaching the poles, they were giants of the sky. But by the late 30s they had fallen out offavour. Speed, cost, vulnerability to weather and the rise of aeroplanes had swept the airships aside. Sincethen there has always been just enough interest to keep the myth alive. Various companies have built smallerairships, mostly for advertising or tourists, and as time goes on more new concepts and big projects havebrought the iconic blimp into the 21st century.
For the novice, airships are cigar-shaped balloons, filled with light gas to make them float. Most have acarriage underneath for the crew and rudders to steer. Generally airships can be broken down into threegroups: Non-rigid, Semi-rigid, and Rigid. Non-rigids are your average advertising blimp like you seen abovestadiums, a big balloon with air. Semi-rigids have some support, mainly to hold the carriage, Rigids have ametal framework that keep their shape with or without gas; these are the kind that spawned the world-travelling giant Zeppelins.
"Currently there are no intercontinental airships in production. Existing airships are small blimps," Petersays. "There are several R&D programmes in progress which will produce large airships. Two of the majorR&D programmes (Lockheed Martin, Hybrid Air Vehicles) are based on bi-lobal and tri-lobal designs."
It's these new designs which could prove successful. "Different types of Airships are being constructed, with adifferent purpose to the familiar blimp. The US Military has been fighting asymmetrical wars for over adecade. During the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have re-discovered the Aerostat, and relearnedthat a tethered aerostat gives a wider horizon for surveillance purposes for longer periods and at loweroperational cost than most conventional Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs). By increasing the area around aVital Point that can be kept under surveillance, the perimeter security teams improve their chances ofdetecting and preventing hostile activity."
While it's good to see interest, the industry itself is still virtually non-existent. "Several small underfundedcompanies have kept the technology alive over the last few years, with occasional efforts to fund majorprojects. Market research into size of potential market has been done, but not shared with the Association asit is expensive & valuable data." As with many technologies, if anyone will lead the way to widespread LTAuse, it will be the military. "Once the technology has been accepted by the Military, then industry will benefitfrom the spin-offs."
While recessions normally kill-off big plans and research, it seems that these tough times could be a boon forthe airship industry. "Fuel costs in the US Military are huge, and any way that could produce a saving in fuel,while maintaining operational tempo, is welcome," Peter says. "LTA has the potential to offer reducedoperational cost, with some significant improvements in aspects of operational efficiency. This has been oneof the drivers for the US Militaryʼs renewed interest in LTA for surveillance and, possibly, for heavy lifttransport."
There certainly has been interest from the military. Aeros' Aeroscraft was looked into by DARPA as a battaliontransport. Nicknamed 'Walrus', it would carry men, vehicles and all their equipment directly to where theywould be needed, and should fly by 2013. DARPA also has ISIS in the pipeline, a giant unmannedsurveillance blimp that sits six miles up in the Earth's stratosphere.
The US military also has HALE, which had an unfortunate accident during testing. But it's not just military thatare taking an interest. Funded by the EU through the 7th Framework Programme, the Multibody AdvancedAirship for Transport (MAAT) project dreams of having a giant, 350 metre disc-shaped airship. Cruising highin the clouds on a permanent route, it would have smaller feeder pods bringing passengers to and fro. TheAHAs (Airship Hub Airport) would be two tall towers, saving on space and runways and in theory it would becheap and almost completely green, running mainly from solar power.
So there's plenty going on in the concept and development areas. There's also a small but growing group ofgroups looking to promote and educate.
"The Airship Association was formed in 1971 by a group of individuals who firmly believed that Lighter thanAir (LTA) vehicles had been overshadowed as a form of transport, by the more glamorous, and adrenalineinducing world of aircraft. To them, the clear benefits of LTA vehicles in terms of Large Payloads, smalloperational infrastructure requirements, lower fuel consumption per ton/mile (compared to aircraft), lowerintermodal transfer costs were important issues that needed to be bought to a wider audience."
It's main goals are simple: promote the science, practice and consideration of all matters relating toairships, circulate information on all matters affecting airships and to publish books and papers connectedwith airships, promote research and experimental work on airships.
"We believe that the Airship Association has made a small but significant impact. By publishing the quarterlyjournal, we have kept the subject of Airships alive, and provided a virtual meeting place for both enthusiastsand entrepreneurs."
One of the council's members, Professor Gabriel Khoury, is the author of a major book on current airshiptechnology, and the Association played a significant part in the drafting of the Transport Airship Requirements(TAR) in the early 2000s, which has been adopted by both EASA and FAA as the basis for further regulation.
There are other organisations too. Airships to the Arctic hold symposiums every couple of years (the sixth washeld in December) with the aims of promoting LTA transport, dispelling the myths, and looking at viableapplications and how to implement them. While much of their focus is on using dirigibles in the remotestregions of the world; Canada's frozen north, isolated parts of Africa or Western China, where there are few orno roads and even less aviation infrastructure. There's also Airship Initiatives, who act as a one-stop shop foreverything LTA, from talks and arranging flights to specialist PR.
As impressive as it sounds, there is always the issue of whether LTA vehicles are needed when aeroplanesand helicopters are so readily available. "This is a speculative issue, as no hard figures yet exist for modernLTA Costs. They should not necessarily be considered an alternative, but complementary, to traditional forms
"The thoughts are that once development and certification costs are factored out, Transport Airships wouldoccupy a niche between conventional air transport, and maritime transport. The cost per ton per mile isprojected to be lower than conventional aircraft, but higher than maritime shipping."
LTAs would travel at the speed of a ship, and require the same crew for several weeks, but would able totraverse rough terrain to remote areas. Realistically, tourism wont bring about a revival, but putting them touse as heavy lifting tool, able to carry payloads to places where roads and runways aren't feasible, obviouslyhas its merits. The German company Cargolifter AG were developing such a concept before going bust in2002, but the torch has been picked up by the likes of AEROS and HAV.
Many of you reading this are probably still worried. "[The] public generally believe they are dangerousbecause they see the Hindenburg at every mention of the word airship in the media."
It's true, how many documentaries have you seen on the Hindenburg compared to all the other airships thatdidn't crash? It was probably the first thing you thought of when reading this article. But airships are generallysafe. Richard Van Treuren wrote in a presentation called 'Airship safety in northern weather conditions' thatall the fatalities from dirigibles since 1852, including ground crew, are less than the 520 one of today's largeplanes carries. And many of those were people being too eager and jumping out too early. Of course nothingis ever completely safe, and in June a Goodyear blimp caught fire in Germany, where the pilot was killed. Thecause of the fire isn't yet known.
That was an isolated case, and the Goodyear blimps have a good safety record. It's the perception of LTAswhich have been the biggest dent to their development. Peter points to misunderstanding over theircapabilities, especially by financiers, regulatory authorities and policy makers, as causing them to be heldback.
"This has been dubbed 'The giggle factor,' and it is not currently being addressed." He also cites hostility fromparties with vested interests see LTAs as a threat, and the media, which "is able to print outlandish andunworkable ideas and pass them off as serious science because there are so few around and so little isknown about them."
He seems optimistic however, and once in the sky, people's perceptions will change. "I suspect that the first ofa Heavy Lift transport airships will be a sight that people will remember for the rest of their lives with a certainamount of awe. As with all things, familiarity brings acceptance, blimps have been familiar at sporting eventsfor 3 decades or more. The use of airships for high-profile 'good-work,' such as Air-Sea-Rescue would alsohelp."
This reluctance is a problem faced the world over, and fear of he unknown isn't the only problem. "Any countrywith vast land, under-developed infrastructure and inaccessible natural resources is a potential customer forthe operating companies. However most BRIC countries have already rubber stamped the rules andregulations from Europe and the USA and incorporated them into their own law," explains Peter.
"There is also a serious obstacle in the desire of developing countries not to be seen as "backward" and Ihave been quoted in one (which shall be nameless) 'why should we have them if the US doesn't have them?'"
Whatever our cousins across the pond do, will we here in the UK be seeing airships in its skies in the future?"The current infrastructure was built in the 1920s. Big investment is urgently needed starting with properlyfunded and targeted, serious research projects and feasibility studies," he says. But with the UK being one ofthe world leaders in Aerospace, and Hybrid Air Vehicles and Lindstrand working on projects here, don't rule itout.
Obviously it's not just perception that needs to be looked at, engineers are always working towards makingthings as safe as possible. While the Hindenburg was a terrible disaster and lessons were learned.
"Fire has always been the enemy of airmen, including airshipmen. Early airships used hydrogen as a liftinggas, as helium was not available in any quantity until the US Government passed an act in the early thirties tocollect and store helium for military airships. Since the loss of the Hindenburg in 1937, Helium has been thelifting gas of commercial and military airships."
Helium is an inert gas, so while it doesn't have as much buoyancy as hydrogen, it wont catch fire. And wherethe Hindenburg's shell acted as fuel for the fire, today's materials are far more fire-resistant.
"Fabrics are stronger, engine reliability, stress analysis and understanding of low level weather are all greatlyimproved. Computers have been a double edged sword as their ability to aid in complex calculation has beenequalled by the ease of producing visually alluring virtual reality models that have no basis in fact and whichdeceive the new-comer to the subject. Lockheed Martin seem to have used computers to overcome perceivedflight stability issues in their P791 prototype. Computerised Flight Systems are pretty standard on mostmodern aircraft, and are used in the Zeppelin NT series; they will almost certainly be used in future largeairships."
The technology is constantly moving forward to ever improve the case for reintroduction. Load Exchange,where either an equivalent ballast has to replace the cargo or gas has to be vented to keep the airshipsteady, is being addressed.
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"Solutions are sought by using Hybrid Airship design, where the design of the vehicle uses aerodynamic lift tolift a much larger percentage of the cargo mass compared to traditional airship designs."
There's also research being done to try and compress the lifting gas, which would reduce the amount of lift.Improving efficiency of ground handling is always going on.
"Modern designs have turned to hovercraft technology, by using hover-shirts rather than traditional landinggear. By blowing air into the hover-skirts they ease movement on the ground, while sucking the air from thehoverskirts, they will “suck” the airship to the ground, enabling easier loading and unloading of cargo,"explains Peter.
In a world of climate change where reserves of fuels are slowly running out, how do airships rate? Pretty well.LTAs use much less fuel than their winged counterparts, the only real issue is the supply of helium.
"As a finite natural resource, there are potential issues, but there are new helium collection facilities comingon-line." He also says that many of the fears about supply are unjustified in many cases. Currently the USsupplies around 80% of the world's helium, and holds around half of the planet's reserves in a facility inTexas.
Used in MRI scanners and Fibre Optics, helium is produced as a by-product of natural gas and cannot bechemically produced in its own right, meaning new supplies of Helium are harder to come by than otherresources. While many natural gas reserves do harvest the helium, there are just as many that haven't, andthe gas is ultimately vented into the atmosphere. Although it is possible to extract helium back from theatmosphere, it isn't economically viable yet, costing around 10,000 times more to extract from the air than theground.
It's hard to tell if there'll ever be another golden age for dirigibles, but they still enjoy a certain air of mysterythat aeroplanes just don't have. There have been some stumbling blocks along the way, even recently. Butthis is a technology that few in the world have ever come into contact with, let alone work on and develop.Maybe if people can come around to the idea without immediately referencing the Hindenburg, and thefunding keeps dripping through, they might one day fill the skies again.
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