back to article Massive new AIRSHIP to enter commercial service at British dirigible base

An enormous airship built for the US forces has been bought back by its British designers and is to go into commercial service based in old Blighty. Regular Reg readers will already be familiar with the ship, formerly designated as the first of the US Army's* planned fleet of Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) …

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TRT
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They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

I thought it would be a good idea, in this day and age of speed and... things like that, to build an... airship.

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Well, at least in the Marine industry, the EU is heavily funding research into ways of emitting less CO2 (regardless of your beliefs as to whether that's a good thing), and one of the ideas seriously being considered is the use of sails - the downside is that they're efficient at 12kts, not the 18kts cargo carriers current go. But, there is a glut of cargo carriers, and you can get the same throughput with more ships on the ocean going slower. It of course means that you'll be waiting for your big-TV shipment from Hong Kong for around 33% longer, but presumably if you're shipping by sea rather than air, it's because you want it cheap and are willing to sacrifice time for that.

So a slow (it's still ~4+ times quicker than shipping by sea), heavy lifter market may work - it has drawbacks- indeed the weather restrictions for a dirigible presumably are more strict than a helicopter, but just because it's slow doesn't mean it could be useful. I can think of lots of companies who wouldn't mind the capability to lift 50 tonnes out on short notice - oil companies spring to mind. Whether they'd let 50 tonnes of swinging cargo next to an offshore rig is questionable, but in terms of getting say, heavy machinery from a manufacturer in Germany to a site in Africa somewhere in a reasonable time frame for less money than hiring a C-17 Globemaster- I can see that there might be a market for that.

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Furthermore, I think there could be a market for transporting people with these things. Whilst obviously slower than a plane, they're much cheaper to run and provide a lot more comfortable space. As fuel costs rise, people look at cheaper options and if that cheaper option is more like a ship (walk around an open space, some tables to sit at, a bar, even a personal cabin) than like a plane (cramped little seat and tiny little aisle you're contorted into for seven hours), then there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach to getting there. Especially in an age where if it had decent Internet access, you could still work.

I've been in love with these things ever since Indiana Jones threw someone off one ("No ticket!"). Planes have had decades of refinement and advancement. I'd love to see what we could do with airships.

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Sails?

Kites would be more efficient. I know there have been lots of ideas and patents in recent decades for the use of kites for powering ships particularly at low speed, but they don't seem to have caught on.

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TRT
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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Come on, I know there are plenty of Thunderbirds fans lurking in El Reg's halls.

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@ TRT Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Here have a thumbs up for the Thunderbirds quote. And boo to the 2 people who voted you down, clearly not fans.

They should paint the airship green and stick a big yellow "2" on it.

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Re: @ TRT They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

"They should paint the airship green and stick a big yellow "2" on it."

No, that's the Aeroscraft one that looks like T2. This one, well, it looks from the front end like it should be for sale in Ann Summers judging by the photos. I reckon they should paint it pink, with the front end purple.

Not withstanding the "interesting" design I'd still like a go. The article mentions that the inagural passengers will include a couple of competition winners - commentards might want to mosey over the Airlander web site, because it is a straightforward prize draw.

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"there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

> Especially in an age where if it had decent Internet access, you could still work.

Exactly. In this day and age, it doesn't need to be fast, it needs wi-fi. In fact, its going pretty slowly could be an advantage for the international commuting crowd: no need to strap everyone firmly into rigid seats in case of a high-speed crash means you could have mobile meeting rooms with big comfy swivel-chairs. Transporting a firm's entire board from London to New York in a fully Net-connected mobile boardroom is surely a pretty easy sell.

I think these things' big market in the developed world is not so much that they could provide the same crappy service as jets more cheaply as that they could be as luxurious as first-class BA at the price of Easyjet. (I'm talking about luxury in terms of legroom and comfort, not complimentary champagne, obviously.)

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Sail

The (in)famous Calypso did quite well with her turbosail, even though there were problems from time to time (Cousteau was operating on a very tight budget and the design was new-ish). Still, she was quite a bit classier than the SeaLepers' pile of rust (rebaptised Steve Irwin in a desperate attempt to get some sympathy on the back of a dead celebrity I guess).

And the Calypso did not engage in acts of piracy.

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MJI
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Re: @ TRT They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

I didn't get the quote originally but as soon as Thunderbirds was mentioned I remembered.

And TB6 was a AFAIR a Tiger Moth

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

"Transporting a firm's entire board from London to New York in a fully Net-connected mobile boardroom is surely a pretty easy sell."

If they are valuable enough to justify freighting these people a quarter of the way round the world, why will it be cost effective to put them on an airship that will take about forty hours for this trip? And if physical presence is essential, what's the point in worrying about a net connected boardroom? The rationale for boardroom net connections is usually so that you can link your meeting rooms via video conferencing without travelling in the first place.

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Re: Sail

@ElReg!comments!Pierre The calypso was hardly a bulk carrier.

Container ships are not suited to installations like the turbosail because the deck is piled high with containers meaning the sail(s) would need mounting high tending to force the ship to heel over unless it had a huge and impractical centre board. Not to mention the fact that it would make loading and unloading a bit difficult. Kites OTOH don't have the same problem with heeling. They don't require any additional structure above decks getting in the way of loading, they can mount to the sides of the hull or indeed the bow. The only difficulty is in deploying the kites.

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @Ledswinger

Well, I was giving one illustrative example of what I think is a far more general selling point. But, that being said....

> If they are valuable enough to justify freighting these people a quarter of the way round the world, why will it be cost effective to put them on an airship that will take about forty hours for this trip?

Because they could be at work for the entire trip, which they couldn't on a jet. That's the point: if you've got Net access and a decent desk to work at, journey time ceases to be a major consideration because it's time at work, not time away from work.

> And if physical presence is essential, what's the point in worrying about a net connected boardroom? The rationale for boardroom net connections is usually so that you can link your meeting rooms via video conferencing without travelling in the first place.

You could, for instance, move a load of top brass across the Atlantic because they need to demo some software in New York, and they could be connected to their devs and other software experts in Sydney and London and Stockholm and Dublin for the entire trip while they work on getting the demo to work as smoothly as possible (or just at all), and of course connected to their main servers that the software uses. That sounds like the sort of thing my firm might do; I'm sure there are dozens of other use cases.

Actually, thinking about this some more, if I or one of my colleagues were between clients for a week or more, and there was the option of a method of transport to the next client's workplace that was cheaper than a plane and enabled us not only to work but to be connected and reachable for the entire trip, I can't imagine my employers not insisting on it.

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

I saw some footage from the early 1930s of passengers looking down on (I think) Brazil as they drifted slowly and gracefully out over the Atlantic to Europe and thought 'I want to do that'. I can't think of a more fascinating way of viewing spectacular scenery: ah, yes, glass of wine in hand while I watch the Andes or the Sahara slip below me, or as the sun sets over Sri Lanka and lights the Indian Ocean with gold. Please, please sell me a ticket--especially after I retire and have plenty of time to enjoy the wonders of the earth.

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

Or you can talk in private in a place that can be shielded and inaccessible.

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Lifting 50 tonnes is great, the problem is dropping it off (this was addressed in the fine story). If you lose 50 tonnes you become vary buoyant, and have a hard time landing again. Either you vent off your vary expensive He, or you take on ballast. about the best ballast source would be a river, but if you have a river, that you can easily pull 50 tonnes of water out of, why don't you just ship by boat?

There might be a few places where you need to take vary heavy things, have no better means of transport, and happen to have ballast at the location, but they are not common enough to fund a healthy industry.

I'm also not confident in the demand for a slow passenger service. It sounds nice, but is there enough demand?

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

> if that cheaper option is more like a ship (walk around an open space, some tables to sit at, a bar, even a personal cabin) than like a plane (cramped little seat and tiny little aisle you're contorted into for seven hours), then there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach to getting there. Especially in an age where if it had decent Internet access, you could still work.

Have you seen the site airships.net? It is one of the most comprehensive sites out there for all things airship (please let me, and more importantly the webmaster of that site know if you find something with more information).

They have a stunning collection of photographs of the Hindenberg's interior (http://www.airships.net/hindenburg/interiors).

I for one certainly would not mind taking the "cruise" approach with space to walk about, decent chairs, and large windows.

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bep

Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

I second this motion. Given the number of people happy to cruise down the Rhine on an enlarged barge, shirley there would be punters happy to fly slowly down the Rhine at 50 knots or so? Paris to Venice by airship? I should cocoa! Apparently the airship travel experience is incomparable, why not give people the chance to enjoy it?

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

Sorry, but 35-ish MPH verses the 500+ of a jet? Sounds nice, but I don't think there is a big enough market in that slow of a travel mode, if there was Trains would be more popular than they are now. Perhaps if it could be big enough to rival cruise ships on their routes.

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TRT
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Re: @ TRT They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Yes, it was. "Thunderbird 6", the Tiger Moth, was able to land on the top of the Skyship 1 airship (one of Brains' inventions built by the New World Aircraft Corporation after they'd realised that his unorthodox approach to aircraft design actually had enormous merit) to rescue Lady P, Parker, Tin Tin and Alan.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Most harbours needed continuous dredging until quite recently due to ships taking on rocks and scrap iron as ballast then dumping it at the dockside or just outside the ports

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

The only problem is that Imperial Airways with lots of space, plenty of stops and smoking anywhere has turned into RyanAir. The main virtue of RyanAir is the same as tooth extraction or execution by firing squad. The pain doesn't last all that long.

Imagine a 'budget airline' version of a blimp doing 90mph all the way to New York...

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

"I thought it would be a good idea, in this day and age of speed and... things like that, to build an... airship."

Yeah , speed is all that matters. That would be why most of the worlds cargo goes by air.

Oh, wait, whats this - 90% goes by ship? Noooo , can't be....

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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

"Sorry, but 35-ish MPH verses the 500+ of a jet? Sounds nice, but I don't think there is a big enough market in that slow of a travel mode,"

That'll be why cruise ships do so well I suppose.

"if there was Trains would be more popular than they are now"

I don't know where you live but here in the UK trains ARE very popular and the Eurostar to paris and brussels carries far more passengers per day than aircraft to the same destinations do.

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

Airships have the potential to accomplish tasks helicopters and airplanes cannot. They can't fly on station for weeks, unlike airships, and while helicopters can serve as skycranes the potential cargo capacity of airships is much higher.

This first (re)start airship isn't going to exploit the full capability of airship technology, especially since it depends on aerodynamic lift. But there's some interesting possibilities for cargo aircraft that can carry 50 or 100 tons into BFE where there are no roads, airports, or waterways, and then lower the payload into a rough field. The same capability would be handy for delivering over-size loads into urban areas, too.

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MJI
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Re: "there're plenty of people who'd prefer to take the "cruise" approach" @h4rm0ny

Trains are often packed, when they are the quickest 100-200 mile or so means of transport they tend to be busy.

GWML is something else, people are commuting 100 miles or so in about an hour.

Luxury cruises, well airship sounds civilised.

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Go

Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

People mentioned the ballast issue and how you need to be near a river. I am assuming that there is space for 50 tons of cargo, and that this cargo isn't water. Thus what replaces it doesn't have to be water.

Back in the days of seafaring and sail, the coal ships would sail out from Newcastle, and come back filled with orange roof tiles (spanish style) from the latin colonies. These tiles were rejects from the clay-factories on the coasts. They were used to roof houses around the British coal ports, giving it a very Mediterranean feel. Any reject material in the area would suffice.

Similarly when one wasn't travelling back empty, it was because you ensured that the port at which you landed had other people with other goods to transport back. Imagine if we could drop 50 tons of aid supplies or infrastructure/machinery in Africa, and then ship back 50 tons of fairtrade goods at a massively low cost (virtually free since it's essentially ballast) giving poor farmers and craftsmen a cheap entry to global distribution and marketing of their products. There might even be room for refrigeration units on board so we could ship back perishables. This could be a real answer to getting infrastructure easily in to poorer countries, and opening a way for them to trade themselves out of poverty

Another thought is information. In the old days mailplanes and packetships would bring the news, letters, information etc. Imagine if we upgraded that to modern tech? Okay we can't give them broadband connectivity all the time, but the docks could have solar-powered PCs and servers linked to a local network for local schools and businesses. Ships could carry databanks and upload/download terabytes of data on arrival for distribution back and forth, and even provide wifi hotspots when docked.

I'm excited.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

The operating limits for this type of vehicle are in fact better than those of a helicopter, as it can be certified for full IFR (The Skyship was), which is rare for most helicopters due to their lack of stability or auto pilot.

Regards

Hybrid Pilot Services Ltd

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Sails?

Umm! How can you get to a remote area operating site in a kite?

Kind of slow on a calm day!

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Re: They almost laughed him out of the boardroom...

With Development and new materials such as graphine they may be able to up the speed, and refine the shape to more like a wing to improve operations in wind. If they got to 100mph they could run a city centre to city centre service. Manchester to London as the Crow flies would only take a few around an hour and a half at that speed. That would still be faster than the HS2 train service with out the need for destruction of the English Country Side, and more than likely more cost effective.

The other advantage is the bigger they get the more they can lift and more efficient.

Probably get laughed of the board for this but a flying vehicle that efficient and can lift large loads and land in a football field in a city centre deserves some consideration and out of the box thinking. Intercity Air Coach now that's the future for me :)

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Had an item about this on R4 Today program last week. The person reporting it tried to describe the shape and how and how it didn't look like an old style "zeppelin" airship - he then interviewed Bruce Dickinson and Bruce started off pointing out that the best way to describe the shape to "someone of my age is that its basically Thunderbird 2"!

Nb discovered a few years ago that I was at school with Bruce Dickinson ... I studied hard and now work in electronics ... he got expelled so I assume he never achieved much!

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TWB

'I studied hard and now work in electronics '

Currys or Dixons?

Only joking (in the nicest/friendliest possible way), I am sure you mean something far more serious and complex like IC design or similar- something I never mastered.....

Upvote for you sir.

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Bruce Bruce

"Bruce Dickinson - well known as a former Iron Maiden vocalist"

And probably more well know as Iron Maiden's current vocalist, but he did take a break while Blaze Bayley was doing the duties, so both are true :)

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Re: Bruce Bruce

He also wrote the absolutely bonkers film Chemical Wedding. In which Simon Callow plays a re-incarnated Aleister Crowley teaching at Oxford, messing around with quantum physics and urinating on the front row of the students in his lecture theatre.

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Re: Bruce Bruce

He also wrote a rather dubious book by the name of :

Lord Iffy Boatrace

Iffy was the word

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1328187.The_Adventures_of_Lord_Iffy_Boatrace

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Headmaster

Vectored thrust...

...ought to be directed downwards to take off, no?

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Re: Vectored thrust...

No, you want the thrust vector to be upwards. If the engines were jets, you might say they were directed downwards, but they're turbo-diesel props.

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Headmaster

Re: Vectored thrust...

Hmm ... surely all thrust is vectored? I mean, how could one make sense of something caller "scalar thrust" (or "bi-vector thrust", for that matter)

/takes of geometric algebra hat and returns to coffee

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Re: Vectored thrust...

"Hmm ... surely all thrust is vectored?"

Well yes, but in most fixed wing aircraft the thrust vector is fixed. For pedants like you "variable vector" might make more sense than "vectored". But the rest of us understand it as it is.

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Question to someone sciencey.

If you put a compressor in helium airship and compress some of the helium into a tank, will that drop the amount of lift generated?

If so could you use that to control altitude on the airship?

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TWB

Re: Question to someone sciencey.

I believe the weight of such a system is heavier than the lift that the expanded Helium will lift - at least that is a what a gas balloonist once told me.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

Page 4:

..." or the plan of compressing the ship's helium to the point where it becomes heavier than air - as the Aeroscraft "Pelican" ship is supposed to do."

So apparently yes, but maybe unproven.

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TWB

Re: Question to someone sciencey.

Having said that I have wondered if you can squeeze the envelope somehow that you increase the density of the lifting gas and not have to carry heavy tanks to hold it highly compressed - maybe making an envelope that strong and light is difficult.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

>>"If you put a compressor in helium airship and compress some of the helium into a tank, will that drop the amount of lift generated?"

Yes. Try this experiment - pick up a tank of liquid oxygen or helium. Is it heavy (more specifically is it heavier than an empty tank)? The answer is yes. Compress a gas and it reduces the lift, you would get.

If you could fit a pump inside the air ship which compressed the helium, it would reduce lift.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

"If you could fit a pump inside the air ship which compressed the helium, it would reduce lift."

But the issue with all lighter than air craft has always been keeping the weight of the craft down to maximise payload. Yes I know it's true of heavier than air vehicles, but there are other solutions for those.

In order to compress the gas to reduce lift you would need not only the compressor and it's power source, but a container to hold the gas under pressure. That container would be heavier than the envelope used to contain the gas at atmospheric pressure.

Would the advantages of such a system offset the reduction in payload?

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Joke

Re: Question to someone sciencey.

>>"That container would be heavier than the envelope used to contain the gas at atmospheric pressure."

Like I wrote: if you install a pump to compress the helium, it will reduce lift. What part of what I posted was confusing? ;)

But seriously, it depends on how light you can make the equipment and how big a volume it is offset against and how fast you need it to work. 80kg of equipment on a little balloon means it may never get off the ground. The same equipment on a massive airship might be fine. Similarly if you want pumps that can compress it in ten minutes, that might take a lot of equipment. If it starts on approach an hour before landing, that might take much less. Keep in mind an airship doesn't need to descend like a plane. Furthermore, keep in mind that the times you may want to descend fastest are when you're dropping off a load. In my example, passengers. That means less compression needed because you're already weighed down. It's when you're not loaded, i.e. you're picking up, that it will take longer to compress enough that you sink. At which point hopefully, due to the lack of impatient passengers, you can simply start earlier.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

You could have the gas compressors at the landing site.

Eg as part of the mooring mast structure on point to point trips:

When the HAV arrives it connects up and the "excess" He is pumped off and stored until required again

For a heavy lift into rough terrain at the end of poor roads

The bulky item is airlifted in by the HAV. The compressor(s) goes to the landing site by truck. Once the HAV has landed, the compressor is hooked up and pumps down He into cylinders. Some of these could be loaded on the HAV as ballast, the rest go out with the truck.

Of course the cost/energy costs might not be viable...

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

For something that carries cargo measured in tonnes, I'm sure that there must be the potential to have something fairly hefty and/or a complex system for compressing and reusing the gas.

Surley it wouldnt need to compress it back into a liquid form or anything extreeme?

Perhaps come up with something that could dynamically alter the shape of the structure slightly from an efficient cylender shape to something more eleptical, just enough to keep the area of the envelope the same but reduce its overall volume to take the edge off of the bouyancy for loading and altitude control. You might be able to increase efficiency by doing that along side some of the other techniques that have been described.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

> 80kg of equipment on a little balloon means it may never get off the ground. The same equipment on a massive airship might be fine.

80 kg is for the pump, I suppose. To keep the compressed gas you'll need a very strong tank. High-pressure tanks category 300 weigh 60 kg and hold 300 cubic feet of the good stuff, which is just short of 8.5 cubic meters. Barely even noticeable on an airship scale. High pressure gas tanks won't get much benefits from scaling up: the 300 tank has a cf/kg of 5; a 200 helium cylinder weighs 48 kg which is a cf/kg of 4.1, while a 125 weighs 29 kg which is a cf/kg of 4.3. Do your math or ask Randall xkcd to do a "what if" on it; in any case, I'd bet at least _some_ money on the weight of the tanks more than negating the benefits.

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Re: Question to someone sciencey.

Who said anything about high pressure tanks? You only need to compress it enough to reduce buoyancy, which wouldn't take much pressure at all.

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