New zeppelin designs could reinvigorate airship travel


The disastrous flights of rigid, hydrogen-filled zeppelins such as the Hindenburg and the helium-filled USS Akron are black marks against the idea of passenger airships. To this day, the idea of what a zeppelin could accomplish seems limited to flying over stadiums or acting as glorified hot air balloons.

Still, there's hope. New zeppelin technologies being put into use by companies such as SkyCat of Britain and Germany's Zeppelin NT would bring us more robust, more dynamic airships. Airship frames made of proprietary synthetic materials, for instance, would be stronger than steel and durable enough that a leak would take hours to cause any effect. Vertical lift technologies would also enable the airships to take off and land on their own, rather than having to be tethered to docks by ropes.

SkyCat has several designs in the works, from freight vessels to passenger blimps. Still, you probably won't see an airport full of zeppelins any time soon: despite using no fuel (which gas-guzzling air carriers would love), they top out at a sluggish 100 mph and have severe weight restrictions, which means not a lot of passenger per flight.

SkyCat and Zeppelin NT, via Wired

CORRECTION: The Hindenburg was indeed filled with hydrogen. The correction has been made. The Akron, however, was a helium-filled zeppelin and went down due to operator error rather than a problem with the gas. Readers The_Doctor and Harry Bergeron, thank you.