On May 6, 1937, the largest airship in the world, the Hindenburg, burned down while landing at the American Lakehurst airbase.
The tragedy was terrible. It killed 36 people out of 97 passengers and crew.
On the ground, “Hindenburg” was expected. It was greeted by many photographers, a movie camera, and several radio stations were broadcasting live coverage of its landing. As a result, the disaster was reported live. Footage of the death of the “Hindenburg” was spread all over the planet.
This day is considered to be the end of airship building (which, strictly speaking, is not true). It is customary to add to this that it was the terrible disaster of the one considered the most reliable and best of all airships at that time that proved the futility of this path.
The main customer of aircraft in those days was the army. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, propeller-driven aircraft have been a serious competitor to airships. During the First World War, aircraft could do nothing to prevent airships. There was nothing to hit them with. Airships have proved, even in the absence of bombing means and technologies, their striking power and their complete dominance in the air.
By 1937, the situation in the air had radically changed. Brisk and fast propeller-driven aircraft was much more suitable for military. All money went into design and manufacturing of propeller driven aircraft.
Why are airships good?
Many years have passed since the “end of the era of airships”, and technical progress has not stood still.
Speaking about modern developments in the field of airship, it would be more correct to use not the word “airship”, but the word “hybrid”. However, “hybrid” today is applied to an incredibly large range of objects and phenomena. So, let’s stick to the good old word “airship”, Bearing in mind, however, that we will be discussing an aircraft that combines the functions of an airship itself, an airplane and a helicopter and uses light gas as lift.
Airships are capable of moving a fairly large amount of cargo with a very low cost per ton-kilometer compared to other aircraft.
Capable of carrying large and heavy loads
The designs of cargo airships discussed today are capable of carrying 60-120 tons of cargo. Sooner or later, the question of increasing the tonnage of transported cargo will arise.
Airships are probably the safest of the aircraft. Even in the event of a gas leak (missile hit, for example), it will not fall to the ground, but will slowly descend. And the explosive hydrogen in their shell (this is what led to the collapse of the “Hindenburg”) has long been replaced by inert and safe helium. The use of the most modern methods of navigation and avionics generally makes the airship almost invulnerable.
The airship is not tied to infrastructure – it does not need an airport. It delivers goods from warehouse to warehouse, which leads to a very significant reduction in cost (infrastructure and logistics).
Finally and importantly the airship is environmentally friendly. Even the largest of the airships with four diesel engines, the exhaust of which is much less than any of the aircraft engines. The large dimensions of the airship create conditions for installation of solar panels on their surfaces and the use of electric motors.
The airship feels much better in the air than on the ground; servicing such giants requires hangars of incredible size and a rather peculiar infrastructure, which we do not yet have at our disposal.
The balance of pros and cons, however, now appears to be clearly in favor of airships.
Landing the aforementioned “Hindenburg” required the muscular efforts of several hundred people. The crew dropped the ropes, and the US Army Marines pulled it to the ground and tied it. Therefore passenger airships made flights from one military base to another. Skyscrapers crowned with spiers, the fashion for which fell on 20-30. The twentieth century is also not an architectural whim: it was assumed that the spiers were mooring masts for airships, and the upper floors of skyscrapers were train stations.
Due to the compression of helium, airships can freely land at a point convenient for them. That makes the process of loading and unloading operations fast, cheap and comfortable.
Overview of the modern capabilities of airships will not be complete, if not to mention the possibility of using unmanned airships. Or, at least, about the combined control of them.
Why don’t they fly?
Airships, however, do not fly. Partly because there is not enough money for R&D. Many wonderful design bureaus produce excellent designs, but work on the nodes and components “in the material” is difficult.
In other words, no one is ready to risk money so far.
There is also a subjective factor, which is much more significant than the above-described objective, and it would be more correct to say that it follows from it.
All the significant transformations of industries happened when someone brave, at their own peril and risk, begins to simply do.
Modern airships are a topic that is difficult to talk about briefly. Because it is necessary to write about modern materials, control, construction, forms, gases, operating conditions. As well as legal aspects of using these “air whales” and a lot what else,