Mar 222016

The airship is a paradox: an obsolete piece of technology for a century ago that has nevertheless been the face of the future for the last fifty or so years. And it looks like it’s on the cusp of a comeback:

Massive new aircraft the Airlander 10 is unveiled

The multi-lobed British craft is helium-filled and 300 feet long. It will be able to carry 48 people, and the company is hoping to make a dozen a year by 2018. The cost and upcoming end of availability of helium might be  tad problematic

A decade ago DARPA and the US Army were looking at a similar, but larger, heavy-lift airship under the “Walrus” program. Sometime around 2005-2006, ATK and NASA were looking down the road towards the post-Shuttle future for the Shuttle booster rockets, including five-segment rockets for the Ares I and Ares V. Some of the redesigns for the booster segments would have weighed a bit more than standard Shuttle booster segments. The problem there was that the existing road transport system – needed to haul the segments from the Promontory facility down I-15 to a the railhead forty or so miles south – was already at the limit theDepartment of Transportation would allow on the highway. So… NASA wanted alternate ideas. I proposed the obvious: use a Walrus heavy-lifter to carry segments straight from Promontory to Cape Canaveral. It would have had more than enough lift capacity and would have been faster than the truck & train. Plus: I just wanted to see a thousand-foot-long airship floating over my house. Who wouldn’t? Obviously that didn’t happen; ATK management looked at me like I was insane. Something about “you want to fly millions of pounds of solid rocket fuel through the sky over populated areas potentially though storms” or some such whiny nonsense. I understand the final solution for dealing with the highway overloading issue was something along the lines of “la-la-la I can’t hear you.”


 Posted by at 12:33 pm
  • Cthell

    I don’t see what their problem was. It’s not like the Walrus would have been full of hydrogen…

    WRT the story itself, I’m amused when the media describe it as “the largest aircraft in the world”, and then fail to think about the hangar it’s being built in.

    The nearly-100 year old hangar that it fills maybe half of…

    Ah, standards in journalism /s

  • xvdougl

    Luckily our government has a massive helium reserve….nevermind.

    • Peter Hanely

      Helium is extracted from natural gas. Or at least it was before a certain government built up a huge strategic reserve, then decided it wasn’t needed and started selling it off at a relative bargain price. When this reserve runs short helium production will pick up again, with the benefit of several decades of technology advance.

  • sferrin

    Re: the weight limit on I-15, couldn’t they just use a trailers with more wheels? There’s a company right around the corner from where I used to work that specializes in moving large, heavy loads on the road. Saw one trail go by that looked a few hundred feet long and 15-20 feet high – empty. Tons of wheels. Just found it out in their yard on Google Earth. 170 feet long and one of it’s boggies is turned.


  • Peter Hanely

    Airships hold a great deal of potential if someone can figure a practical way for them to deal with weather.

    • Scottlowther

      Go around it. Or, better, don’t be a puss, and just power through the weather like a boss.

      • publiusr

        It does have that SRB after all 😉

  • Herp McDerp

    Wait. Those solid propellant boosters … they’re recoverable and reusable, right? Forget the stupid airship! Launch the darned things from Utah to land off the Florida coast, recover them, and reuse them! … Oh, they would have to be reloaded with propellant? Well, simply ship ’em back to Utah, reload ’em, and launch ’em again!

    Airships: The story of the Imperial Airship Scheme gives instructive insights regarding the many benefits of meddling by politicians in an engineering enterprise.

    • Scottlowther

      > Well, simply ship ’em back to Utah, reload ’em, and launch ’em again!

      Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

      • Herp McDerp

        It’s a pointless, self-defeating, obviously flawed, monumentally expensive scheme … the perfect government program!

        • publiusr

          Now I want to see someone do a Moonraker–and light one of the solids while it is ON the Airship.

          Yes, it would tear apart–but I do hope it would hold together just long enough for a Cessna pilot to see this monster closing from behind.

          The look on his face would be worth the price of a GoPro all on its own.

          Use the SRB as a spine for strength 😉