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The Comeback of the Airships

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Airlander

Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd

by Vanessa Bates Ramirez, SingularityHub

The term “airship” encompasses motorized craft that float due to being filled with a gas that’s lighter than air, like helium or hydrogen; blimps and zeppelins are the most common. Airships were used for bombings during World War I, and started carrying passengers in the late 1920s. In 1929 Germany’s Graf Zeppelin fully circled the globe, breaking the trip up into four legs and starting and ending in New Jersey; it took 22 days in total and carried 61 people. By the mid-1930s there were regular trans-Atlantic passenger flights.

Airships don’t need fuel to lift them off the ground, they just need it to propel them forward. Hydrogen was initially the lifting gas of choice, as it was cheap and abundant (and is lighter than helium). But the explosion of the Hindenburg in 1937 not only made the use of hydrogen all but defunct, it dismantled the passenger airship industry virtually overnight (interestingly, though, the Hindenburg wasn’t the deadliest airship disaster; it killed 36 people, but a crash 4 years prior killed 73 people).

Since then, airships have been relegated to use for large ads-in-the-sky, and before drones became commonplace they were used to take aerial photos at sporting events.

But passenger airships may soon be making a comeback, and more than one company is already banking on it. OceanSky Cruises — based, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Sweden  — is currently taking reservations for expeditions to the North Pole in the 2023-2024 season. According to Digital Trends, a cabin for two is going for $65,000.

If you cringe at the thought of 12 hours of stiff-backed, knee-crunched, parched-air flights, imagine something closer to a flying cruise ship: your own room, a bed, a restaurant and bar, maybe even a glass-floored observation room where you could see the landscape below drifting past in glorious detail

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© 2020 Singularity Education Group

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