Good news for airship fanciers this week, as it appears that the world's first rigid airship since the 1930s will soon take to the skies for flight trials: and better still, this ship has a new piece of technology which could actually change the existing landscape and permit the leviathans of the skies to return.
Rigid ships set to return to the skies - first time since August 1939*
We refer to the Aeroscraft, brainchild of Ukrainian airship visionary Igor Pasternak, and its proprietary Control of Static Heaviness (COSH) tech which apparently lets it do what no other airship has ever been able to. The "Dragon Dream" half-scale demonstrator, which carried out hangar trials earlier this year, has now been certified by the FAA for R&D outdoor trial flights and the first crew to take the ship up has been named.
The lucky three who'll be aboard for the first proper flight
The Aeroscraft, like all the bigger airships of the glorious pre-WWII era, is a rigid ship rather than a blimp. A blimp maintains its shape by the fact that pressure inside its envelope is maintained at a slightly higher level than ambient, keeping it inflated. Blimps can in fact be made pretty large, as the US Navy showed with the ZPG-3W radar ships of 1958-62, but not large enough for really serious air cargo or haulage operations.
A rigid ship, however, keeps its outer envelope in shape by use of a vast, lightweight structure of girders and wires inside which its lifting gas is kept in flexible bags or cells. It can be made truly enormous: perhaps even big enough to lift not only an entire 600-strong battalion of soldiers but also a full complement of heavy weapons, vehicles and supplies for them - all in one load. This was the "Walrus" vision of the US military's DARPA boffinry bureau some years back, anyway, and it would have offered the option of delivering fully concentrated, tooled-up, mobile troops (as opposed to scattered, lightly armed, foot-marching paratroopers or heliborne infantry) across distances much greater than helicopters or even tiltrotors could span.
Non-military airship lovers also found these plans very exciting as a Walrus-type ship could also do various commercial jobs that ordinary planes and helicopters can't: for instance, dropping off or picking up big cargoes in places that normal aircraft can't go. A realistic and prosaic example would be the setting up of drilling rigs and machinery in remote wilderness like the Canadian oil sands. Wilder dreamers would also have seen big ships invading the conventional air cargo market (unlikely, as we've discussed on these pages before) or even carrying people and things in and out of urban centres, where their potential silence and freedom from suddenly-falling-out-of-the-sky issues would perhaps be welcome.