The Return of the Zeppelin Airship

Pierre Van ZylLearn, News + Discoveries

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solar powered zeppelin

Back in the ’80s, when asked to imagine what the year 2019, would be like. I’m sure there were many who pictured future life being like the Jetsons: flying cars, floating advertising screens, and plenty of robots. While we’ve advanced in many ways, life today is not as depicted in an ‘80s futuristic movie.

With that being said, there is one ship that may make a comeback. Zeppelins, the airship from the 1930s, and the star of the Hindenburg disaster have made their way back onto the drawing board, which a more eco-friendly spin.

In the UK a solar-powered airship is being built, which may be the new method of transport for international freight cargo. With this ship, a transatlantic flight between the UK and the US would only require 8 percent of the fuel that our conventional jet airplane would use, claims Alan Handley, Chairman & CEO of Varialift.

This aluminum-shelled, solar-powered ship would be powered by a pair of solar-powered engines and two conventional jet engines. With the current design, it would be limited to travel during daylight hours, and it won’t travel at lightning speed, it would actually be more comparable to the Boeing 747, an American commercial jet which travels at a speed of 988 km/h (614 mph). However, what it lacks in speed and requirements for travel, it makes up in cargo space. 

Varialift claims that this airship will be able to carry loads ranging from 50 to 250 tons and larger models are also in the works. Bulky cargo such as electricity pylons, wind turbine blades, and towers, or even prefabricated structures such as oil rigs could be carried underneath using cables. That means that cargo will have a weight limit, but no practical size limit.

Since an airship functions more like a balloon than an airplane, this ship wouldn’t require a runway, and it would make delivery in places with poor infrastructure, possible.

“Variable lift airships will ultimately secure a significant percentage (possibly the bulk) of the global air freight business, and a small, but still an extremely valuable portion of existing road freight business, particularly for long-distance, bulky or lightweight goods,” the company claims on its website. “… The Varialift lands vertically and becomes heavier than air through compression of the lifting gas, [helium,] making it stable for loading and unloading.” 

While the models are still in development, a prototype is currently under production in France, measuring 459 feet in length, 85 feet wide, and 85 feet high. If everything goes to plan, construction should be completed by spring 2020.

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