What Do You Know About Airships?

Airships are one of aviation’s oldest innovation. They were flying before the Wrights’ brothers airplane took shape and modernized. In the first 30 years of the 20th century, it was faster and more comfortable crossing the Atlantic in an airship than the airplanes of the time. The history of the airship goes back to the 1850’s as a French invention. Airships went on to become commonly used aircrafts until the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, which made the public distrust airships as a means of air travel.

But airships are still in use today, but of high-quality engineering and offering more comfortable flying experience. Here are some facts about airships:

Airships are LTA crafts

LTA stands for Lighter Than Air. Airships float in the air because their weight is less than that of the air around them. This is made possible by use of air that is lighter than the normal air.  Modern airships use helium.

Zeppelin is a company name

Many people will call airships ‘zeppelins’ but this is a name of a company that pioneered successful making of airships. The founder of the company was Ferdinand Count Von Zeppelin. His company made the famous Graf Zeppelin that made 144 flights across the Atlantic.

The airship called a zeppelin is a dirigible type. This type of an airship has a rigid bodywork made of light aluminum. There is the collapsible blimp type, which collapses completely when decompressed just like a balloon. There is also the semi-rigid blimp which does not collapse completely.

Airships have varied uses

Airships can stay in the air for long periods without requiring fuel. This makes them suitable for both civilian and military uses. They are used by military forces as listening posts and visual surveillance of opposing military forces.

Airships are used in weather monitoring and sports monitoring. They can carry few crew members with enough supplies to last several days. An airship’s large surface makes it perfect for outdoor advertising. The adverts can be seen from miles around when the airship is hovering in the air.

Modern airships have digital controls

In the past, airships were controlled using a round wheel like that of a water ship’s captain. The pilot also had to control pedals and pulleys. Nowadays, controls are easier, using digital controls. An airship can fly forward, backward and even pivot sideways.

Airship pilots are fewer than pilots

While learning to operate an airship is not very complicated, there are very few airships around the world. This makes their numbers fewer than those of astronauts.

Can Airships Make a Comeback?

An airship is a term used to describe self-motorized vessels that can travel in the air, which are lighter than aircraft.  While drones fit in this category, airships are different in that they use air for lift. An airship is pumped full of helium which is lighter than air, giving it buoyancy to float upwards. Airships can be either rigid or inflatable.

Before aircraft

Airships were successfully ferrying passengers and cargo before the advances made modern aircraft able to fly faster and lift more tonnage. Airships were used to carry men and equipment in the two world wars. They were also used in tourism and luxury travels in the 1920s and 1930s.  Passengers could make the trans-Atlantic crossing in luxury in an airship before aircrafts started offering the business class comforts. Airships went out of vogue after a series of spectacular accidents most famous being the burning and crashing of an airship known as Hindenburg which killed 36 people.

Modern versions

The airship has never really gone away. Different companies still make them the most famous being Zeppelin. Modern versions have better structures minimizing the risks of fire and explosions while they are better controlled using advanced electronics.

Modern uses

Airships are used for a variety of uses the majority being for military purposes.  They are fitted with long-range cameras and used as observation posts. Airships can remain in the air longer than any fuel powered aircraft including drones. The US Army is documented as having used airships during the second Iraq war to observe enemy movements.

Airships have also been deployed as static sentinels able to fly up far heights and observe a large area. One such is the JLENS for Joint Land Elevated Network Sensor. This is deployed to monitor threats against the East Coast of the US.

Airships are also used in broadcasting as they can be fitted with powerful cameras and cover events for a long time. They are also used in advertising in large events, providing very good visibility for the branding on their sides. They are used for weather forecasting as well.

Logistics companies are also looking into the uses of airships in handling heavy cargo.  Airships would be faster than water cargo ships and lighter than big cargo airplanes. This would make them very economical in hauling cargo for short to medium distances. Airships are also greener than any fuel powered aircraft as they do not release any waste gases into the atmosphere and their making does not require massive exploitation of natural resources.

How to Ride in an Airship

An airship ride is one of the most unforgettable experiences in life. Few people get the chance to do it. There is a good reason for this. Airships are rare and those that are allowed to carry passengers are even rarer. Those who have ridden say the experience is awesome with unmatched views, a quiet ride and the feeling that you are out of this world. Unlike an aircraft where you can only peek through rigid windows, the airship offers more spectacular wide open views. How can you experience this awesome ride?

  1. There are very few tour companies offering airship rides. You could try Germany where there is a tour operator flying above Bodensee (Lake Constance) from time to time. You will have to book early and keep track of any changes.
  2. You will inform the booking agent whether you are coming in as a party or alone. Details of your weight will be needed too. If you are flying for a special occasion, you could inform the agent so he can arrange a surprise for the occasion.
  3. You will download the conformation letter, and the receipt. Read and understand the terms and conditions before signing the contract. You have to present all these documents on the day of the tour.
  4. Confirm your tour one day before the flight. The prevailing weather has a lot of influence on the flight path of the airship and it is not uncommon for flights to be cancelled.
  5. Carry appropriate clothing as the airship will be flying at heights where the air is chillier than what you are used to. You can layer up so that you can keep warm and remove the clothes easier on your descent.
  6. You will have to be present at the gates 1 hour before the flight. All the paperwork will be examined and if ok, you are issued with a boarding pass.
  7. You are offered a briefing of the flight along with some trivia before departure as you wait in the lounge.
  8. Only the number allowed on board the ship is allowed to board. The usual number is 12 per trip. You will seat and strap your seat belt on.
  9. The airship ascends gently up to 1,200 feet. The pilot will fly along a pre-determined path while you view the land below through 360 degrees viewing windows.
  10. The pilot will signal for seat belts off which allow you to come off your chair and walk around the gondola. If the conditions allow it, the pilot may permit you to stick your head out.
  11. The pilot will signal for a return to your seat and begin the descent back to where you lifted off.