Don’t mention the Hindenburg

For years they’ve been associated with disaster, but now airships may be poised to take up a vital role in war and commerce. Horatia Harrod reports.

AT CARDINGTON Airfield, just south of Bedford, two vast corrugated steel hangers tower over the surrounding area. More than 244 metres long – the length of almost three soccer pitches – and 58 metres high, they are the heroic relics of the once great British airship industry.

Eighty years ago, two mighty vessels, the R100 and the R101, were housed in these great metal behemoths; incredible ”lighter-than-air aircraft”, with customised silver and crockery, Axminster carpeted smoking rooms and portholed cabins, that were designed to sail noiselessly across the Atlantic like aeronautical cruise ships.

Further down the road in this part of East England, housed in a far less spectacular stack of Portakabins, is a group of engineers who are convinced such airships can take to our skies once more. Hybrid Air Vehicles has built a scale prototype of what will soon be the largest flying vessel in the world, a huge balloon made of ultra-lightweight, super-strong polyester on top of a hovercraft landing system. If it works, it could change the future of flight. (more…)

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Military eyes resurrecting airships for cargo transport

The Army and the U.S. Transportation Command are looking into using updated versions of the ill-fated German Hindenburg airship and the Navy’s USS Macon dirigible to transport cargo in support of combat and humanitarian operations.

Development of a logistics airship — an aerial vehicle that gets its lift from a gas lighter than air, such as helium — “is urgently needed to enhance the capabilities of the Department of Defense in transporting personnel, supplies, equipment and other materials to increasingly numerous and dispersed locations around the world to respond to any crisis,” the Army Space and Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., said in a request for industry help that closed on Oct. 29.

Additionally, in a request for information released Nov. 8, TRANSCOM sought help from industry, academic researchers and commercial transportation companies to conduct economic analysis, modeling, simulation and experimentation for development of airships for worldwide Defense supply missions. See full article here

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