Flying High on Helium
We live in an age where everything has to happen at breakneck speed but wouldn’t it nice to chill out now and again when you’re flying – just to drift through the skies without a care in the world?
Flying High on Helium
Serious money is being poured into the development of super carriers that will give air transport a whole new perspective, especially for the military. Airships already serve as covert surveillance platforms for many police and other security forces.
Flying is a fast way of getting from one place to another but it doesn’t come cheap. We live in an age where everything has to happen at breakneck speed but wouldn’t it nice to chill out now and again when you’re flying – just to drift through the skies without a care in the world?
The airship is coming back big-time these days and 21st century technology is making them a world apart from the images of old like the ‘Hindenberg’ or the ‘Zeppelin’.
Serious money is being poured into the development of super carriers that will give air transport a whole new perspective, especially for the military. Airships already serve as covert surveillance platforms for many police and other security forces – the one deployed over the stadium at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics had the FBI on board.
Transporting troops and equipment to the front line has always been a major problem on the logistics of war, but Roger Munk of the Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) believes he has the answer. His company is at the forefront of modern airship technology and some of their plans are staggering.
His latest design idea – called the Sky Cat – is for a cargo lifter than would far outshine conventional aircraft, even though shaped like a huge wing with a centralized cargo bay. To counter the problem of the airship wanting to lift as the cargo is unloaded, each of the wings is fitted with hovercraft cushions.
Munk simply set the hovercraft motors to suck air in rather than blow it out and thus create enough suction to keep the airship anchored to the ground. It works beautifully and the size of load that can be carried is limited only by the size of the airship itself. US top brass from the Pentagon flew to England to watch trials of a 12m(40ft) model and they were seriously impressed.
So the US government is now funding further development. If an airship 305m(1,000ft) in length could carry 1,000 tonnes, then it could move a complete tank battalion or a whole helicopter squadron at once. Three could easily carry a small army. The main attraction – apart from the carrying capabilities – is that airships are really difficult to shoot down.
With a skin made of plastic fabrics instead of metal, they aren’t vulnerable to missile attack because the projectiles go straight through them without detonating. Even when holed in this way the airship can stay up for several hours and still descend safely to earth. Airships are also ‘radar transparent’ because of the lack of metal for radar waves to reflect from. The military possibilities are enormous.
There is an airship currently employed in the Balkan area of Europe for mine detection as the peacekeeping forces try to defuse the untold thousands of old land mines found there from recent wars. Flying at ground hugging heights it can sweep 100sq.m of ground a second and detect mines as small as 10cm(4in) across.
The new and very high-tech passenger airships are far removed from the dangerous old Zeppelins, with swiveling main engines for vertical take-off and lift-off. The passenger cabins are as plush as any airliner and the ride – though far slower – is much quieter and relaxed. Most are manufactured in Oregon, USA, by the American Blimp Company.
There are airships in use worldwide but the only passenger flight currently on offer is a sightseeing tour over Las Vegas. This does seem set to change however, in future years as more people carriers latch on to the idea. Look forward to the time when you can be flying high on Helium, sailing serenely through the sky toward your destination. It won’t be quick but boy, will it be worth it.