Hybrid Airships: Bigger, Better, Closer

Just as Star Trek predicted Blue Tooth technology, computer tablets, and flip phones, steampunk has predicted the rise of the dirigible. Or, perhaps more accurately, the resurgence.

As the cost of jet travel – and fuel – continues to grow, our ingenuity faces new challenges. Like lost hikers, more and more people are tracing our route back through history, looking for alternate paths we might have taken, especially in regard to transportation. Fortunately, history has a gentle giant waiting in the skies. Modern technology has improved upon the goliath transports from the turn of the last century – dirigibles and other lighter than air vehicles – and developed a class of vessels known as hybrid airships. Hybrid airships were born from reflection. Engineers had to refurbish and expand upon used ideas, essentially steampunking the dirigible in reverse. They started old and brassy; now they’re new and shiny.

A hybrid airship combines elements of heavier than air vehicles (planes) with a dirigible’s buoyant lift, which makes a hybrid faster than the dirigibles of yore and also easier to handle. It’s important to note that they aren’t just a fall-back for a world without fossil fuels. They have immediate benefits and even provide better delivery times than many existing shipping lines. While hybrid airships may never be as fast as airplanes, a single airship can do the job of an entire system of planes, ships, trains, and trucks, thereby negating layovers and cargo transfers. Neither do hybrids need landing strips, ports, tracks, and roads, granting them a superior range to any other vehicle. Many hybrids can land on any flat surface (including water), and some have technology which allows them to load and unload without landing at all.

At present, most hybrids are designed for the commercial shipping industry. However, airships also provide unique solutions for disaster relief agencies, and companies are already joking about and planning for the occasional billionaire with a flair for the dramatic. Few individuals can afford a private airship, but few can afford their own jets, either. Those of us with fewer zeros in our bank accounts might be able to enjoy an expensive stay in a flying hotel someday, or maybe enjoy an airship taxi to the more austere regions of the world.

Until the general public is forced to reconsider the jet-plane, however, hybrid airships won’t survive in the world of consumer flights. A new article washes through the bowels of Facebook every other week decrying America’s “fast lane” lifestyle, and every other week America nods, hums, and passes the rogue who won’t exceed the speed limit on the interstate. New machines help streamline our lives for ultimate speed, only a fraction of meals are consumed at a table, and more often than not, a job well done isn’t as valuable as a job done quickly.

While the vessels are more efficient in many ways than our current transportation systems, they are also slower, and society is locked in a state of intentional denial about the future of our lifestyle. However, it’s possible (probable?) that regular consumers will enjoy a slower pace of travel sooner than the elite, and there’s a very simple reason: the closer we come to the end of fossil fuels, the higher the prices rise. Even fewer of the elite will be able to afford those jets, and that’s assuming military and corporate institutions won’t further limit public supplies. Affordable heavier than air travel will disappear with our oil reserves.

On the bright side, this means we could enjoy floating mansions, airship cruises, and hybrid commuter flights within this century. It’s the same old story – “The Tortoise and the Hare.” The world is coming to understand how slower could, in the long run, be faster.

M. Leigh Hood is a rare beast of the Cincinnati wilderness typically preoccupied with writing, nerding, and filming The Spittoon List. For more articles and stories by M. Leigh Hood, look HERE.


 

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2 Responses to “Hybrid Airships: Bigger, Better, Closer

  • ” the closer we come to the end of fossil fuels, the higher the prices rise…Affordable heavier than air travel will disappear with our oil reserves.”

    Fossil fuels are not even close to exhaustion by any stretch of the imagination, which makes this nothing more than a flight of fancy(all pun intended). Though I would fancy a travel in a dirigible as much as any steampunk fan, it is ridiculous to expect a resurgence of dirigibles as primary means of transportation due to imminent exhaustion of fossil fuels, which is not one bit imminent, and even if it were, it’s not likely that we could power dirigibles without them.

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