Advanced Airship Technologies and Design Approaches
Airships were very successful flying vehicles until the later 1930s after which time the burgeoning operating utility and practicability of wing-borne aircraft gradually led to their demise. “Blimps” continued in limited use until 1960s as long endurance naval patrol craft until they too were superseded by long-range wing-borne maritime aircraft. However, a constant airship advantage remains the fact that, once in flight, the energy requirement to propel an airship can be dramatically less than for a conventional aircraft. Today, rising costs of fuel, an ever present need for economical heavy lift transportation and a need for specialized intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms has created the opportunity to look again at lighter than air vehicle technology. Nevertheless, an airship redux has not proved to be easy, witness a number of failed or cancelled airship programs. As a technology, it frequently struggles to be taken seriously, often scoffed at under its somewhat comic generic of “blimp”. A series of program disappointments, furthermore, have been corrosive to the perceived viability of the airship idea and sooner or later, if there is a continuing pattern of underachievement, patience will be exhausted along with any appetite for further investment. The problem can be traced to poorly conceived and executed programs in which the conceptual designs have been found wanting; with insufficient due diligence effected to understand technical needs, challenges and to past lessons learned - a palimpsestic attitude to 1920-30s written material has been evident. Frequently, expectation has been revved to run ahead of reality in the effort to keep programs ‘sold’. If the present window of airship interest is not to be squandered by new generation of failures or inability to achieve promised results, it is essential to introduce an era of more prudent airship design, clear vision and more critical management. It is the purpose of this treatise to identify and outline important airship design and practicability considerations and to suggest a better design approach that will result in more successful development programs and lead to airships that are more truly in synch with the 21st century aviation practices and advanced military-commercial operating utility needs.
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