TED Conversations

Gilbert Griffith

This conversation is closed.

Let us re-visit the idea of airship (lighter than air) transport. The scale of fast and dirty jet transport is unsustainable

The idea of using large lighter than air dirigibles was thrown
out thanks mainly to bad publicity from one crash. The Hindenberg flew safely until it's spectacular crash in 1937 scared the world into abandoning the whole idea of airships.
I think this was a big mistake and has left the cheapest and most efficient lifting gas, Hydrogen, with a undeserved bad reputation.

With today's technology and materials it would be relatively easy to build a modern airship using hydrogen as the main lifting gas with extreme safety even by today's standards.

My ideas for design include the following features and their benefits.

1. Solar panels cover the top half of the airship and provide power to run motors for propulsion, power to crack water to supply the hydrogen and oxygen for other uses or for passengers and crew to aid breathing at altitude.
Advantages; free fuel, excess oxygen returned to atmosphere.

2. A rain collection gutter around the equator of the airship to collect water which is then used for ballast, electrolysis, and passenger/crew needs.
Advantages; no resupply of consumables except food and luxuries.

3. The hydrogen compartments are sealed inside slightly larger compartments that are filled with helium, nitrogen or carbon dioxide.
Advantages; Less possibility of igniting the hydrogen. The ratio of hydrogen to the inert gas can be altered by compressing or releasing one or both to allow buoyancy adjustment (amount of lift, and change of pressure altitude).

4. Airships can be used for many other purposes than passenger carrying. They can lift large weights and deposit them in remote locations that only helicopters can get to.

5. There may even be no need to land (especially in bad weather) if passengers and supplies are ferried to the airship by helicopter which could land on top of the airship to unload.


Closing Statement from Gilbert Griffith

I am disappointed.
Especially with the number of criticisms based on subjects I was not specifically addressing.
For instance Vincent DeVillier safety (as do others) of a highly explosive gas, hydrogen, ignoring the highly inflammable nature of jet fuel used today.
Similarly, speed was not a significant part of my proposal.
Also, many people referred to the past performance of airships as an obstacle to their re-introduction. Perhaps forgetting the early years of aviation, the mistakes made, and many lives lost.
Some contributors suggested other forms of transport as a subject, I invite them to start their own discussions, I too would like to see trains powered by solar and more of them than present rail lines can carry, ie. more rail lines everywhere.
The thrust of my ideas were for sustainable transport and delivery.
I predict that in not so many years hydrocarbon fuels will run out or become hideously expensive.
Twenty years ago I was advising friends to "get out of the car manufacturing industry". It is failing here in Australia and already the roads are often clogged, and people suffering. I live in country Victoria for the fresh air and find Melbourne smog discomforting after a few days there. Drivers using mobile phones are a deadly menace!
No matter what form transport of the future takes, people are going to die from it, accidentally or due to the ineptness of drunks, the drugged or ignorant will continue to support the road toll and air crashes. So there is no reason to discard the idea of airships because of past accidents that were sensationalized.
The main problem I can see involves money. The start up involves so much that lawyers and crooks can stop a project in it's tracks. Others whom I call "bleeding hearts" will shout out that the money could be used to help the poor and starving, and to save lives. Don't get me started! All they have done is to create bigger problems.

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • Jun 22 2013: Hi Gilbert- I worked on a project for Boeing in Saint Louis where 20+ roof-top units were put in place with a combination of extremely large lattice cranes and a dual-rotor heavy-lift helicopter. If memory serves me, the heli was flown-in from Oregon, where it was used in the logging industry. 1,000 miles???
    The 20+ units were approx. 16LF x 38LF. Air-conditioning units for a building 1,100LF x 650LF x 40LF tall.
    A key point in your proposed idea would be the lift-capacity vs vehicle size vs pressurization & safety factors IF/WHEN another failure were to occur. This is a mathematical/actuarial formula of job frequency vs real/projected loss.
    I am not familiar with the properties of gases (I am a roofing estimator/contractor). I believe you stated that pressurization/compression adds lift? My initial thought (prior to your statement) was that it does not, otherwise
    (I reasoned) certain gas cylinder-bottles might fly! However, I can foresee a pressurization-to-volume-to-cylinder weight ratio is the answer to this. As is the fact that I might have paid better attention during high school physics class!
    However, the issue of safety in populated areas, utilization above multi-million dollar structures, etc., is a necessary good. And those regulations are usually built-upon the incidence(s) of past failures, injuries/deaths and economic losses.
    Areas below heli-lifts or crane-lifts must be vacated to comply with safety codes. For example: 3+ floors (below lifts) on a
    multi-floor high-rise and everyone within a certain radius in a single-story structure. I recall seeing a detailed story about heavy-lift "blimps" in Engineering News & Record (ENR) during the same era as the project (2000-2003). See also: Alberici Construction, Saint Louis (great company) or Boeing, Bldg. #101 HighBay/LowBay.
    Please don't misinterpret my comments. I have great respect for innovative processes/solutions.
    Human error IS a certainty. Our firm specialized in solutions AND attention to detail!

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.