Image credit: Boeing
As Lloyd reported a while back, Zeppelins are back—and not without good reason. Silent, stylish and low-carbon, many of us who fly regularly have been dreaming of the day when airships will once again grace the skies. (When we talked with Michael Franti recently, he even speculated about the launch of a Spearhead Zeppelin.) But while some concepts being floated out there are, for the time being, little more than vaporware, there is evidence to suggest that airships really are taking off once more. We thought we'd put together a roundup of some of our favorite modern airships. If you're sitting comfortably, let's begin our journey. The Turtle Airship
Image credit: Millenium Airship
Touted by one of the apparent originators of the Millenium Airship concept pictured above, the Turtle airship concept is said to be a hard-shelled craft created from titanium, steel or aluminum and powered by solar photovoltaics and a back up diesel generator. For now, this appears to be very much a concept vehicle—but if the designer can get anywhere close to the 200mph he claims, then this is one to watch for sure.
The Aeros Craft Airship
Image credit: Worldwide Aeros Corp.
Of all the modern airship concepts out there, the Aeros craft might be one of the most likely to actually become a reality. When Warren wrote about them back in 2006, they were already planning to build a prototype, and the company has since received a production certificate from the United States Federal Aviation Administration. With passenger models expected to carry 150 - 180 passengers, and freight models that could deliver 20 truckloads of goods straight from a factory in Japan to a warehouse in California in a day and a half, this thing will be a game changer if they can make it work.
DIY Solar-Powered Blimp
Image credit: Daniel Geery, via YouTube
This one is at the other end of the spectrum, in terms of scope and ambition—but it is real, and it works. Teacher Daniel Geery created this inflatable, 100% solar-powered, battery-free blimp, not as a serious design for transportation, but to illustrate that if one guy can do this, then what could society do if we really decided to get our act together.
The Aeolus Human-Powered Airship
Image credit: Aeolus/Christopher Ottersbach
Claiming to be able to stay air-borne with a crew of 2-4 for two weeks, the Aeolus has Terry Gilliam written all over it. And many commenters decided that the Aeolus pedal-powered airship was every bit as fantastical as the Adventures of Barron Von Munchhausen. Of course, skepticism was only fueled by the lack of technical details, or even a website for the project—but yet it's hard not to be seduced by those beautiful photos of a human-powered craft floating above the desert.
The Rebirth of the Zeppelin
Image credit: Zeppelin Flug
Any discussion of airships inevitably brings out a lot of concepts, ideas and far-fetched schemes, and maybe a few prototype designs if we are lucky. But there are also folks out there actually flying modern Zeppelins. Operating mainly as luxury sight-seeing vessels for now, they are at least flying, and carrying passengers, above some of the world's most majestic cities. As oil gets more expensive, they may start to see use for transportation from A to B too.
The Boeing Skyhook
Image credit: Boeing/Skyhook
The companies operating in the Alberta Tar Sands don't usually have many bragging rights when it comes to being green. But the idea of applying the Boeing Skyhook freight airship in some of these remote areas is still an interesting indication of just how important fuel-efficient, sustainable and heavy-duty air-freight vehicles may become in our near future. It's just a shame we're talking about using the next generation of post-petroleum aircraft to eek out the last of our petroleum reserves from places best left alone. One step forwards, two steps back.