Matt Prior: Airships are back in the news, and it’s about time Car News

I am a big fan of airships. A Zeppelin NT LZ N07-101, better known as the Goodyear Blimp, was the subject of last year’s Christmas Autocar test drive, and it was merry. There is a terrific museum in Friedrichshafen, Germany dedicated to the early Zeppelins and their ilk, and the luxury they offered was palpable. So it’s good to see them again in the news.

Flying some 300 meters above the ground you get a sensational view of the landscape. It’s strangely quiet, and in the breezes the airship swayes gently like a cradle. It’s an incredibly calming way to travel, but not very fast.

Last week Bedfordshire-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which manufactures the massive Airlander 10 airship, offered a new passenger cabin layout for its vessel, which can accommodate up to 100 people. It’s a bit more than the last Zeppelin’s 14.

HAV has offered a number of fairly short-haul urban routes for its airship, which are currently served by conventional jets. HAV believes its airship is ideal for the job, as it could reduce the amount of CO2 emitted per passenger by 90%.

It may be true. But back to the whole issue of speed. The Airlander was tested at around 50 knots (57 mph), a speed similar to that of the Zeppelin NT, although regular cruising speed tends to be slower to reduce fuel consumption. Either way, it’s much slower than a jet plane.

It’s also slower than a car, which is why the routes offered by HAV (like Barcelona to Palma and Liverpool to Belfast) all include objects such as water and hills to make life difficult for drivers. You could just drive or take a bus if that was possible, but instead you have to get on a plane or board a boat right now, and an airship is nominally faster than either of them. Not quite straightforward, however.

Travel on a regular jet flight and you’ll be in a noisy, cramped aluminum tube, of course. But it can move at over 500mph, so even if there’s a 50mph headwind, you’ll still be crossing the ground at 450mph.

Take an airship and it will be much quieter, more relaxed and more spacious, plus it will give you a much nicer view. But I hope you enjoy this view because in a 50mph headwind you will have plenty of time to figure it all out when you are passed by a jogger.

Airships hate inclement weather. They are about as effective in a strong wind as a game. While a jet can fly in a storm, an airship will sniff a bit if someone nearby waves their arms a bit. If it can snow, they can’t fly at all. A boat can make you sick, but it will get you where you want to go reliably enough, and with some of them you can then get your car out of the bow and continue on your way.

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This notice was published: 2021-06-10 23:01:24

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