One of the more exciting bits of news this month was reading that Aeroscraft was about to start the FAA certification process with its zeppelin. Why is this exciting? Let’s start with the fact that air travel as it currently exists is not exactly the most glamorous of experiences (barring the fact that you score a first-class seat or demi-cabin on one of the top carriers). While the near-term future of the modern zeppelin is going to be utilitarian, the future (given some of the concepts out there) is much more interesting and, in some cases, more than a little weird…
Looking at Aeroscraft, W.J. Hennigan, writing in the LA Times, gives a great sense of where Aeroscraft is in the context of where they want to be:
The prototype in Tustin will lift just 2,000 pounds in test flight, but ultimately the company will build a larger Aeroscraft with the capacity to carry 66 tons of cargo.
So, basically, Aeroscraft will go from being able to move a Smart car (which weighs in at a dainty 1,808 pounds without the driver) to moving something on the order of an M1 Abrams main battle tank (yeah, I know it actually weights in just over 67 tons, but a tank is easily imagined; I could have said “to the number of fake Eiffel Tower miniatures seized by police earlier this summer” but, without a picture, the comparison, though cool, is impractical). Josh Bearman, in an article looking Aeroscraft at PopSci last year, gives an idea of what this might look like:
What I find more exciting is where zeppelins and airships could go in terms of creating a different air travel experience.
To be fair, you already can take a zeppelin tour in Germany, but, as Michael Baker wrote over at USA Today, “The rides are somewhat pricey. Expect to pay several hundred euro per person even for the shortest flight.” This is with a conventional zeppelin. Now, if you could start imagining larger zeppelins and airships, you can start creating different types of travel experiences…though they are very much in the conceptual space at the moment.
The first concept that caught my eye was the concept of a Sky Hotel, which was described in Jeremy Hsu’s “Prototype: Luxury Eco-Zeppelins Will Fly Future Passengers Around the World.” The concept, commissioned by Samsung Construction and Trading and envisioned by Seymourpowell, would let us “… enjoy living and dining above the clouds for journeys lasting up to 90 hours from Los Angeles to Shanghai.” The images in Hsu’s article are interesting, though perhaps none as interesting as the “moon pool.”
As trippy as the “moon pool” is, what caught my eye was the text that went with it: passengers also could “…go to the upper deck promenade for an open-air excursion.”
Open air? Seriously?
Yes, seriously. One of my favorite / lawsuit-laden concepts in this area is the mind-blowing Passing Cloud concept from Tiago Barros. Why mindblowing? Because of this:
This is clearly a concept. I get that. That said, I never have thought about air travel in the context of being on the outside of (or on top of) the vehicle that was transporting me to my destination. If we set aside the fall-inducing curves of the Passing Cloud and instead think in terms of the open-air decks of a passenger ship, airship could get pretty interesting, especially as that airships are seen as a promising means of realizing more energy-efficient flight (as sketched out by Hank Green over at EcoGeek).
If you found this piece — especially the LA Times reporting — interesting, you might also want to check out Kalee Thompson’s article on Aeroscraft over at Popular Mechanics.