Traveling by air is the fastest and safest mode of traveling. Today, it has become the most frequently used mode of travel, but long before commercial airplanes flew, the skies were dominated by Airships. Airships, as the name suggests, were tremendous in size and flew passengers locally. In terms of design, they consisted of a huge balloon-like structure which received its lift through gasbags. The gasbags generally contained helium but since it wasn’t cheap and an excessive amount of gas was required to keep the airship in the sky, Helium was later replaced with a much cheaper alternative; hydrogen which was notoriously known for being flammable.
There are three types of Airships, classed by structure – they are rigid airships, semi-rigid airships and non-rigid airships. The non-rigid airships have no structural framework and retain their shape solely by internal pressure. The rigid airships have a structural framework in addition to the gasbags. While the semi-rigid airship combines the structural properties of both rigid and non-rigid airships. Rigid airships were the most frequently used and had a better safety record. First flown by the German General Count Zeppelin, the rigid airships soon received a new name and were all referred to as the Zeppelin.
Developed in 1893, Zeppelin wasn’t commercially flown until the 19th century when a German airline took off carrying passengers in 1910. 4 years later and the airline had already completed more than one thousand flights carrying over ten thousand passengers. By then airships were being used commercially as a mode of travel on a larger scale. Apart from commercial uses, Zeppelins played a crucial role for Germany in World War 1. Used as bombers and deployers, Airships had proved to be useful for both military and commercial travel. This all changed when a German airship carrying 97 onboard abruptly caught fire on May 6th, 1937 in New Jersey, killing almost 37 people. This, along with a number of other incidents, took away people’s faith and marked the end of airships and the beginning of commercial airplanes on a broad scale which were much safer and faster and could fly internationally.
Now, almost 80 years later, airships are almost unheard of. However, a team of Austrian scientists are currently proposing an airship ten times greater than the Hindenburg for the sole purpose of carrying cargo. This new and unique airship will be capable of lifting more than 20,000 tons of cargo across land and sea. Furthermore, wind speeds at high altitudes can easily cross 150+ kilometers. Using this airspeed could allow the airship to travel around the world in just 14 days. As well as carrying cargo much faster than ships on the same route. Of course, the incident of Hindenburg is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about airships and safety. In this in mind, scientists propose to use carbon fiber as a durable framework as well as automating them so even if an incident is met, there is no loss of life.