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Airships, ho!!!!

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  • Airships, ho!!!!

    From today's Sunday Times:

    British troops are go with a Thunderbird airship

    BRITAIN'S armed forces could be transported to the world's troublespots in what is likely to be the largest flying object ever built, writes Peter Almond.

    Senior Ministry of Defence (MoD) officials confirmed last week that they were looking at commissioning the first British-designed Skycat 1000, a giant combined airship and hovercraft.

    Resembling the film world's Thunderbird 2, the Skycat would be more than 1,000ft long, bigger than the MoD's headquarters and 230ft longer than the Graf Zeppelin airship of the 1930s. It could carry up to a dozen Challenger tanks or, potentially, several hundred troops. Today's largest transport aircraft can hold only one tank.

    The seriousness with which the MoD is considering the Skycat was revealed by Wing Commander David Stubbs, a director in the expeditionary logistics and sustainment section, at a conference on ways of making the armed forces more mobile. 'You may be pleasantly surprised at how far the technology has come on,' he told the conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London.

    The airship was the 'most likely to deliver' the solution to the chronic shortage of heavy transport aircraft and ships capable of carrying large numbers of troops or equipment.

    The Skycat 1000 would compete with a new generation of large fast ships and a sea-skimming cargo plane developed in Russia. The US military is also studying the craft and at least one other government is said to be close to placing an order for a smaller version. Officials believe the Skycat could be ready for use by the RAF as early as 2010.

    Designers at the Advanced Technologies Group in Cardington, Bedfordshire (home of the R101 airship that crashed in 1930) said six gas turbine engines would lift Skycat to an altitude of 5,000-8,000ft to cruise up to 6,000 miles at 100mph.

    Some defence experts, however, are sceptical about its prospects. 'Current defence thinking is to do more with less, but I would be very concerned about putting all my eggs into this one basket,' said Tony Mason, a retired Air Vice-Marshal and an expert on air power.
    D...

    [Edited to remove image link]
    "That which does not kill us, makes us stranger." - Trevor Goodchild

  • #2
    Very interesting! There's not a new age dawning in China, by any chance?
    You see, it's... it's no good, Montag. We've all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal.

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    • #3
      Interesting. This is an idea which was first mooted in the late sixties, if I'm not mistaken (without rooting through boxes of reference material).
      The ship would be a 'top loader' with helicopters used to place containers aboard (in the cargo version).
      The last time Linda and I took an airship (courtesy the British Airship Company) from Cardington the pilots apologised for not being able to oblige us with a wing-over. The nearest they could come up with, they said, was a bag-over. On one of those trips, the pilot dropped down to
      wave to his wife and signal that he would be home in time for tea!
      The problem with large airships is wind-resistance, of course. It might make them okay for military use, but makes them difficult passenger aircraft, since there's such a wide discrepancy in potential arrival and therefore departure times. The smaller ships were highly manouevrable and made excellent platforms for TV, for instance. Sadly, the company went out of business when Alan Bond, the Australian millionaire, went bankrupt. He was backing the BAC.

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      • #4
        Hoorah! Perhaps the 'Skywhale' project (Archive Q&A #428 and that) can be resurrected after all! If the MoD buys half a dozen of these things, then either:
        (a) 'British Leyland' style build quality will result in helium leaks that will make everyone squeak so much that they won't be able to understand commands; or
        (b) defence cuts will mean that funding will be withdrawn at the last minute, just before the final coat of dope* dries, and the ships will all have to be put into 'Big Yellow' self-storage on the A3 at Shannon's Corner..., or
        (c) the armed forces get to use them for about eighteen months, after which the craft will be sold to Libya or Iran whose governments will use them to bomb adjacent countries with old Datsun saloons stolen from Nottingham, or
        (d) they'll be used in the new 'touchy-feely' British Army as bouncy castles for weary serviceman's R&R ('Corporal Jones! Take those boots OFF before bouncing! Pfffffffffttttt....')
        Whatever, surely they'll be going cheap in a couple of years? Now, where's my Visa card? Ker-ching!
        *Not the smoking kind. The stuff you put on to coat airship envelopes. Sometimes.

        Comment


        • #5
          where could the airship industry be nowadays if there had been a similar development and research as in the aircraft (especially planes) indurstry in general? donآ´t know exactly what - a completely new sort of enginge and actuation, for instance... things that could only be done with lighter than air vehicles, not only in the military, but also civil travel? what fields of economy would benefit of this?

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          • #6
            Were it not for the Hindenburg, Akron, R101, Shenandoah, etc, etc we would undoubtedly have had LTA airliners as the standard instead of aeroplanes. In fact, if the USA had shared helium availability with Germany, the Hindenburg (a ship designed for He) disaster would never have happened. If the [/i]Akron and Macon 'aerial carriers' (they both had facilities to launch and recover a small flight of 'Sparrowhawk' biplane fighters in the air) had remained in service into the 1940's, the AEW capability they could have provided might have pre-empted the Pearl Harbour attack. You can decide whether either of those scenarios would have turned out for the best!

            It must be remembered that large HTA airliners and bombers were having problems at the same time: eg.
            Maxim Gorky, so it was really a problem of technological limitations - esp. re. materials.

            I think it is really only a matter of time before we see large (and quite possibly 'rigid' as opposed to 'blimp') airships in widespread operation again. The advantages of very high loiter times, great lifting capacity, fuel efficiency and, frankly, the possiblity of genuine luxury unlike anything offered by cramped airliners (esp. Concorde) make this inevitable. There have been many projects recently in this field for general applications: Zeppelin NT, Skyship, Jim Thiele's American Blimp Corporation (several models on offer). Advertising and aerial camera platforms are the commonest roles. However, our own 'Skywhale' project (paper only, alas - oh, and a model...) was designed as a radio-controlled camera/ sensor platform for scientific survey in hostile environments. As usual with such things, the cash ran out. The MoD has looked extensively at dirigbles for safe and mass-area mine destruction.

            So let's keep an eye out!

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            • #7
              Well, I hope you're right. I've gone into the economics of airships for some years and so far there are a few problems -- including the number of staff you have to pay to stay on the ground waiting for the ships to turn up -- which so far haven't been solved. Hate to play devil's advocate. Small dirigibles, not so subject to weather conditions, are okay, but not especially useful as cargo ships. Bigger ones are subject to wind resistance and various bad weather conditions. This all costs money. Big jets tend to be much more reliable.
              Don't kick me. I'm just passing on a few bits of realism which I would love to hear contradicted.

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              • #8
                No, you're right. That's why we went for the unmanned r/c (with a relatively low surface area)! I still think there is scope for special applications - especially loiter roles and these may become more viable as oil costs increase. The big 'liners' will be like ocean-going cruise ships & the original Graf Z & Hindenburg; luxury travel for those who ain't in a hurry and can afford the extra to pay for logistics!

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                • #9
                  I wonder how MUCH that cost would be. Given how much it would cost to maintain fields and staff, it might prove cheaper to use some kind of spacegoing vessel...

                  Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
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                  Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                  Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
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                  Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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                  • #10
                    Yeah. When we worked out that the running costs for a one-month pilot study with the unmanned r/c 'Skywhale' (which was designed to operate out of its own 'floating hangar' built on a towed barge - a nice convergence on Graf von Z's LZ1!) off of S. America would be around $750,000, we kind of realised what we were up against (we never had more than آ£12k in the bank!!!). Perhaps if an extensive infrastructure of hangar and handling facilities had been established in the '20's and '30's, it would be easier - but one only has to look at the scale of Cardington to realise the costs of trying that in the UK today!
                    Oh, well. Perhaps I'm being over-optimistic after all. It does seem as if the physical disasters of the early years are being echoed in the financial disasters of today!
                    I wonder what Len Deighton reckons?!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Well, of course, as far as I know the Cardington hangars are still there!
                      They were when BAC were building their ships. I know because I was there.

                      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in Europe:
                      The Whispering Swarm: Book One of the Sanctuary of the White Friars - The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction
                      Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles - Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - Modem Times 2.0 - The Sunday Books - The Sundered Worlds


                      Pre-order or Buy my latest titles in the USA:
                      The Laughter of Carthage - Byzantium Endures - London Peculiar and Other Nonfiction - The Sunday Books - Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles
                      Kizuna: Fiction for Japan - The Sundered Worlds - The Winds of Limbo - Modem Times 2.0 - Elric: Swords and Roses

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                      • #12
                        Oh yes - they are there still. I meant that it would be pretty pricey trying to build more Cardington-sized hangars at 'new' terminals. The Airship Association used to have their museum there but I think they had to move. I must join again. V good newsletter/ magazine.
                        Ho-hum! Back to the autogyros!
                        If you like, I'll give you a flight as soon as I qualify (only a few hours left to do!). Well, perhaps you might want to wait until I've got a couple of hundred hours - my wife won't go near them! Bah!

                        Comment


                        • #14
                          Okeedoke. Might have to perfect air-to-air refuelling! Could hire one over there - it's scary that the ultralight gyroplane class in the USA requires..er, no licence at all! (at least, that used to be the case).
                          The two-seater I use is rather fun in that the passenger sits up-front and has all the 'dashboard' controls - so the 'captain' in the back has to tell them what switches to throw and when! This is complicated by the fact that all the switches are reversed compared to 'normal' electrics - ie. 'On' is 'up'! Took a passenger up a few weeks ago, and he managed to switch both fuel pumps 'off' just after takeoff! Stopped the engine very effectively!

                          Aieeee!

                          Don't wanna put you off, of course!

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                          • #15
                            the research (or better the lack of research together with economical application, since there is a lot of research) is similar to solar technology, in a way. useful and clean, but no lobby, and low distribution. so considering the staff, mechanics and all the running costs for airshipping, all of that would be no problem with better economical requirements.

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