The return of air cruises

Imagine you are floating above Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, propelled by the breeze. Wildebeest, elephants and giraffes graze on the grassy plain below, going about their business while you drift silently two hundred meters above. You can do it easily, in a hot air balloon. You take off at dawn and spend a couple of hours lazing in the sky. But what if you could extend that and stay in the air for hours or even days, anywhere in the world you can take your imagination to? Float through the incredible red gorges and waterways of the Kimberley, over the islands and highlands of Papua New Guinea, along the Nile, or over the Amazon rainforest?

Sounds like a dream, right? But it could happen in this decade.

The vehicle for this particular dream is a lighter-than-air (LTA) aircraft. Blimps are relatively cheap to build and operate, can carry a large payload, land almost anywhere, and stay aloft for days at a time. And they can take you places that even a billionaire with a yacht and a helicopter on deck would find hard to get to. Plus, they’re as green as a cucumber.

The word “blimp” might conjure up visions of the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, but modern LTAs are totally different. The gas that keeps them in the air is helium. Earlier blimps like the Hindenburg were filled with hydrogen, but hydrogen can ignite even more easily than gasoline or natural gas. The Hindenburg sealed the fate of hydrogen-filled LTAs as passenger transport, although the military continued to use hydrogen in barrage balloons that floated over cities in World War II to deter bombing. Unlike hydrogen, helium is an inert gas and therefore not flammable.

LTAs have a comparatively small environmental footprint that goes a long way toward fulfilling the quest for low-impact, low-carbon travel. The gas inside provides lift, which means LTAs have a low net weight and therefore require less power and less fuel to propel them over the same distance with the same payload as a powered aircraft. jet. That payload can be huge. Envisioned as a heavy lift LTA, capable of hauling cargo from remote mining sites and forest areas, Flying Whales’ LCA60T model will be able to carry up to 60 tonnes. Propulsion could come from battery-powered electric motors or hybrid motors. Since they can land on almost any large flat surface, LTAs don’t need airports, runways, or any other purpose-built infrastructure, and they’re quiet.

Compared to travel aboard a conventional aircraft, passenger comfort is in a different dimension on an LTA. There is room for sleeping compartments, and since they sail low in unpressurized cabins, there is more oxygen to breathe and a better chance of sleeping soundly. It’s possible to cook meals aboard an LTA and serve meals and beverages with flavors intact, rather than precooked meals heated in a microwave and served to atmosphere-numbing taste buds in a low-humidity aircraft cabin. On a long-haul flight, its relatively slow pace means more time to adjust to changing time zones.

The cruising speed of an LTA is slow, around 130 km/h. That would get you from London to Paris in three hours, and possibly from city center to city center, since even a sizable car park would suffice for takeoff and landing. Paris to New York would be just under two days, but what a way to go. LTAs make a lot of sense for short-haul travel in densely populated areas where the trip from the airport to the city center can take more than an hour. Europe, Japan and China are the obvious candidates, and that is happening in the case of the Spanish airline Air Nostrum, which has just signed up for 10 electric-powered LTAs to be built by the UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAVs), with the expectation have the 100-seat airships operating short-haul routes by 2026.

The first LTA to enter commercial service could be another HAV airship, Airlander 10, currently in development. With a length of 91 meters, almost 20 meters longer than an Airbus A380, and a width of 34 meters, the Airlander 10 has been nicknamed the flying wanderer for its elephant rear.

Capable of staying in the air for five days, with a range of 7,400 km and a maximum payload of 10 tons, Airlander 10 is the vehicle of choice for OceanSky Cruises for its expeditions to the North Pole, scheduled to start in 2024 or 2025. .

From the island of Svalbard, between mainland Norway and the North Pole, up to 16 expedition members will board the aircraft, sail north through the pack ice and drop onto the ice, the first LTA to land. at the North Pole. Images of the OceanSky airship show a comfortable lounge with circular seats mounted on a glass floor, with ice visible below. Two nights will be spent on board, in 10-square-meter cabins with panoramic windows and private bathrooms. The cost, fasten your seatbelts, is $210,000, but that gives you a double cabin, all meals included.

See also: The revolutionary planes that we will soon be flying on board

See also: Airline will buy 10 giant aircraft for short-haul flights in Europe

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