100-Year-old Dreams of Airship Travel Through Europe are Revived With This Modern Zero-Emissions Dirigible
It’s not every day GNN starts a story with a quote from an Iron Maiden song, but this line perfectly describes a development that could revolutionize short-distance flight by heralding the return of helium-filled dirigible airships to Europe’s skies.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) are within 4 years of their first-planned commercial flight of the Airlander10—a hybrid-electric airship that produces 75% fewer emissions per mile traveled than a passenger jet.
Designed for short hops on oft-taken business trips—like Oslo to Stockholm or Liverpool to Belfast—it offers the Greta Thunbergs of the world a chance to return to the convenience of the air travel.
Rigid airships never became the dream that so many scientists, inventors, and fiction writers imagined they would be at the turn of the 20th century. The parallel development of fixed-wing aircraft, and eventually jet-powered flight, paired with the immolation of the Hindenburg, meant that beyond the Goodyear Blimp over football stadiums, the dream of the dirigible never became a reality.
But the Airlander10 offers so much of what a passenger jet flight cannot, meaning those dreams have a real chance of becoming reality. With unpressurized cabins made possible by lower flying altitudes, the trip is silent, and with floor-to-ceiling windows all passengers, whether window or aisle, have unimpeded views of the world below and beyond.
A gentle giant
According to HAV, a jet from Seattle to Vancouver amounts to 55kgs of CO2 per passenger, while an Airlander10 drops that number to about 4.12kgs, less even than rail travel.
Furthermore, thanks to the airship’s abilities of vertical takeoff and landing, there’s a significant long-term reduction in CO2 cost from plane/train infrastructure requirements (paving runways or laying rail track isn’t green by any measure).
But it’s the concept art of the cabin arrangements that really brings the old European idea of dirigible travel alive again—with luxurious couches, tables, bars, workstations, and food service.
HAV told GNN they expect ticket prices to fit within the range of numbers from other modes of transport like planes, trains, and ferries.
The company’s short-term goals are to finish legal requirements on the Airlander10, and get their UK factory operational to produce 12 aircraft per year while working towards the all-electric motor outfits which would take the dirigible to zero-emissions, as well as on their Airlander50—designed for air freight transportation.
The combination of vertical take off/landing, floor-to-ceiling windows, and silent journey means that HAV is looking to introduce their airships for adventure travel in places like the Arctic, across Africa, where hot-air balloon tours are already common, and among archipelagos.
Doing something useful
Bruce Dickinson, the kead singer for Iron Maiden and captain of the band’s personal Boeing 757, has invested $380,000 in the company. Perhaps this isn’t a surprise. The band is famous both for long songs, and songs about flying, and their longest-ever song—Empire of the Clouds—is about airships.
GNN reported on the news back in 2016 that the Maiden frontman, whose knowledge about aviation history is exceptional for a man who, along with fronting one of the world’s biggest rock bands, competes at Olympic levels in fencing and writes children’s books, had put such faith in what was then only a project.
“I’m not expecting to get my money back anytime soon, I just want to be part of it,” Bruce told the New Yorker. ”Being a rock person, I could put it up my nose, or buy a million Rolls Royces and drive them into swimming pools, or I could do something useful. There are very few times in your life when you’re going to be part of something big.”