This month, British company Hybrid Air Vehicles is finishing the structure and base of the world's largest flying object, a modern-day Zeppelin.
Funded by the US Department of Defence, the core of the new giant airship will be flown to Arizona where it will be connected to its helium filled envelope. Early next year, the completed airship will fly back across the Atlantic Ocean to Britain. Taking roughly two days to complete the journey, it will also consume roughly 80% less fuel than a passenger jet.
Testing has shown that bullets, even missiles pass directly through the envelope because of the incredibly low pressure. Reassuringly, the company insists it has come a long way from the technology of the Thirties.
The 60% helium and 40% air mix replaces flammable hydrogen. And where the classic cigar-shaped Zeppelins struggled against the wind, hybrids use it in combination with their aerodynamic shape to get more lift.
Hybrid Air Vehicles says it sees a great potential for its airships, first as civilian freight carriers and eventually for passenger trips. The military’s vested interest has been due to the aircraft’s ability to haul heavy loads, stay airborne for weeks at a time and achieve far better fuel consumption than other airborne transportation. In addition, short of a wide open space, the aircraft requires no additional infrastructure such as a runway or port to operate.
Clearly what the airship lacks in speed it makes up for in other benefits and before too long may become a common feature in the sky.