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Types of Airships
May 29, '21

Types of modern airships

The term “aerostat” broadly includes all lighter than air vehicles that gain lift through the use of a buoyant gas. Aerostats include unpowered balloons (tethered or free-flying) and powered airships.

Zeppelin NT

The Zeppelin NT ("Neue Technologie", German for new technology) is a class of helium-filled airships being manufactured since the 1990s by the German company Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT) in Friedrichshafen. The initial model is the NT07. The company considers itself the successor of the companies founded by Ferdinand von Zeppelin which constructed and operated the very successful Zeppelin airships in the first third of the 20th century. There are, however, a number of notable differences between the Zeppelin NT and original Zeppelins as well as between the Zeppelin NT and usual non-rigid airships known as blimps. The Zeppelin NT is classified as a semi-rigid airship.

There are various roles for the Zeppelin NT; traditional roles have been aerial tourism purposes and for conducting passenger services. The hull surfaces of the aircraft have also been used for advertising purposes. The Zeppelin NT have also been used for observation platforms, such as for aerial photographers and by television commentators covering major events. Due to their capability for low-vibration flight for up to 24 hours at a time, ZLG considers the airships suitable for research missions for environmental observation, troposphere research and natural resource prospecting.

The following types of powered airships are described in this section:

Conventional airships

Semi-buoyant hybrid airships and aircraft

Variable buoyancy airships

Helistats (airship – helicopter hybrid)

Stratospheric airships

Thermal (hot air) airships

Hybrid thermal (Rozier) airships

Conventional airships

Conventional airships are lighter-than-air (LTA) vehicles that operate at or near neutral buoyancy. The lifting gas (helium) generates approximately 100% of the lift at low speed, thereby permitting vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) operations and hovering with little or no lift contribution from the propulsion / maneuvering system. Various types of propulsors may be used for cruise flight propulsion and for low-speed maneuvering and station keeping.

Airships of this type include rigid zeppelins, semi-rigid airships and non-rigid blimps.

Rigid airships (zeppelins): These airships have a lightweight, rigid airframe that defines their exterior shape. The rigid airframe supports the gondola, engines and payload. Lifting gas cells and ballonets are located within the rigid airframe.

Semi-rigid airships: These airships have a rigid internal spine or structural framework that supports loads. A flexible envelope is installed over the structural framework and contains the lifting gas cells and ballonets.

Non-rigid airships (blimps): These airships have a flexible envelope that defines the shape of the airship, contains the lifting gas cells and ballonets for buoyancy management, and supports the load of a gondola, engines and payload.

The Euro Airship DGPAtt and the Flying Whales LCA60T are examples of conventional rigid airships.

The Zeppelin NT and the SkyLifter are examples of conventional semi-rigid airships.

The Aeros 40D Sky Dragon and the SAIC Skybus 80K are examples of conventional non-rigid airships.

After being loaded and ballasted before flight, conventional airships have various means to control the in-flight buoyancy of the airship. Control can be exercised over ballast, lifting gas and the ballonets as described below.

Controlling buoyancy with ballast:

Many conventional airships require adjustable ballast (i.e., typically water or sand) that can be added or removed as needed to establish a desired net buoyancy before flight. Load exchanges (i.e., taking on / discharging cargo or passengers) can change the overall mass of an airship and may require a corresponding ballast adjustment. If an airship is heavy and the desired buoyancy can’t be restored with the ballonets or other means, ballast can be removed on the ground or may need to be dumped in flight to increase buoyancy.

Sky dragon

Worldwide Aeros Corp

Worldwide Aeros Corp is an American manufacturer of airships based in Montebello, California. It was founded in 1993 by the current CEO and Chief Engineer, Igor Pasternak who was born in Soviet Kazakhstan, raised in Soviet Ukraine, and moved to the U.S. after the Soviet collapse to build airships there. It currently employs more than 100 workers.

The company's current products are non-rigids aimed at both the military and commercial markets, including transport, surveillance, broadcasting and advertising. The company's best-selling ship is called the Sky Dragon.

The company is also developing an Aeroscraft, a rigid airship with a number of innovative features, the most important of which is a method of controlling the airship's static lift, which can be reduced by pumping helium from the internal gasbags and storing it under pressure: conversely lift can be increased by re-inflating the gasbags using the stored gas. The company has received $60 million from the U.S. Department of Defense to develop the concept, resulting in a prototype named Dragon Dream which underwent systems tests and some tethered flights in late 2013. This prototype was subsequently damaged when part of the roof of the hangar at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, in which it was constructed, collapsed on 7 October 2013.

Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10

The Hybrid Air Vehicles Airlander 10, originally developed as the HAV 304, is a hybrid airship designed and built by British manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). Comprising a helium airship with auxiliary wing and tail surfaces, it flies using both aerostatic and aerodynamic lift and is powered by four diesel engine-driven ducted propellers.

Move over Goodyear blimp, the Zeppelin NT is coming

Longer, faster, quieter and able to maneuver like a helicopter, Goodyear’s newest generation blimp — actually a dirigible — has finished construction in Ohio and awaits deployment to its permanent home in Carson.

The 246-foot-long ship, named Wingfoot Two, is the second in a fleet of three flashy airships the company is slowly phasing in to replace its 1920s-designed iconic branded blimps. The so-called Zeppelin NT is 53 feet longer than the old-school blimp, can max out at 73 mph compared with 50 mph and is 37 percent quieter. It moves as dextrously as a helicopter, taking off and landing vertically.

And it’s got giant high-definition video displays, too.

All of the improvements amount to a more luxurious experience for those in the dirigible’s gondola, which can accommodate two pilots and 12 passengers compared with six passengers and a pilot in the old blimps.

The newest Zeppelin NT, which sports a polyurethane-polyester shell, will stay parked in a hangar until it begins flights from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.’s Akron, Ohio, base this summer, and it will stick around there until the third ship in the series is built. Then, in late 2017, Wingfoot Two will motor west to Carson, home of a Goodyear blimp since the 1960s. Carson’s base will be upgraded in the meantime to accommodate the bigger, heavier ship and its equipment.

Wingfoot One has been flying from the third base in Pompano Beach, Florida, since 2014, making Carson home to the last operating GZ-20A blimp model, the Spirit of Innovation.

Unlike the Zeppelin NTs, the Spirit of Innovation is a true blimp because it has no internal frame. GZ-20s are design relics of the 1920s that land and take off more like a balloon in a wind draft than a helicopter, swaying with every slight temperature and wind change and forcing its pilots to make constant small corrections.

“Every flight is different. It’s not as regimented,” said Assistant Pilot-in-Charge Kristen Arambula, who has piloted the old model for nine years from the Carson base. “You have to fly differently depending on wind conditions. There’s an art to flying it. The smallest little change in heat off the ground requires you to make a correction. Your brain is thinking the whole time about how to make the flight look beautiful.”

In the new airship, Arambula won’t have to wrestle pulleys on either side of her and a big vertical wheel. She’ll have a convenient, ergonomic side-stick control that looks like a video game console and can easily steer the airship up, down, left and right with one hand.

“It’s going to be a lot nicer because it’s going to go faster and will be easier to land in our California conditions because it can come straight down. It has more control,” Arambula said. “Our (GZ-20A) airship has to be maneuvered a lot. The ropes are always down and the ground crew has to run and catch them to land the blimp.”

She said she will miss the old iconic blimp — which celebrates its 10th birthday June 21 at Goodyear’s South Main Street base in Carson — because “it’s like a family member.” But Arambula said she is looking forward to flight training on the new model.

The Zeppelin NT semi-rigid airship (model LZ N07-101, for aviation enthusiasts) was designed in Germany in a partnership between Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik and Goodyear. The old blimp couldn’t support the weight of an aluminum alloy frame, but modern lightweight carbon fiber and aluminum makes it possible for the Zeppelin NT to have one.

The Spirit of Innovation — which regularly can be seen flying the Southern California skies, particularly over Redondo Beach and Long Beach when not commissioned to shoot a sporting event — will be retired (read: disassembled and its parts recycled) before Wingfoot Two makes its California debut next year.

The 14-member GZ-20A ground crew drops to five people with the new zeppelin. A pilot can land it without help, but a crew is needed to park the machine on its mooring mast.

“Our primary mooring for the new airship is a 64,000-pound, 40-foot-long foldable transformer that we can fold up and drive down the road,” said Mike Dougherty, chief pilot of airship operations. Dougherty is training the three flight crews on the new ships.

“We moor the ship to a massive semitruck, which is nice because we can take that to any field and taxi. The zeppelin cockpit is very much like a modern airliner with an overhead panel for all the cockpit display screens, four big LCD screens and GPS communication throughout the gondola.”

In the gondola, passengers can now stand up and walk around, lounge on a couch facing 270-degree views, and use a built-in bathroom.

“You’re losing a bit of the historical backdrop with the old flight controls but the amenities of the new gondola alone make up for that,” Dougherty said. “The GZ-20s are literally 1920s technology. It’s like going back in time when you fly in one of those. The zeppelin is quieter and a little more stable. But you’re still flying on an airship.”

What is SkyLifter?


Designed to lower the costs of big infrastructure projects by overcoming the limitations of land-crane access and of helicopter payload capabilities.

Based on the lighter-than-air principle of flight (where the flying is actually floating), SkyLifter aircraft types are a curious marriage of maritime and aerospace engineering. They offer high-margin returns for operators by filling large gaps in existing and growing markets.

We are investing in partnerships to help us bring SkyLifters to market and win this opportunity to fly green.


May 29, '21
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