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"Airlander". Here we go again

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"Airlander". Here we go again

Old 9th Feb 2016, 11:47
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"Airlander". Here we go again

Back in the 80s, when I had an electronics business, I built and supplied some equipment to "Airship Industries". At the time PR from this company was trumpeting their airship design (new & improved) as finally on the brink of revolutionising air transport. Blink of the eye - exit Airship Industries.

This appears in today's Independent:
Airlander 10: 92m-long aircraft to fly in UK skies for first time | Home News | News | The Independent

I'm keen to hear the opinions of interested parties here at the parish pump.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 11:58
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Airship 500

How strange, I used to supply them in the late 80's with control cable 7x19 in various diameters in 100 meter rolls, perks were getting rides with them at Cardington, arrived one morning with cables also expecting a ride in the Airship 600 - big shed doors closed, Airship Industries gone - defunct, such was life,
how many times have they risen from the ashes since then to start again, is it just pie in the sky that they will ever become an alternative craft company with a future ?. PH.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 12:48
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For a claimed cross between a helicopter and an aeroplane, it doesn't appear to have any of the properties of either. It looks exactly like a bog-standard dirigible.

I too worked on the Airship in the 1980s - trying to make the Fibre-Optic Fly-by-Wire system reliable. The technology was relatively new, and fragile fibre and a flexible airframe was not a good combination.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 13:46
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They will need to demonstrate that their dirigible is capable of withstanding turbulence and Cb. On the face of it the lifting body design will make it more prone to problems from vertical shear when compared to the normal dirigible designs.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 14:03
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It looks exactly like a bog-standard dirigible.
Look again. This vehicle can land.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 15:09
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I've been watching the project for a while, know a few people inside the company, and have studied a bit of airship design and flight testing over the years.

On the whole, I think that it might just succeed.

Not because it's especially new and exciting - although the more aggressive use of aerodynamic (as opposed to hydrostatic) lift is mildly innovative, and the hull structure is quite clever. Not because it has a very good team - I think that it probably does in many areas, but so have previous projects.


No, I think it might succeed because they've got the mission right. They're not trying to lift heavy cargo payloads - which is a daft thing to do with lighter-than-air. Not because it'll carry fare-paying passengers reliably - it won't.

They're designing it as a slow, long-loiter, electronic payload platform. That in my opinion is a viable use of an airship: not unlike the WW1 and WW2 use of airships for hunting submarines. Modern microelectronics make it more possible than ever before.

Historical precedent says that it has a good chance of failing. But, so far as I can see, the thing does actually have a very good chance of succeeding, because they're designing and marketing it for a viable mission that it can deliver on.

On the whole, I think that it's got as good a chance of success as any airshop project ever has, and I really hope that they do.

G
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 15:14
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This was the airship canceled by the USA and sold back to England for less than .1% of it's original reported cost, as in one tenth of one percent. Naturally, batteries were not included. Also know as Northrop Grumman HAV 304 Airlander or Hybrid Air Vehicles HAV-3. There are several videos of it in flight online.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hybrid_Air_Vehicles_HAV-3
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 15:18
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On the whole, I think that it's got as good a chance of success as any airship project ever has, and I really hope that they do.
Given that millions of dollars of the development costs were absorbed by the US military back in 2010 and the vehicle was 'retained' by the current owners for a 'small sum' they have the resources available now to take it forward.

U.S. Army Orders Huge Airship to Aid Combat Missions

I went to have a look at it in it's hangar a year or so ago, a very enthusiastic team offering a vehicle for long term station keeping.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 15:37
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Originally Posted by Genghis the Engineer

On the whole, I think that it's got as good a chance of success as any airshop project ever has, and I really hope that they do.

G
It does also have the advantage over previous designs that materials and drive technologies have kept advancing.

The solar films that coat the various high altitude long endurance drones will have obvious uses for such an airship, and the ever reducing weight/power requirements of avionics and sneaky tech will obviously help.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 15:47
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Originally Posted by Tourist
It does also have the advantage over previous designs that materials and drive technologies have kept advancing.

The solar films that coat the various high altitude long endurance drones will have obvious uses for such an airship, and the ever reducing weight/power requirements of avionics and sneaky tech will obviously help.
Indeed just look at how Musk has improved solar cells...
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 16:02
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Big target?

Originally Posted by Wirbelsturm
Given that millions of dollars of the development costs were absorbed by the US military back in 2010 and the vehicle was 'retained' by the current owners for a 'small sum' they have the resources available now to take it forward.

U.S. Army Orders Huge Airship to Aid Combat Missions

I went to have a look at it in it's hangar a year or so ago, a very enthusiastic team offering a vehicle for long term station keeping.
Very big, very slow, target for military applications isn't it? I guess that depends on the operational ceiling of Manpads etc in any given theatre.
However the other observations here about the increasing efficiency of solar energy capture etc do make a lot of sense. The cynic in me recalls, though not in detail, similar enthusiasm about the obvious benefits of airships every time they re-emerge from hibernation.
Which also reminds me, whatever happened to the Optica?
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 16:10
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Very big, very slow, target for military applications isn't it? I guess that depends on the operational ceiling of Manpads etc in any given theatre.
AFAIK it was intended for second line support or high altitude offset battlefield comms/intel link. Keep it in friendly neighboring airspace with a synthetic aperture array on the side.

Irrelevant really as it never survived the spending review.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 16:37
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Which also reminds me, whatever happened to the Optica?
Ask a test pilot who has flown it over a beer sometime. I'll take a pint of mild.

G
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 16:38
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Seems to me it's a very niche-y mission (even more so than other non-airliner aircraft). Basically it works if you want to spend a long time up there without actually going anywhere. For sure such missions exist, just not many.

The previous "revolutionizing air transport" effort was German, and spent a couple of years down the road here at Moffett. The racket it made flying over our house all the time (3 x IO540s at 1500 feet, going veeeeery sloooowly) made me investigate it - actually I had a brief chat with the captain (a lady, and a Brit at that) courtesy of Palo Alto tower.

Bottom line is it cruised at 37 knots. It had about the same payload and fuel consumption per hour as a Trislander. Awful the latter may be, but it flies at about 100 knots, so fuel/passenger-mile is about three times better.

For the latest one, they talk about 48 passengers. REALLY??? The German one, which was seriously huge, carried 10, in a tiny underslung cabin.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 16:45
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Originally Posted by skridlov
Very big, very slow, target for military applications isn't it? I guess that depends on the operational ceiling of Manpads etc in any given theatre.
On the subject of manpads there are two points.

1. Can a manpad even find it? It's not exactly a big heat producer, and if in electric drive practically none.
2. Not sure that a manpad is really optimised to take down this sort of target. Big balloons full of helium are surprisingly good at taking damage from teeny tiny warheads
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 17:00
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Originally Posted by n5296s
Seems to me it's a very niche-y mission (even more so than other non-airliner aircraft). Basically it works if you want to spend a long time up there without actually going anywhere. For sure such missions exist, just not many.
You have no idea what the military does, do you.
If you had spent a little while in Iraq or Afghanistan over the last 15 years, you would notice that this is almost the only thing that the military does!



Originally Posted by n5296s
Bottom line is it cruised at 37 knots. It had about the same payload and fuel consumption per hour as a Trislander. Awful the latter may be, but it flies at about 100 knots, so fuel/passenger-mile is about three times better.
For the latest one, they talk about 48 passengers. REALLY??? The German one, which was seriously huge, carried 10, in a tiny underslung cabin.
That one may have been a bit cr@p, but google the old German zepellins and the Hindenburg....

Last edited by Tourist; 9th Feb 2016 at 17:13.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 17:10
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I am acquainted with a development engineer on tis project who worked all through the old Airship Industries days too. This isn't another Airship Industries revival, it is an entirely new product (imported from USA) and a new company altogether though inevitably many of the AI people are there.
The project is hardly new, it's been going at Cardington for at least 3 years though only now coming to inflation and flight. The engineer I know is very enthusiastic about it and reckons it has a far better chance of being a success that AI, who if you recall made a number of ships before their demise, but this thing has features like self mooring (a sort of air cushion like a hovercraft) that set it apart.
We'll see, but it looks clever enough to succeed.
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 17:12
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I flew in a small airship at Cardington some years back. It needed quite a large ground crew to stop it moving about. As I recall they used teams of Air Cadets or Scouts? Boarding passengers took awhile because it was one on, one off, one on, one off... to keep the weight reasonably stable.

It was nice to take a slow pleasure flight around the countryside but I'm not sure about application beyond that. Perhaps as a replacement for sea freight?
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 17:21
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Originally Posted by cwatters
I flew in a small airship at Cardington some years back. It needed quite a large ground crew to stop it moving about. As I recall they used teams of Air Cadets or Scouts? Boarding passengers took awhile because it was one on, one off, one on, one off... to keep the weight reasonably stable.

It was nice to take a slow pleasure flight around the countryside but I'm not sure about application beyond that. Perhaps as a replacement for sea freight?
As mentioned in the post above yours, the ground handling issue is one of their innovations.

A little thought will show a huge number of military ISR and maybe Strike applications.

All you have to do is think through each military aircraft type and then think whether enormous loiter at slow speed would be useful or not.

Example.

Is it better to orbit a B1B over a point in the desert at a squillion $/hr waiting for a CAS mission, or have a balloon loiter there for three weeks carrying Brimstone?

Is it better to have a Rivetjoint/Shadow/Reaper/insert other sneaky plane of choice loiter in an area sucking up wiggly amps for 5/10/20 hrs or a balloon for three weeks?
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Old 9th Feb 2016, 17:29
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You have no idea what the military does, do you.
I think I have a pretty decent rough idea. So if all they do is loiter, remind me why they're spending about $1T on the F35???

The US military has evidently already rejected the idea, presumably because they prefer to spend their money on things that go faster (e.g. the said F35).

Loitering over enemy territory in something that may even be bigger than a barn strikes me as a seriously undesirable idea. It may be stealthy, but during daylight you'd have to be half blind not to see it with the naked eye. And given that it presumably needs to transmit to be useful, it can't really be stealthy anyway (unless, I suppose, it send everything upwards to satellites).

Autonomous drones strike me as a much safer way for that particular mission.

Airships are one of those ideas whose success is always just around the corner. They had a brief window in the 1930s, until the Hindenburg put paid to it, and then along came WWII to make large aeroplanes a practical reality.
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