Why aren’t we flying around in zeppelins?

Okay, so the last two general posts have been fairly serious, if each in different ways. It is therefore, clearly, time for something a bit out of left field. Namely, for some years I’ve been wanting to know why the heck we aren’t flying around in Zeppelins. Okay, sure, that probably seems absurd, but it isn’t quite as weird a question as you might think. Follow my logic on this one.

Most of you have probably flown before. Sucks, doesn’t it? While regional hops of a few hours are tolerable, if you’ve ever found yourself on a 14 hour international flight you know just how utterly miserable air travel can be. But, what if you could take that same trip in style and comfort? Full meals properly made by onboard cooks, a proper bar, a library nook to explore, maybe even a small dance floor. Doesn’t that sound a bit more pleasant?

Okay, sure, the trip is going to take you longer, but it’s not like your swimming from New York to Paris here. The old Graf Zeppelins(the precursor to the infamous Hindenburg) could hit a solid 80mph, and this was a 1920s design. A 1920s design, I might add, that even the engineers of the time knew wasn’t the ideal mix of function and aerodynamics. They simply couldn’t build anything better with the facilities they had available. Modern upgrades on the theme wouldn’t exactly have a huge intellectual challenge ahead of them to get a bit more max speed…but even assuming they couldn’t get the cruising speed up above that 80mph, that puts a New York to Paris trip just a touch over 45 hours. Which might seem long, until you realize that the original Zeppelins had sleeping berths for 20-50 passengers. That’s right, these things had actual beds, as well as a dozen stewards and cooks to help you relax in an actual lounge.

lz-127-grosser-aufenthalts-und-speiseraum-l

Above: The LZ 127 Dining Area/Lounge | Below: Passenger Cabin in both day and night configurations lz-127-fahrgastkabine-fur-tagesgebrauch-gerichtet-llz-127-fahrgastkabine-fur-die-nacht-gerichtet-l

I don’t know about you, but that looks and sounds much more like an adventure to me, instead of the torture of international flights aboard a jumbo jet. Keep in mind, too, that this was all with later 1920s era tech. Modern materials and better design could easily increase the lift capacity of these suckers. Meaning that a full bar, set of pool tables, and a nice cozy library wouldn’t be hard to work into the thing. Particularly given that modern automation could cut the crew sizes (they needed bloody near the same number of crew, back then, as they had passengers) down to something reasonable. It wouldn’t be at all hard to design an airship capable of transporting 100+ passengers in this nice, luxurious style. Bring in a 4-5 star chef, and maybe even some live entertainment, and you’ve got the sort of adventure experience that people would love in and of itself. I, personally, would happily pay double or triple regular ticket prices for current international flights, to get aboard something like that instead. So what if it’s a two day trip? That’s just about right to absorb the experience, and I’ll even get a bit of a chance to adjust my sleep schedule in an effort to minimize the jet lag.

So, why isn’t someone doing this? Are we still scared of the Hindenburg? That thing was using hydrogen purely because no one would give them nice, non-flammable helium to work with. Now, there are still some legit reasons to prefer hydrogen, despite the whole flammable thing. It’s actually got a higher lift capacity than helium, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to get your hands on. With modern engineering practices it wouldn’t be very risky either, as hydrogen is actually only flammable in a specific diffusion, and that’s something we can measure for pretty easy. But, even ignoring my slightly rambling sidetrack there, helium could be used without overly much trouble. Which means, no going down in a giant flaming ball of death. Also, modern flame retardant materials would prevent the same problem, even with hydrogen, let along helium.

An airship design is also, arguably, inherently safer in function than heavier than air options, for what should be obvious reasons. Even the most basic compartmentalization, for example, ought to result in a relatively tame crash landing. Perhaps it might have a bit more trouble with weather, but they’ve got a lot lower tendency to crash fatally. Yeah, you read that right. Even the Hindenburg disaster only had 35 deaths out of the 97 people on board, and that was probably the single most spectacular civilian airship crash in history. That’s a lot better outlook than you’re gonna get with a 747 going down, that’s for sure.

So, what gives? Okay, so there actually has been research into using them for transportation. Generally, by short-sighted idiots trying to speed the things up by creating “hybrid” airship/planes. But I’m not talking cargo transit here, I just want a comfortable way to cross the Atlantic (or Pacific), and I’m perfectly willing to pay the higher fees for that luxury. The last thing I need after an exhausting two weeks of amazingly fun vacation, is to end my trip with such a miserable experience, that I need another vacation. So, where are my zeppelins, blast it.

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