Why did so many airship projects fail?

A place to generally discuss airships and anything related to LTA-aviation.
Sean
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby Sean » Sat Sep 03, 2016 5:55 pm

@pyronaught, I always loved that aspect of rigid airships, built as true ships of the air, where the captain stands behind the wheel, where people have their own beds instead of passenger seats, where you could walk around freely with spacious interiors and where the hull was accessible for the crew.

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It`s very sad that both the Graf Zeppelin and the Graf Zeppelin II were dismantled.
They would've been awesome museum pieces to walk through, and it would show our new generations what it was like back then. The more I read on it, the more I realize that world war 2 truly screwed up everything when it comes to Zeppelin development. The entire industry was born in the first world war and died in the second.

yama
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby yama » Sat Sep 03, 2016 8:21 pm

pyronaught wrote:There was an NT tourism operation in the San Francisco area for a while a few years back, but it too folded. I would have thought that location would have the best chance for success-- they had a giant privately owned air field to park the airship on, the majority of the local population are high earners with more disposable income to spend on joy rides, it was a tourist location and there are lots of sights that would be great to view from an airship such as the golden gate bridge, the city skyline, the bay and all the hills and valleys. But yet the operation only lasted a brief time. I think the thing that killed it was the high operational costs of the NT. This is true of all blimps in general because they all leak helium continuously due to being under pressure, but the NT is even worse than the average blimp on helium loss.


What I read about it, seems that their margins were very thin and when they failed to find a new advertiser, combined with much increased cost of helium, they folded. This is where larger, more economical airship like NT14 would have helped.

pyronaught wrote:Rigids have an advantage in that nothing passes through the internal gas bags, and also those bags are not under pressure so the rate of gas loss is much less. The up-front cost of building them is much higher of course, but they would also allow the most appealing passenger accommodations. Being stuck in a small gondola doesn't offer an experience that is much different from an airplane other than having larger windows. But having a larger internal space like a dining room with big bay windows on each side is something nobody can experience in the air anywhere else so it has more draw. Getting away from that boxed-in feeling associated with aircraft would be a big advantage. Give people the spatial freedom of a ship with the view of an aircraft.


I agree. That's where Hindenburg really shone, it was absurdly roomy, even compared to Graf Zeppelin.
There have been suggestions since at least 1920's that airships might became like yachts, rich people's personal toys. But it hasn't really borne out and again I think it's because presently produced airships are too small. You can't make NT07 gondola very luxurious no matter what. You can make a short joyride but any longer stay is going to be just as uncomfortable as in aircraft.
It's not acquisition costs which kill you, it's the operating costs. Goodyear old styled blimps were probably cheap (relatively...), but they were expensive to operate and had short operational lifetimes. NT is rated for 25 000 hours lifetime, I don't really know how much they fly (comparisons to conventional aircraft don't apply) but I bet it's more than 10 years.

@Sean, yeah I've read that there was some interest about reviving Zeppelin business post-war and LZ-132 would have been 100 passenger Transatlantic airship based on LZ-131 (filled with helium, obviously). However big obstacle was that Zeppelin hangars were dismantled in 1940 and rebuilding them would have been expensive even before they would have got into building the actual airship. There was no existing infrastructure left.

And in truth, when it was being conceived, Boeing 707 was already coming up and it killed oceanic liners and would have killed passenger airships too. But airships might have survived in cruise roles, like ships did.
Last edited by yama on Sat Sep 03, 2016 9:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.

Sean
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby Sean » Sat Sep 03, 2016 8:50 pm

There's no doubt that airplanes are faster, cheaper, more efficient and made air travel affordable for the masses. Dr. Eckener himself admitted this after the war. Yet, if the war had not happened, the hangars would not have been demolished and neither the gigantic Zeppelins. Either way, It was inevitable that Zeppelins would lose the competition against airplanes when it comes to affordable and quick transport. But without the war, I think the Zeppelins would have transitioned to a cruise ship role, as the Zeppelin culture would've continued unbroken. All the existing infrastructure, hangars and airships would indeed have made all of this much more financially sound than what it is today.

Max Pruss said the following after ww2:

I can only say that [Hindenburg] was a real ship for passengers, and a new ship, too, and it’s very regrettable that we have no airships. On an airship you have a wonderful trip, not with an airplane about 1,200 meters high and so you can’t see anything. In an airship, we have a height from 100 to 200 meters over the ocean. You have very nice islands, you have big ships. It’s for passengers a very, very comfortable [flight] and a very nice flight. No seasickness.


Today airplanes don't fly at 1200 meters but at 12000 meters. You don't really fly to enjoy flying, rather just to get somewhere, and jet airliners are very good at that. But with airships, it should all be focused on a comfortable flight experience, or an air cruise. Of course, it would be costly.
Last edited by Sean on Sat Sep 03, 2016 9:11 pm, edited 2 times in total.

yama
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby yama » Sat Sep 03, 2016 9:06 pm

I think jet aircraft conclusively show that deep down, people don't want to travel. They just want to get from place A to place B as fast as possibly even it if was somewhat uncomfortable. If teleporting technology existed, people would use that instead. People moan after comforts of old forms of travel like in airships and passenger ships of old, but those comforts only existed to make the trip bit less boring and in reality, customers were glad to trade them for more speed.

It would have been interesting to see whether airships could have competed with large flying boats like Boeing 314. I think it would have been a wash. Faster, more economical landplanes would have eventually killed them both.

pyronaught
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby pyronaught » Sun Sep 04, 2016 6:05 am

I don't think airships will ever exist to serve the purpose of getting from point A to B, but cruise ships don't exist for that purpose either and they are very popular. On a cruise, the destination really doesn't matter much-- just some island somewhere that you briefly walk around on while getting pestered to buy junk made in China that is supposed to look like some kind of native product. The real fun is on the ship. So airships would have to mimic that model if they are to succeed at a similar thing. The problem I see with an airship version of a cruise ship is the very limited number of passengers it can carry, which will make the ticket price astronomically more expensive than it would be for a cruise ship. A modern cruise ship can divide the operating costs between over a thousand paying customers, whereas even a Hindenburg size airship is limited to around 60 or so paying customers. The ticket price to cross the ocean on the Hindenburg was about $12K per person when adjusted for inflation, which would blow way past the vacation budget for the vast majority of people. You can do 5 day cruises for a family of four for around $1200, whereas on the Hindenburg it would be $48,000! At 40 times the price of a cruise, airship cruises would only be an option for the wealthy.

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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby turtleairships » Sun Sep 04, 2016 7:18 am

@ pyronaught, et. al.

let's adjust the numbers a bit........first off, let's imagine that we need far, far less crew than on Hindenburg. even with some sort of flight attendent/stewards to care for passengers....we should be able to reduce crew size by, say, half.......so, we reduce the crew by 25, and we add that to the 60 or so you mention above.
now we're up to 85 people. good start.
now, lets imagine that modern materials allow us to build a Hindenburg...but at two thirds the weight.
so, instead of a craft weighing in at 126 tonnes......ours only weighs about 80. that (should) give us an extra 40 tons to play with.....how many extra passengers/baggage/stores/flight personnel would that allow us?.....40 tons is a lot of weight, but lets say each person and attendant weights all come out to one ton each......why, we've added 40 more to our 85!
Lessseeeee.........that gets us up to 125 people. we've doubled. good start.
recall, the most persons carried on any airship at one time....was 207, on Akron.
so....it's doable.

(Actually, Turtle Airships contends that we can double this amount...and carry up to 400....with a shorter/wider ship.........but that's another story.....)

But, we can increase speed as well ( if we choose ). Turtle does. Ideally, we'll aim at doubling earlier speeds, at least. so, call it 160 mph.
which would allow us to make twice as many trips.
twice as many passengers, times twice as many trips........makes a more compelling vision for a chance at profitable operations.

of course, there are myriads of other considerations to take in as well, some good, some bad.
But overall, yeah, we can do it!

yama
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby yama » Sun Sep 04, 2016 11:40 am

pyronaught wrote:. The problem I see with an airship version of a cruise ship is the very limited number of passengers it can carry, which will make the ticket price astronomically more expensive than it would be for a cruise ship. A modern cruise ship can divide the operating costs between over a thousand paying customers, whereas even a Hindenburg size airship is limited to around 60 or so paying customers.


I agree about problem of low passenger volume. However so much has changed that maybe Hindenburg is not a good comparison point nowadays. Transatlantic airship requires two-watch crew, which effectively doubles crew requirements right away. Same is true for ships, of course.

If we look at ships, in old liners ratio of crew to passengers was maybe 1:2. In modern cruise ships it is about 1:3. So no much improvement there, but that is obviously because a cruise ship is essentially a floating hotel where people live. I am not sure cruise airships should go for 'flying hotel' model, at least not right away.
Instead a smaller vessel of maybe 40-50 passengers designed for day cruises of 2 to 3 hours trip (5 hours at max). That would probably require crew of 5 to 6. Two pilots, 2-3 flight attendants, maybe 1 flight engineer or such. There would be no sleeping cabins, just few small alcoves for passengers who need to nap away their hangovers. A small canteen/bar, few toilets and some more modest comforts and plenty of room for passengers to walk around and mingle, which they can't do on an aircraft. Once in a destination, passengers would unload to some local hotel, shop, go to beach and continue trip next morning. It would be probably more efficient for airship to operate in some kind of 'staggered' model where the ship will pick up next group of passengers and continue to next destination. And yeah it would be more expensive than a ship vacation, but probably not millionaires only-expensive. Advertisement deals would bring on more revenue.

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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby pyronaught » Sun Sep 04, 2016 5:03 pm

I think the most viable return strategy for rigid airships is the Bill Gates scenario-- the super rich guy who wants one bad enough to fund its development. It is going to take a billionaire to do this though, mere millionaire isn't going to cut it. Most of these really rich people have the majority of their net worth tied up in stocks or other investments and can't just sell off a bunch of stock to fund something big without losing control of their companies. So it has to be someone so incredibly rich that 100 million won't put a dent in their wealth. Lucky for us, there are currently 1,826 billionaires around the globe! It is only a matter of time before one of them takes a liking to airships. Many of them already spend as much money on large yachts as they would have to for an airship, I think the only thing that keeps them from buying airships is that there are none around to buy-- or at least not any that offer a compelling sense of luxury and adventure. Being stuck in a tiny gondola isn't going to open any wallets. But it's a chicken before the egg problem: no luxury rigids exist on the market, so it is out of sight, out of mind. The mega rich like to compete with each other for who has the coolest and most luxurious stuff, which usually means large houses, yachts, cars etc. Once one of them breaks through this barrier and has a large rigid built to show the world, the others will all see it and then there is the potential at least some of them will also want one. Many billionaires already have secret projects they fund behind the scenes, like flying cars, space craft, huge underground bunkers, cryogenics-- just all kinds of crazy James Bond stuff. If I had that kind of money I'd be doing that stuff too! Now one of them just needs to get the airship bug. Someone with some good graphic design skills should throw up a fantasy website selling luxury rigids just to show what such a thing might look like, then maybe some billionaire will see it and take the bait!

Sean
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby Sean » Sun Sep 04, 2016 7:53 pm

That's definitely a possibility, I could see that happen in the future. It just takes one eccentric and fame-loving billionaire. The person who does that would quickly become one of the most famous people in the world, simply because an 800 feet airship would attract so much attention in the sky when it would fly above metropoles. There'd probably be a few other jealous billionaires who want a similar craft when they see the amount of attention and fame it gives the first one who tries. Imagine a Hindenburg class airship with the name of your company on it, that's one hell of an advertisement too. Much, much bigger and better than a Zeppelin NT. You'd have thousands and thousands of cellphone cameras pointing up when it flies over, filming it and posting it on social media. His business could quickly become one of the most recognized in the world. I do think that most billionaires are a bit wary of it, though. They tend to really, really value their lives and live in some of the most secure places on Earth, so it will be a challenge to proof to them that an airship can be safe.

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AvA
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Re: Why did so many airship projects fail?

Postby AvA » Mon Sep 05, 2016 8:35 am

Many great replies.
If helium was artificially producible in great quantities like hydrogen is, it would all have been different.
The best scenario would either be A) we have so much helium that it'd be as cheap as hydrogen or B) we have so little helium that industries would be forced to discover new ways of producing it, artificially or naturally, and we would eventually discover one way of doing so.

Sadly we are in between A and B, as a result there's not much activity or developments in this area. I am afraid that when B happens, we will be too old, or already dead.

Thus sadly the story of giant airships is reduced to ''ifs'' and ''woulds'' for now.


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