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Return of the Zeppelins 239

kfg writes: "While the world has focused its aeronautic attention on the Helios solar powered plane the Zeppelin NT has carried it's first paying passengers on a one hour "tourist" flight in Germany, the first Zeppelin to do so since the infamous Hindenburg disaster. This comes after its return from the Paris Airshow where it was an unqualified hit with attendees. I can't really tell you why but this news tickles me more than any other tech news in ages. Sometimes the oldest tech is the coolest. Oh yeah, tickets are $280 American." This is the baby brother of the Cargolifter model; CNN has a brief story.
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Return of the Zeppelins

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  • by LMariachi ( 86077 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @06:40AM (#2112245) Journal
    I swear to god, if I was one of these eccentric billionaires, I would put my fun money towards building an enormous rigid airship instead of these sissy aluminum foil looking fly-around-the-world-in-a-balloon projects. I mean, who gives a shit about recreating 18th century technology (but much more visually boring) to do some Society for Creative Anachronism mission the biggest achievement of which is using your corporate muscle to secure right-of-passage through hostile airspace because if you don't catch the autumn jetstream you're fucked? Fuck that shit. These so-called anomalistic Richard Branson types haven't got even the imagination of a marketing exec. Stop wasting your whimsical millions on boring non-telegenic bullshit. I'll show you how it's done: Biggest zeppelin ever, and not plastered with a bunch of stupid ads for stupid shit. Just a plain grey floating aerolith the size of three Nimitzes. It wouldn't appear at such predictable events such as the Super Bowl or the Great Hasidic Chinatown Traffic Jam of 2003 (which, inconvenient as it was at the time, wound up leading to major breakthroughs in game theory, chaos theory, metatheology, and Cargo-Van-Fu), but rather as a massively imposing spirit borne upon the winds of change. Once the shadow of the rigid airship was nothing more or less than an implacable signifier of Empire; soon -- very soon -- it shall transcend such primitive jingoistic motivations to become a constant reminder of how much better an inconceivably wealthy person I would be compared to all these Donald Trump dipshits we've got polluting our worthy meritocratic ideal today. Believe you me, the first ones up against the wall... no, scratch that. Don't put holes in a perfectly good wall. As a matter of fact, someone loaded that brass shell casing with skill and love and care -- it would be an insult to their craftsmanship to waste it on those shitheads. Let's just let the masses have at them with the homemade machetes that look so crude yet perform so effectively. You're next, Giuliani.
  • by YIAAL ( 129110 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @07:21AM (#2113179) Homepage
    Zeppelins have always made sense economically, and esthetically. But the fact that one is carrying passengers for the first time since FDR's first term shows the power of bad publicity. More people would have died in an airplane crash, but the powerful footage of a burning airship, together with the overwrought commentary of the on-the-scene journalist, has poisoned their rep for years.
  • by Rushuru ( 135939 )
    I attended the paris air show in June, and saw a flying demonstration of the zeppelin.

    I had read stories and saw pictures of the original zeppelins, and I was almost as excited as the rest of the /. crowd at the idea of seeing a resurrected Zeppelin. I must say that I, and a big part of the rest of the crowd, got really disappointed when we actually saw it. It's a mini zeppelin, barely 80 meters long. The Hindenburg was 250M meters long, that makes the Zeppelin NT a 1/3 replica!

    In a nutshell, it was not really exciting. It looked very much like the average airships which are used for advertising purposes at big sport events.
  • This is awsome news. Please tell me they used Helium and not Hydrogen this time though!! :-)

  • Wow dude.

    Led Zepplin is making a comeback?

    All I can say is 'Wow'. Thrazzle
  • Out of 97 on board, 64 escaped alive.
  • NT?!?! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bubblesculpter ( 234656 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:18AM (#2119278) Homepage Journal

    Sounds like trouble!!

    Zeppelin NT?

    Now we get the Blue Blimps of Death...

    it'll crash even more now....

  • Some short info (Score:4, Informative)

    by jeti ( 105266 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @09:37AM (#2120312) Homepage
    Zeppelin NT:
    The Zeppelin NT is a relatively small Zeppelin with only 12 passenger seats. What sets it apart from simple blimps is that a carbon tube over the whole length makes the hull more rigid. Together with three propellers with a swivel angel of up to 120 degrees, that makes for excellent manoeuvrability (specs [zeppelin-nt.de] ). They're close to production.

    CargoLifter 160:
    In contrast, the CargoLifter will be gigantic (specs [cargolifter.com]). It'll have a length of 260m and will be able to lift up to 160 tons of cargo. So far they've built a balloon [cargolifter.com] for testing purposes and a hangar [cargolifter.com] that is big enough to host fourteen 747s. Both the hangar and the ballon break a number of records. There are a couple of nice webcams [cargolifter.com].
  • I am living near lake constanz, on the swiss side, however, and, what's more important, I am living even closer to the regional airport. This Zeppelin issue might become important because the swiss and german governement are depating about a flight route policy in the swiss-german border region. This is because a lot of people (germans and swiss) are feeling that jets are making to much noise.
    Now, if such a zeppelin is making less noise and can be used to transport people closer to their destinations, well that might be bad news for the local airport.
  • yeah it was not the hydrogen that caused the Hindenburg crash. It was something else. But H2 is what actually burned isn't it? Isn't that what caused the airship to explode and kill almost everyone? OK it wasn't the jetfuel that caused the Concorde to crash. That's comforting.

    Blimps are such a dumbfuck idea as to be almost beyond comprehension. The weather has to be great you can't land ot take off in high wind (does anyone remember the photograph of the US Airship Los Angeles standing 700ft straight up, nose down from its mooring in a high wind?) Does anyone realized that almost every Helium US airship crashed and killed their crews? Uh, the Shenendoa, the Akron, the Macon? Almost all of the British airships like the R101 crashed and burned or just crashed?
    • And I'll happily point out that the Hindenburg was NOT a blimp.

      Since I *do* remember the chapter on airship nomenclature I will help you out:

      Airship Nomenclature


      A = Rigid

      B = Limp

      Gee, I wonder where they got the nickname "blimp" from?

      Rigid has a "rigid" structure over which the skin is placed. "limp" is a big bag of gas, which is what you are probably more familiar with anyway.

      • "limp" is a big bag of gas, which is what you are probably more familiar with anyway.

        This is slashdot, familiarity with big gasbags is a certainty - just look at Jon Katz and half the posters.

    • "Does anyone realized that almost every Helium US airship crashed and killed their crews?"

      3 experimental navy airships != 'almost every US Helium Airship'. The US Navy ran several airships quite successfully for years as a surveillance platform (until they became obsolete in the 60's), and Good Year [goodyear.com] has built and flown several hundred of them without incident for the better the last 75 years (and still operate a fleet of 3). When was the last time YOU heard of a blimp crashing?

      "Blimps are such a dumbfuck idea as to be almost beyond comprehension. The weather has to be great you can't land or take off in high wind"

      By that reasoning, aviation as a whole is a 'dumbfuck idea'.

      You can't take off or land anything in high wind. Such is the nature of flying machines. There's a reason flight operations aren't carried out in gale-force winds. Even hurricane hunters usually take off and land in good weather, and THEN go find their storms, and that in a very rugged aircraft.

      If you're going to make argumentative statements in a discussion, they should at least be intelligent.

      Oh, wait, this is slashdot.

    • Hindenburg: Out of 97 on board, 64 escaped alive.

      Concord: (moment of silence)

      US Airships: Too fucking small. Half-assed attempts invite failure.

      Take it Hugh!

  • Hmm ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Hagmonk ( 201689 ) <luke.burton@echidna@id@au> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:31AM (#2132611) Homepage
    Okay. Judging from the pictures, it doesn't look like it seats a great many people. How competitive is it going to be when placed against a 747? Obviously not with respect to speed, but it has to have at least a few advantages, otherwise people won't take to it.

    Oh yeah - NT? New Technology? I'm told that's the same expansion as the NT in Windows NT. *sniff sniff* I think I smell a lawsuit.

    "People may buy your Zeppelin NT instead of Windows NT by mistake, so we're launching this lawsuit." Don't laugh - they'll do it.

    • When you do all the math and add up the per-seat installations, Zeppelin NT almost nears the cost of Windows NT.
    • Oh yeah - NT? New Technology? I'm told that's the same expansion as the NT in Windows NT. *sniff sniff* I think I smell a lawsuit.

      Officially, NT and CE (and presumably XP) don't mean anything - they are intended to create "impressions", for instance, CE was Compact, Consumer, Ummm... some other things.

      Of course, even people *at* Microsoft will tell you what NT and CE mean, but the official line is that they mean nothing. Heh.


    • NT? New Technology? I'm told that's the same expansion as the NT in Windows NT

      NT in WinNT in fact comes from the notion in 386 processors of Nested Threads. x386 and over have an NT register.

      I think the rest came from Marketing

      uninterestingly enough the splash screen for 2k says "Based on NT Technology"

      so 2k is based on New Technology Technology

    • by booch ( 4157 )
      Yes, NT of Windows NT fame did originally stand for New Technology. Although Microsoft later dropped the expansion, so NT just meant NT at that time.

      Interestingly, Northern Telecom owned the trademark to NT, and Microsoft had to pay them to use it. Microsoft was unable to sue anyone for using "NT" in their name.
    • Totally different markets.

      The nearest market would be the helicopter market or pleasure boat market.

      Cargolifter OTOH, will compete with 747s for freight cargos.


    • it doesn't look like it seats a great many people. How competitive is it going to be when placed against a 747?

      I seriously doubt it would ever be set in competition against the international airlines, however as an alternative to things like paddle steamers, canal boats etc it may gain some market share with the more mature, middle class segment - imagine a candle lit dinner at 10,000 in a 1930's style blimp. *grin*

      Comparing a 19 seat blimp to a 747 is like comparing Windows to Unix - they have different markets, different cultures and different ways of looking at things. If they market it right they could be on to a winner, especially as they have first mover advantage and the barriers to entry are quite high (complying with FAA regulations, design, testing, maintanance etc).

      Maybe Microsoft'll buy a couple and replace the GoodYear blimp?
  • by gorilla ( 36491 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @08:40AM (#2133705)
    Actually the last passenger carrying zeppelin was the Hindenburg's sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin II, number LZ-130, which was under construction at the time of the Hindenburg accident (Hindenburg was LZ-129), and completed in 1938. They were never paying passengers, the German Air Ministry never allowed this, and with the advance of war most countries forbid the Germans permission to fly the ship over their soil. Both the Hindenburg & the Graf Zeppelin II were primarily designed for helium lifting, but as the only supplier of helium at the time was the US, and the US refused to sell helium to the Germans, hydrogen had to be used. The best theory about the fire is that it was the doping solution applied to the canvas to waterpoof, which had a very low flashpoint. The Graf Zeppelin II had a different doping solution, using bronze insteal of aluminum, and also conductive connections between the skin and the body, allowing any static charges to be equalized without sparks. The Graf Zeppelin II was scrapped in 1940, due to the war's requirement for materials, after over a million miles of flight.
  • This Zepplin NT is a toy. The Hindenburg was _800_ feet long, and was used for transatlantic passenger service with lounges and smoking rooms and berths! This thing is like 210 ft long, and carries a dozen tourists in a cramped cabin. The Goodyear blimp is 192 feet long!

    Using the Zepplin name is a marketing ploy, and apparently a good one since I'm wasting my time reading about a run-of-the-mill blimp on Slashdot.

  • The Diamond Age yet. The first thing I thought when I saw this story was: "Holy cow! Stephenson may not be too far off!"

    'Course, we don't have a Victorian renaissance in progress yet, nor do we have the Feed.

    But dangit, I want a Hoplite suit, a sword like Nell's, and a Young Gentleman's Illustrated Primer. Now that'd be cool.
  • Hydrogen is not to blame for the Hindenburg accident. It would have burned and crashed just the same if it had been filled with helium. The culprit was the highly flammable, electrically conductive aluminum-impregnanted outer skin. The fire had already consumed large portions of that outer skin by the time the inner gelatin-latex gas cells were breached. I repeat, hydrogen didn't even enter the picture until after the destruction of the vehicle was assured. Linky [iadfw.net].

    Why does it piss me off so much when the media continues to misinform the public about this point? Hydrogen is a superior lifting gas, and the airship industry will be much more economically viable when the public becomes educated enough to accept its use. If you want to see these graceful behemoths transporting stuff over your city, get the word out!

  • Helium? (Score:2, Funny)

    by swordboy ( 472941 )
    This would be worth it just for the sake of the helium. Even a small leek (or even seepage) would cause everyone to sound like the chipmunks.

    [done in best Alvin voice]: Oh the humanity!

  • It seems to me this ship should be able to carry more than 19 passengers, which would make for a far reduced price. The cabin looks awefully small.
    Really, over 200$ for a small roundtrip?

    I can fly to any destination within Europe for that (from Friedrichshafen).

    • I thought the SkyCat [globaltechnoscan.com] looked a more promising project, the proposed prices for the cargo looked good.
      Predicted transatlantic freight costs were:
      $1 a kg Skycat 40 hrs
      $3.50 /kg normal air freight
      60 cents/kg boat 10 - 25 days

    • by marcsiry ( 38594 )
      This is a small airship, obviously meant as a demonstrator. Their site says the concept can scale from here without much trouble.

      Airships wouldn't replace jet aircraft, but they could certainly supplement them as regional transportation. Despite their large size, they can land in a relatively small amount of space... the Goodyear Blimp's landing field [mapquest.com], here in Southern California, is the size of a large store parking lot. Couple that with their quieter (than a jet) operations, and you have a great short hop commuter aircraft between smaller markets (Akron to Pittsburgh, for example) or as a transfer vehicle between metropolitan airports and bedroom communities that would otherwise be a multihour bus or van trip away.
      • > transfer vehicle between metropolitan airports
        > and bedroom communities that would otherwise
        > be a multihour bus or van trip away.

        The site does not mention top speed of this
        airship, but I doubt it would be much faster
        than highway speed.

        • > The site does not mention top speed of this airship,
          >but I doubt it would be much faster than highway speed.

          As far as I remeber, that is good enough. The main purpose of these thngs would be to provide cheap heavy lifting capability in areas where there are no usable highways or waterways. Think of them as lorries that don't need roads.

          For short distance transport in well developped areas, trains make more sense, for long distances regular planes are faster.
          • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @08:35AM (#2157931)
            A helicopter will carry more than a blimp.

            Copters like the Skycrane, Chinook or the USAF/USMC H-53 can carry alot more then a blimp in worse weather conditions.


            "The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. A typical load would be a 16,000 pound (7264 kilogram) M198 howitzer or a 26,000 pound (11,804 kilogram) Light Armored Vehicle."

            "Sea Dragon is capable of carrying up to 55 troops or a 16-ton payload 50 nautical miles or a 10-ton payload 500 nautical miles."

            External cargo of up to 36,000 pounds may be transported by using either the single- or two-point suspension system.

            In the long run, I just don't see a blimp providing the cost/lift capability of a helicopter. The numbers above are for US helicopters, the price to performance ratio of Russian helicopters is even greater. Another problem with the blimp is weather. You start to get cross-winds you lose alot of control in a blimp compared to a helo.

            • I'm not arguing, because I simply don't know, but it occurs to me that the cost issue isn't addressed in that link, except for the $25 million for the helo itself (and that's a production unit). If hourly or mileage costs were mentioned in that page, then I missed them.

              Generally speaking, helicopters are expensive to operate, which is why you don't see a lot of Delta Airlines helicopters -- commercial carriers will used fixed-wing whenever they can, and resort to helicopters when they have to (obviously if you need to put it down in a parking lot, a 747 won't do). Are there any estimates floating around for Cargolifter costs?

            • Existing blimps are *tiny* advertising platforms or small passenger carriers.


              Need I say more?

              • Yep. Exisiting blimps.

                When I see a Cargolifter actually lift something, I'll change my tune.

                However, people have been talking about Blimps and Zeppelins being the airplane/autogyro/helicopter killer since the 1920s...and it's not happened yet.

                So...but like the new Amiga...the Cargolifter is just vapor at this point.
            • You haven't really discussed price, though - if it takes those helicopters a huge amount of fuel to stay in the air and move from place to place, but the zeppelin stays in the air indefinitely with no fuel, then the price/performance ratio may actually be in favor of the zeppelin. Sure, a helicopter may move faster, but I imagine you can scale up a zeppelin farther than a helicopter, which would make the overall carrying capacity of a zeppelin greater.

              We'll see if the cargolifter can make a go of it - the marketplace can decide whether zeppelins are worth it or not.

              • Well, the Zeppelin will need fuel as well. It may float on it's own, but going from point A to B takes fuel.

                Helium isn't free either. Although the US Navy used to have VAST amounts of it in a National Helium Reserve.
            • WyattEarp wrote:

              A helicopter will carry more than a blimp [...]
              "The helicopter is capable of lifting 16 tons (14.5 metric tons) at sea level, transporting the load 50 nautical miles (57.5 miles) and returning. [...]"

              Going by what Cargolifter [cargolifter.com] plans, they'll be able to transport 160 (metric) tons filling up a volume up to 8 x 8 x 50 meter over distances up to 10000 km. (cf. Datasheet for CL 160 [cargolifter.com]). This is about 10 times what helicopters can carry for about 100 times the distance.

              As they plan to cover those distances at 90 km/h - which is about what lorries can easily reach on highways - I assume that it will be usable in moderate to bad weather too.
              • Going by Intel's plans the Itanium should have been out for 18 months and be at 2 GHz right now. Going by Motorola's plans I should have a 1.5 GHz G4 right now.

                However, the Cargolifter is just undergoing gas bag checks according to thier website, so I'll call it vapor at this point.

                I'll assume that the Cargolifter will be worthless in crosswinds/bad weather due to the large crossection it will present.
        • The site does not mention top speed of this airship, but I doubt it would be much faster than highway speed.

          Highway speed in LA is about 20 mph average. Zeps are very quiet VTOL aircraft, basically. Needing only a ground crew of three, and being quite cheap to take off and land, they could be practical for short-hop trips into places that would not permit or could not justify a full-blown airport.

          Most cities have strict limits on the number of medivac helicopter flights that can be performed, because the residents balk at helicopters flying over all day and night. A quiet 60-70 mph airship beats hell out of an ambulance ride in from the boonies, and is politically feasible where a medivac service might not be.
      • I personally think they'd fill a neat little niche for luxury air travel - your own rooms, maybe even a buffet/dining area and kitchen....how about a lounge with a piano tinkling away in the background. I think I'd love it to be honest.....I mean, when you think of going for an ocean voyage, you don't strap on 1000s of Hp of engines to the back of a speedboat and mashing your way across the atlantic at hundreds of knots, instead you take a luxurious, leisurely cruise across. We might even see planes becoming things of the past - only to be used by businessmen and people in a rush whilst airships start to take the great unwashed masses at greatly reduced cost... just a thought. -Nano.
    • by fyonn ( 115426 )
      it's funny, but owning a zeppelin is one of my life goals. always has been since I saw the hindenberg. I saw zeppelin's website over a year ago, and at one point I even emailed them and asked how much. the reply was about 4.5 million pounds.

      I'll get there eventually...

      it is expensive because it's a low demand item. lets face it, the hindenburg put a lot of people off even though we now know what the cause was. actually a fair amount of evidence points to the fact that zeppelin knew what the cause was bare weeks after the crash but kept it a secret.

      I mean 19 people at $200 dollars each, they'll need to sell a lot of tickets to recoup the price, let alone the maintenance.

      that aside modern planes are a lot bigger and more reliable now than they were back in the 40's. now there is very little market for them except in specialised circumstances. heavy lifting of bulky items, high luxery etc.

      I mean while they are faster than you'd think (80mph) they aren't nearly as fast as planes, they aren't as tolerant of bad weather, they are huge, hard to park and only take a relatively small number of people for their size. they are high maintenance, helium is very expensive, and the US has a monopoly on it. hydrogen is just as good but people are too scared of it.

      while i still really want one, I doubt it will ever become a common sight.

      • by Delphis ( 11548 )
        the hindenburg put a lot of people off even though we now know what the cause was.

        I hope people DO realize that it was the aluminium oxide skin of the craft that ACTUALLY caught on fire first. This skin was arranged in panels. Also, the fact that these panels were attached together with 'string'. During the voyage to New York, the airship picked up a lot of static charge caused by moving through the rain and wind. Some panels were electrically connected by the (now wet ) string, some weren't because the string hadn't got wet enough.

        So, when it reached its landing point, a mooring rope was dropped. That EARTHED the airship, and most of the charged 'panels' discharged. Some didn't, and of course then there was a potential difference, causing a spark. Now, aluminium oxide is used as fuel for rockets now, but it wasn't then and people didn't know how combustible it was. This spark happened towards the back end of the airship near the tail, where the rain hadn't soaked the string to make it conductive (and thereby lose its charge). This fire from the skin panel spread quickly, and of course the hydrogen didn't help but when you look at the footage of the hindenburg burning up, look at the SKIN of it and how quickly it burned. The hydrogen just dissipated UP when it burnt off.

        Btw, I saw a tv program that revealed all of this a while ago, so I'm not pulling it out of my ass :D
        • You mean aluminum, and not aluminum oxide. Aluminum oxide (also called alumina) is the product that you get from burning aluminum.

          4 Al + 3 O2 -> 2 Al2O3 (+ heat)

          Leave a cheap aluminum pan on the stove for too long, or heat up some aluminum foil, and it can burn, even though it's a metal.

  • Some time ago I heard about a company, who would attempt to provide unmanned zeppelins as low-cost satellites. A zeppelin could be stationed above a city at very high altitude, where it would be powered by solar energy. From here it would be able to act as a perfect relay station for mobile phones or other types of radio networks. This is a part of the same concept the Helios airplane is trying to achieve.

    The idea is really good for several reasons. Especially the low prices would make it useful and making it more easy to deploy. At the same time the altitude would be less that a satellite, making the radio transmitters being able to reach it at a much lower power. But also the advantages that it could be landed for maintenance, upgrades etc. would make it compatible to a satellite. And pollution would be less than a rocket...

    The list goes on and on.

    In my opinion this type of use is much more interesting that being able to provide tourist tours (not that I think tours are a bad idea).
  • After seeing all those aeroplane disaster movies (especially Final Destination and Cast Away) and having my fear of flying go from nothing to almost irrational, this is very appealing. But that cabin's teeny - this isn't exactly suited to economy passengers. Anyone got any ideas what the chances of me getting around in one of these without going broke are? How long till they become common enough for regular commercial flights?

    BTW, I still use aeroplanes, but only out of convenience (if I could afford to go by boat [hah! Like I'll ever afford that!] I would).

    • You do realize that far more people die from boating accidents than aircraft accidents, right? Never mind cars..

      Then again, I guess if you take your safety tips from the movies, you probably already have an irrational fear of visiting Japan, DC, Los Angeles, New York, (insert Hollywood-destroyed city here) :)

    • I think we'll see zeppelins come back as commercial transport about the same time the telegraph becomes the primary means of long distance communication again. All the speed of a bus without the false sense of security versus flying. Combine that with the sheer size necessary to float any passenger cabin, let alone one supporting coach class, and you have something destined to be no more than a novelty.
      • Actually, back in the day the Zeplins got up to about 130 MPH. When was the last time you saw a bus doing 130? (Speed doesnt count) At 130 Mph, zepplins would be faster than everything except airplanes, at least in the US. And flying, no even if it were at bus speed, beats driving any day.
        • I stand corrected. I had no idea they were as fast as they are. A google search [google.com] says they're faster than I thought, but perhaps not as fast as you think either. Looks like they top out at around 90 MPH, which is still 50% faster than I'd have thought one of those behemoths could get up to.
        • From here to NYC is about 400 mi. If I leave my house at 6:30 AM, drive to the airport, board a 737, fly to LGA, take a taxi to Midtown, I *might* get there by noon. That's an average of about 60-70 mph, so if the logistics could be handled well, there is plenty of opportunity for airships to be competitive with jets.

          It just boils down to operating costs.
        • Europe and Japan has trains which go that fast. The Bullet trains cruise at 200 kph, about 125 MPH, the french TGV at about 300 kph, and they are working on the next generation, planned for 360 kph. The world record is 515.3 kph, set in 1990 outside of Paris.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:45AM (#2157859)
    For those who didn't know, it was apparently caused by the coating they used on the fabric. Turns out the reflective coating was *very* similiar to thermite. Static build up + thermite = nasty accident

    Personally I'm glad to see the zepplin fly again. Especially given my affinity for steampunk.

    • Yes. The idea was to make the fabric of the covering waterproof. To do so they mixed aluminum powder with oil and saturated the fabric with it.

      This is why the Hindenburg looked shiny and metallic even though it was just fabric. You can see the same effect on many airplanes of the day. The Spirit of Saint Louis comes immediately to mind.

      This is basically thermite, and according to modern tests gave the fabric a lower flashpoint than the hydrogen gas it contained.

      This is not to say that the disaster wouldn't have happened otherwise but it may well actually be the point of ignition that started the whole thing off.

      • Thermite also needs iron oxide. There wasn't any of that there. The reaction betwen aluminum and iron oxide yields aluminum oxide and molton iron, plus a large amount of excess heat.

        The energy needed to start the reaction (which is self sustaining after ignition) is supplied by a magnesium fuse usually.

    • Here is a link to a RealVideo entitled CORRECTING HISTORY: Hydrogen and the Hindenburg [ttcorp.com], including explanation by Addison Bain, retired NASA scientist.
    • Wouldn't the hydrogen have made at least some contribution, what with it being flammable and all? And if helium had been used, would it have had any fire-fighting effect (i.e. like CO2 or halon), or would it's lack of density have just meant it all rose straight up when the ship caught fire w/o any real effect?

      Still, your point is very interesting - I'll be sure to mention it at some point in the future.

      • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @09:40AM (#2132615)
        In the case of the Hindenberg, not that much.

        You are forgetting the fatal flaw of the Hindenberg: the canvas outer covering used a doping compound of aluminum powder and nitrocellulose. Given that these are two prime ingredients for modern solid rocket fuel, even if the Hindenberg had been filled with helium the airship was essentially a flying bomb waiting to happen.
      • by Anonymous Coward
        It would have some effect. However, as the skin burned away opening holes in the gasbags, most of the H2 would just rise up into the atmosphere. Imagine a large column of H2 rising upwards. There's no O2 in the center so how would it get the oxygen to burn? Only the H2 around the outside would burn. By then the inner H2 would have risen far away from the fire.
    • To be more specific, the doping material on the canvas covering used on the pre-World War II Zeppelins as a way to reflect heat and keep out moisture was a combination of aluminum powder and nitrocellulose.

      It was a NASA engineer (who knew that aluminum powder and nitrocellulose are propellents in solid rocket motors) that discovered this fact from looking at a piece of the Hindenberg's canvas covering that managed to survive the crash. He noticed that the stuff burned exactly like solid rocket fuel, and using modern material analysis deduced the doping compounds I mentioned above. In short, the Hindenberg was a flying bomb waiting to happen.

      It should be noted that the Zeppelin company did its own internal report (completely in 1938) that noted the doping compound's penchant to burn quickly, but the Nazi government quickly supressed the findings.
  • by mactom ( 515670 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @09:49AM (#2157875)
    Hi altogether,

    There were technical questions about this wonderful flying machine Zeppelin NT. I will try to remember what I know from the news and the currently defunct webpage.

    1. Anchoring and pick up passengers?
    It operates ca. 800kg heavier than air. It can land like an aircraft and does not float away while boarding/unboarding. It has an anchoring mast, but needs only three groundpersonell for anchoring compared to roughly 20 for a standard blimp. It can do groundoperations up to 20kts wind as far as I remember, whithout ground personal at all.

    2. Maneuvering?
    Three Engines, two at the sides with the ability to turn the props for reverse thrust, direct lift and even downforce, one in the rear, giving forward or upward thrust and driving an additional fan for movement around vertical axis(turning). All is completely fly by wire (hopefully NOT NT controlled ...). It maneuvers nearly like a helicopter and can turn and climb or descent on the spot.

    3. Only 19 passengers?
    There are plans to build a larger one for 40 passengers. Buy it and convert it to your own flying luxury yacht. Also, I think there are different (easier) certification rules for aircraft up to 19 passengers (commuter category)then for aircraft with more passengers.

    4. Solar / electrical powered aircraft and airships
    Take a look at the following link:
    http://www.isd.uni-stuttgart.de/arbeitsgruppen/air ship/
    for a solar powered airship called "Lotte". It looks really cool. I work only some hundred meters away from their place and can see it flying sometimes.
    Also look at
    for the first commercial electrical powered motorglider to be certified (hopefully) next year. The engine-unit is already flying in a modified glider.

    So, Zeppelin NT? The sight of any flying airship, might it be a blimp or a Zeppelin, is just cool. Especially with a huge outboard color display on the ballonett for delivering messages and fun stuff in the dark. No noise, only a little humming overhead and a large ship passing gently.
    Even cooler is, to hitch a ride. Last year a friend of mine won one in another airship, and I had the pleasure to accompanny her. Two hours over Munich in Summer, with the windows down, like in a car, gently floating in the thermals at 50 kph close over the city. Just incomparable to any other flying experience I had before. A Ship, not a plane!

    Justdreaminggoneflyingregards ...
  • My version of this story was reject 4 days ago!

    At any rate, a few months ago there was something on the Discovery Channel (or some such channel) about the Hindenberg disaster. One guy claimed that the main culprit wasn't the hydrogen in the gas bags, but the material they used to paint/seal the outside (claiming it was the same stuff we use in solid rocket boosters today). Whether this is true or not, the guy did have a point: Hydrogen burns clear, and the exploding zeppelin was anything but.

  • by Catmeat ( 20653 ) <mtm&sys,uea,ac,uk> on Thursday August 16, 2001 @08:22AM (#2158107)
    People assume the Hindenberg caused airships to be abandoned. But even if the accident had never occurred and WW2 had never happened, airships would have definately died out in the 40's. The reason? Well the Hindenberg had 61 crew and could carry a maximum of 72 passangers. With that kind of ratio between people paying you fares and people you have to pay wages to, making it pay was always going to be tricky. Plus airships where hugely expensive to build. For example, the gas bags where made of a stuff called goldbeaters skin which is part of a cow intestine. You get roughly 1 sq.ft. from each cow so you can imagine how much it would cost to glue together several million of those with hopefuly leakproof seams.

    By the late 30's, flying boats where already carrying passangers across the Atlantic. When land planes that could fly this far came along, airships would have had it. An 40's aircraft would have carried about the same number of passangers. Be twice as fast, only needed about 5 crew and would have cost about an order of magnitude less to build. You just can't argue with that.

  • Solar (Score:4, Funny)

    by earthman ( 12244 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:40AM (#2158209)
    They should give the thing electric engines. They should cover the top half with solar cells, add something to store the engergy in (the fuel cells they are going to put on helios), and a small diesel generator in case all of that is not enough. Then it would be much more NT than it is now.
    • The airship market was utterly devastated by the Hindenberg tragedy. For 70 years, nobody's beeen able to think of an airship without thinking of the film footage of the ship burning and falling out of the sky.

      It has literally taken *70 years* to even begin to recover and we are even now, no where near the level of sophistication that the ships were in those days.

      However, if you're interested, there's CargoLifter and Advanced Technologies who're pushing now:


      and of course Zeppelin:


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:41AM (#2158210)
    Zeppelin 3.1: The first really popular Zeppelin. Brought Zeppelin technology to the masses. However, they would explode spectactulary several times a day, incinerating all passengers. Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin for Workgroups: Allowed rudimentary communications with other Zeppelins in the area, so their pilots could call and say "Oh my God!! I'm being burned alive!!!" Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin 95:Much hyped successor to Zeppelin 3.x series. New 'easy to use' control panel resulted in many Zeppelin 95s floating out of control, as their pilot's didn't think to look under 'Start' to shutdown. Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin NT 3.51:Industrial strength Zeppelin, filled with new and improved 'Helium' gas, which is designed to not incinerate its passengers twice a day. However, customers are deterred by the 'retro-styled' control panel, and sluggish handling with gondolas of the day. Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin 98:Same as Zeppelin 95, but with only one choice of inflight movie channel, and the video screen is stapled to the passenger's faces so they can't look at any other inflight movies even if they want to. Still explodes regularly. Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin NT 4.0Addresses speed concerns of Zeppelin NT 3.51 by integrated the gondola control panel into the actual airframe itself. Occasional H2 impurities in the airframe result in spectacular incineration when the gondola control panel sometimes short circuits. Manufacturer claims "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin ME: No-one cared about this one. Manufacturer didn't bother wasting time claiming "Safest Zeppelin yet!!"

    Zeppelin 2000:Not too bad an airship...however, none of the seats or fittings from any of the previous Zeppelins can actually be installed without tweaking. Some pieces of equipment don't fit at all

    Zeppelin XP:If you get out of your seat, you have to buy another ticket. If you cross your legs, you have to buy another ticket. If you get out the in-flight magazine, you have to buy another ticket. Continually radios back to Zeppelin headquarters about what you have in your suitcase. However, the gondola decor is really nice looking, and only a few beta testers have been incinerated alive so far.
    • Where's Zeppelin IV: Their best album with Black Dog and Stairway To Heaven. Also comes with a Red Snapper for the groupies.
    • I saw a documentary the other day about the design and construction of the Empire State Building. Apparently it was supposed to be just 86 storeys, but in order to be taller than the Chrysler building they added a mooring mast for 'lighter-than-air-ships' to the top...

      they even showed artists impressions from the time...

      unfortunately the plan was abandoned as people were unwilling to walk the floating gangway from the gondola to the top of the Empire State Building ;-)
      • The plan was also abandoned due to the updrafts that surround the building. I think they either tried to, or maybe successfully did, moor a craft to the top. However, it was almost impossible to control it when they were near the building.

    • Actually normally i dont get off on the anti MS jokes in every post - but this one is funny - well worth the rating.
  • by G-funk ( 22712 )
    The soon to be release Microsoft Zepplin XP goes faster, the seats are better, but at 30,000ft you've gotta call Microsoft or it deflates and you crash to your horrible death.

    Apple Zepplin X looks the best of them all, but the steering controls are weird, and there's no tvs in first class.

    Zepplux, the grass roots version, goes faster, stays up in stronger winds, but you've gotta sit on milk crates the floor :-)
  • Wired Article (Score:4, Informative)

    by it's a culture thing ( 472974 ) on Thursday August 16, 2001 @05:36AM (#2158341)
    There was an article [wired.com] in Wired [wired.com] magazine the other year about this. It seems the US government controls about 80% of the worlds reserves of helium, which is of course nonflammable but due to the tensions of the 1930's refused to export to Germany leading to the use of hydrogen instead.

    Of course the interesting point is the supposedly hugh amounts of helium on the Moon, any excuse for a trip I guess!

    On another note: I'm currently waiting for a delivery of a new Server system - which is stuck in a traffic jam, if only these blimps were available now we could have real blue sky computing 8)
    • They should use hydrogen. It's cheaper, safe (contrary to popular belief) and gives far better performance.

      The Hindenburg exploded not because it had hydrogen in it, but due to a big screwup in the doping of the skin (aluminium powder == rocket fuel; add iron oxide == thermite; add combustible hydrocarbons for added excitement!)
      • Re:Wired Article (Score:3, Informative)

        by GregWebb ( 26123 )
        Also add improper electrical insulation. The skin charging up isn't necessarily a problem, so long as it discharges evenly. It discharged when the mooring rope hit the ground, BUT some panels didn't because they weren't properly grounded to the airframe. You then have a potential difference between panels covered in pretty much rocket fuel and lots of fire.

        Whoops. Whoops almighty.
    • US government controls about 80% of the worlds reserves of helium, which is of course nonflammable but due to the tensions of the 1930's refused to export to Germany leading to the use of hydrogen instead.

      There's a classic alternate history short story by Fritz Lieber called Catch that Zeppelin! based on just that fact.

Matter cannot be created or destroyed, nor can it be returned without a receipt.