Airship Dreams, Part 1

"QUANTUM SHOT" #382(rev)
Link - article by Avi Abrams

Glorious Retro Airships and New Extreme Dirigibles for the Modern Age

"Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon...
We could float among the stars together, you and I...
The world's a nicer place in my beautiful balloon...
We can sing a song and sail along the silver sky... For we can fly!"

("Up, Up and Away" by the Fifth Dimension)

(Lockheed Martin's HALE-D airship in a hanger, image and more info via)

"There were giants in the air..."

Leviathan-like airships (especially the gargantuan, biggest ones) have always held human imagination in thrall, and have been inspiring myriads of engineers to come up with something feasible and lovely to behold, to gracefully soar to the skies, haul lots of cargo and cover large distances. Even the process of construction of such huge airships is beautiful to observe, a process sophisticated and intricate enough to warrant attention today and dream about building even larger "Kings of the Air":

(interiors of airships during construction, images courtesy Brian Lockett, Air-and-Space.com)

See people working on top of the giant fire ladders used in construction of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin:

(image via)

Looking along the axial gangway from the nose of LZ-126 under construction:

(interiors of airships during construction, images courtesy Brian Lockett, Air-and-Space.com)

Now largely extinct, the ponderous "islands in the sky" (how "airships" were sometimes called in popular magazines) were all the rage during the dawn years of aviation, firing up the public imagination and getting lots of financing from the politicians of the time. To properly appreciate the grand scale of these beasts, compare their size with puny humans: here is the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin, for example -

"The Hindenburg trundles into the U.S. Navy hangar, its nose hooked to the mobile mooring tower, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 9, 1936" -

(image credit: AP Photo, via)

Compare the size of these airships with hangars needed to accommodate them, or with (puny by comparison) mooring towers:

(images via 1, 2, Newport Historical Society)

Entirely in line with the general luxury trend of the Era of the "Titanic", the Graf Zeppelin's interiors were as glamorous as inside any prestigious hotel:

(images credit: Airships)

In the early 1930s airships "Graf Zeppelin" and "Hindenburg" flew regularly on transatlantic routes between Germany and America. As was so skillfully shown in the movie "Sky Captain", these airships were designed to moor at the most prominent skyscrapers:

(screenshot from the movie "Sky Captain & The World of Tomorrow")

The observation tower at the top of the Empire State Building was originally intended to be a dock for mooring airships (read more about "how the engineers crowned world's tallest building"):

(image credit: nytstore)

Airships were mooring to the skyscraper dock even while the Empire State Building was under construction! Here is the rare archive photo to prove it:

(image viaAirships)

This idea has made its way into some futuristic illustrations:

(left image credit: Arthur Radebaugh; right image: original unknown)

Airship Skyport from the November, 1939 issue of Popular Science, required a much bigger skyscraper to be built than the puny Empire State Building, shown for size comparison in the right corner of this fabulous image:

(image via)

Or check out this gargantuan idea: the Airport Docks, envisioned by architect Harry B. Brainerd in 1931; note the Zeppelin in the middle dock:

(image credit: via)

For more info, see the "Zeppelins Through the Ages" catalog here - a wonderful site, full of info and trivia, collected by Daniel J. Grossman.

There is something about "Zeppelins over Manhattan" images...

As a symbol of the bygone era, these image hold a certain mystique: the airborne giants made a perfect picture floating over Manhattan as a counterpoint to all these skyscrapers, and many photographers recognized it:

(image credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph)

USS Macon over New York, in 1931:

(image credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph)

USS Los Angeles in 1932:

(image credit: U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph)

To browse through "scale progression" of airships (many of them hypothetical), head over to this site. It clearly illustrated how "bigger is better" applied to airship really made sense to designers (note little airplanes underneath them):

(bottom image: war-time blimps wait in the hangar; images via)

US Navy actually built two zeppelin aircraft carriers: USS Macon (info) and USS Akron ZRS-4. You can see them on the archival photos shown below: these tiny dots at the bottom are people! -

"Akron" could carry four airplanes, "Macon" could carry five, and the further models were designed to carry up to 22 airplanes!... All of this found its culmination, perhaps, in this idea: "The Aerial Landing Field" from Modern Mechanix, October 1934:

(image via)

Also check out this screwy-looking dirigible from Modern Mechanix (August, 1930): revolving spiral vanes propel it through the air, while the ENTIRE gas shell revolves around the stationery aluminum framework! -

(image via)

The Zeppelin Dream Persists!

Futuristic air wars gain a whole new dimension if fought with giant airships and weapon-outfitted Zeppelins. Seen in many pulp stories during the Golden Age of Science Fiction in the 1930s, the idea (and the accompanying spectacular vision) persisted into the 1970s - for example, in Michael Moorcock's novel "The Warlord of the Air", where the Edwardian technology takes to the air in a sort of precursor to the steampunk genre (see left image below):

Right image above shows exciting graphics for the movie "Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls" (more info).

Here are some other futuristic visions: Frank Tinsley drew this image for the 1957 book "Airships in the Atomic Age", including the interior for the Atomic Airship:

(image credit: Marc Brown)

Communists also liked to dream large-scale: this is the Russian Nuclear Airship, complete with a helicopter pad and a small exploration bi-plane:

(images source: "Tekhnika Molodezhi" magazine, Russia, 1971)

Grand Missionary Effort

The idea of a giant ship that can carry "bridges, buildings, fleet of trucks; that eliminates the need for roads, railroads and harbors" was kept alive all through the 1930s and beyond: this book documents a history of the project, dubbed "The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed". Financed by private individuals (most of them presbyterian missionaries), after 12 years and half a million dollars, the Aereon Corporation had a static ship model and plenty of wrecked ones (read more here)

The Aereon 26 strange-looking plane actually took to the sky in 1971:

The company's research, however, opened many paths toward creating stealth airships for the military (some weirdly giving rise to more UFO mythos and spotting):

Inspired by Nature: "Festo Air-Ray"

The Air_Ray flying structure mimics the movements of a manta-ray, complete with a "beating wing drive"! It also reminds us of the war-bird machines in the "Sky Captain: World of Tomorrow" movie. This airship seems to be the ultimate expression of bionics: uniting natural fluidity of movement and effortless dynamics with practical (even if still in a concept stage) application.

(images via)

The undulating movements of this bionic marvel are quite hypnotizing (watch the flight simulation video here). By adjusting the angle of wings the craft can fly forward, backwards and change direction fluidly and naturally.

(images via)

The Millennium Ship

The Millennium Airship company has come up with the revolutionary SkyFreighter, designed to lift super heavy cargoes and transport any large equipment in one piece, without the need for re-assembly. It can haul five-hundred-plus tons and can cruise at speeds averaging 100 mph (for a distance of 6000 miles if necessary, with no refueling):

(images credit: Millennium Airship)

Although we did not hear about any progress from the original concept drawings, Popular Science magazine a few years back featured the Moby Air: the Flying Luxury Hotel. This wonderful vessel by Worldwide Aeros Corporation is appropriately huge, boasts some pretty good specs, and can carry 288 passengers in ultimate luxury to the cruising altitude of 8000 ft -

(image via)

In conclusion, we have to say that if the longevity of airship concept is any indication (just witness how persistent inventors and engineers are to get this method of transportation off the ground and into everyday use), we are going to see some embodiment of this dream in development continuously: there will be new approaches and improvements on the idea at any point in time. After all huge cargo skyships make good economical sense (all safety factors notwithstanding), and so we will live to see the day when airships flying over the Golden Bridge in San Francisco, for example, will become commonplace.

Article by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.



And check out our popular "AMAZNG AIRPLANES" series! ->


Visual Caffeine #8
Visual Caffeine, Issue 8

A thrilling blend of art, myths and technology

Visual Caffeine #7
Visual Caffeine, Issue 7

A thrilling blend of art, myths and technology

Art Deco
Imperial Dreams: Art Deco Update

Wings, Gears, & Glamorous Ladies

1970s SciFi
DRB Pics-of-the-Day

Grand Space Adventure 1970s Art

"Dark Roasted Blend" - All Kinds of Weird and Wonderful Things, Discovered Daily!"

DRB is a top-ranked and respected source for the best in art, travel and fascinating technology, with a highly eclectic presentation. Our in-depth articles in many categories make DRB a valued online magazine, bringing you quality info and entertainment every time you visit the site - About DRB

Connect with us and become part of DRB on Facebook and Twitter.



Anonymous Enzo said...

Amazing what they were able to build even back then!

Anonymous Drew said...

Want this to happen so bad...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Huge cargo airships make good economical sense"

They've got tiny weight capacities and slow speeds. 288 tons is just 9 fully loaded shipping containers. You'd have to float them five deep off the quayside in Felixstowe or Rotterdam. They only go at the speed of a lorry, nowhere near as fast an an aeroplane and only around twice the speed of the fastest cargo ships.

Unless someone can build them really cheaply (a couple of million quid each) then there's not much economic value in them generally. Unfortunately many of the things that would bring the price down would also do so for aeroplanes.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Don't miss: The Ultimate Guide to NEW SF&F Writers!
Fiction Reviews: Classic Cyberpunk: Extreme Fiction
Short Fiction Reviews: Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" (with pics)
New Fiction Reviews: The Surreal Office


Abandoned, Dieselpunk
DRB Pic-of-the-Day

Abandoned: Streamlined Three-wheeler

Visual Caffeine #6
Visual Caffeine, Issue 6

A thrilling blend of art, myths and technology

Visual Caffeine #5
Visual Caffeine, Issue 5

A thrilling blend of art, myths and technology

Hellish Weather on Other Planets

Wild, Untamed, and Uncut

Medieval Suits of Armor

Metal Body Suits vs. Weapons of Medieval Destruction

World's Strangest Theme Parks

Amusement to the (twisted) extremes!

Enchanting Victorian Fairy Tale Art

"Then world behind and home ahead..."

Adorable Pedal Cars

Collectable Pedal Vehicles Showcase

Japanese Arcades: Gundam Pods & Other Guilty Pleasures

These machines have gone up to the next level

Modernist Tallinn Architecture

Delicious blend of old and new!

Early Supercomputers: A Visual Overview

"Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons"

Futuristic Concept Cars of the 1970-80s

French, Italian & Japanese rare beauties

Epic 1970s French Space Comic Art

DRB Time-Slice: Valérian and Laureline

The Trees Are Escaping! The Abandoned Prison in French Guiana

"Great Escape" from the Devil's Island

(with previews, fast loading):


Link Lattes

Feel-Good & Biscotti Issues

Feel-Good! | airplanes | animals | architecture | art | auto | boats | books | cool ads | famous | futurism | food
gadgets | health | japan | internet | link latte | military | music | nature | photo | russia | steampunk
sci-fi & fantasy | signs | space | technology | trains | travel | vintage | weird | abandoned