Massive blimp airships could soon take to the skies again, reports the Wall Street Journal. However, these blimps are a long way from the Hindenburg, which famously caught fire in 1937. Today’s airships are designed are hybrids, that rely on both their internal gas and their aerodynamic design to get off the ground.
Currently new hybrid blimps are being designed by multiple companies including aeronautics giant Lockheed Martin. Their blimps are 280 feet long and can carry as much as 47,000 pounds of cargo. Though they fly at slow speeds for an aircraft—about 90 miles per hour tops—the ships have the advantage of remaining in the air for long periods of time. This makes them ideal vessels for transportation of cargo and also as surveyor ships for industries such as oil and gas.
Yet industry isn’t the only market for these modern-day blimps. Stephen McGlennan, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicle, one hybrid blimp company, says the aircraft could find a niche in the tourism industry. "Tourism and leisure is pushing itself to the front," he told the Journal, noting that his company’s Airlander 10 blimp could be fitted with a gondola to carry as many as 48 passengers.
Besides oil and tourism, the Journal says that other possible uses for the 21st-century blimps could include military, surveillance, transportation of cargo, and telecommunications, where the blimps could be utilized to deliver ad hoc wireless Internet to disaster areas—kind of like Project Loon does.
As for those worried about a Hindenburg-type disaster, these modern blimps aren’t only different in design. The Hindenburg caught fire so easily because it used hydrogen gas. The new blimps use helium.