Thursday, October 9, 2008

San Francisco: lighter than air ship

One day we may see a lighter than air ship hovering over wildland fires for 24 hours at a time, providing a platform for aircraft coordination, radio repeaters, lookouts, and live video.

In the meantime, beginning in November there will be a rigid-frame Zeppelin NT filled with non-flammable helium in the San Francisco area providing scenic tours for the public, operated by Airship Ventures.

For a mere $500 an hour, you will be able to fly out of three airports in the Bay area and cruise along at 35-40 mph checking out the Golden Gate Bridge, sailboats in the bay, and the wine country. Or if you want to propose to your girlfriend in a way that provides a story to tell, rent the whole 12-passenger aircraft for about $6,000 an hour.

The Zeppelin NT has four propellers powered by three engines. Three of the props provide vectored thrust. Here is the way it is described on the company's web site:
Unique in the aviation world, two lateral vectored thrust engines provide flexible flight characteristics. Each engine can be rotated 120° and combined with variable pitch propellers, give the airship unmatched ability to stop, hover, land and climb vertically. At the tail of the ship two propellers work off of one engine with a remarkable engine transmission. Here one propeller provides lateral thrust, similar to a helicopter tail rotor and the other propeller can rotate 120° to provide added hover capabilities or when lifted, provide forward thrust, synchronized with the other two engines.
The aircraft is larger than it appears in the photos. It is 246-feet long, compared to a Boeing 747 which is 232-feet long. The Goodyear blimp comes in at 192 feet.

The numbers:
  • 35-40 mph: cruising speed
  • 78 mph: top speed
  • 560 miles: range
  • 24 hours: maximum endurance
  • 12: passengers
  • 4,299 pounds: useful load
Here is a 90-second video that shows the ship coming in for a landing. The pilot rotates the engines to produce downward thrust to hold it to the ground. Other videos show the ship "hovering" on the ground while they swap loads of passengers.


Robert said...

I'd like to know what the pilots think about trying to fly a blimp around a massive smoke plume. Seems to me like it would be far too easy to get 'sucked up' and destroyed.

Bill Gabbert said...

I don't know about getting "sucked up", but some large fires, not all, are driven by strong winds, which could be problematic for a lighter than air ship.

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