Popular in Victorian and Steampunk fantasies, airships and zeppelins
evoke a certain elegance that most modern travelers don’t associate
with the airplane. Some companies are capitalizing on that idea, and a
need to move cargo by air in an era of ever-increasing fuel costs, to
re-re-introduce commercial zeppelins. Popular Mechanics notes four notable airship designs,
all with specific design purposes. One craft in particular, the
Aeroscraft ML866, is being funded by the US government’s DARPA group.
It looks to combine the best elements of the helicopter and the zeppelin.

Aeros’s new ballast-free airship design may soon be tested for the Pentagon in a demonstration craft.

Always on the verge
of a seeming comeback, airships are back in the spotlight, touting new
technologies. The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency recently
announced funding for an innovative, ballast-free airship technology
created by Aeros Aero­nautical Systems, based outside Los Angeles. The
Aeroscraft ML866’s potentially revolutionary Control of Static
Heaviness system compresses and decompresses helium in the 210-ft.-long
envelope, changing this proposed sky yacht’s buoyancy during takeoff
and landings, Aeros says. It hopes to end the program with a test
flight demonstrating the system. Other companies are planning their own
first flights within the next few years. Each has a design that it
promises will launch a new era of lighter-than-air transportation.



To blanket hundreds of miles with
high-resolution radar, the 450-ft.-long, unmanned High Altitude Airship
will use old-fashioned lifting gas to ascend. A top-mounted solar array
may enable this massive radar platform to stay aloft for up to a month.

Designer: Lockheed Martin

Operational Alt.: Up to 60,000 ft.

Speed: 28 mph (cruising)

Progress: The airship’s radar system is still being
developed, but Lockheed is scheduled to fly a full-size prototype of
the ship by the end of 2009. The Missile Defense Agency is a potential



This unmanned, 62-ft.-dia.
diesel/electric hybrid broke the world airship altitude record in 2003,
reaching 20,000 ft. Designed for scouting and surveillance, the SA-60
can fly autonomously. Its round design gives it more low-speed

Designer: Techsphere Systems International

Operational Alt.: Up to 10,000 ft.

Speed: 35 mph (cruising)

Progress: With no major deals announced, Techsphere is
putting its best blimp forward, with a higher-altitude followup to the
SA-60—the SA-68—scheduled to fly this year.



The cargo-hauling SkyCat-20 features
retractable hover-cushion engines that allow for vertical takeoffs and
landings and can also be reversed, eliminating the need for a ground
crew or handling equipment. Variants could include firefighting blimps.

Designer: World Skycat

Operational Alt.: Up to 10,000 ft.

Speed: 97 mph (maximum)

Progress: World SkyCat originally planned a first
flight for 2002. The updated schedule calls for a SkyCat-20 world tour
by the end of this year, and production models in early 2009.

Via Popular Mechanics