By Miquel Ros
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The aerospace industry is currently living through an era of innovation, unlike anything it has seen in recent years. From drones and air taxis to sea gliders and new clean propulsion technologies, it seems that the floodgates of creativity are wide open following decades of slow but steady incremental advances. Even airships may be about to stage a comeback.
This passion for innovation is encouraging entrepreneurs from across the globe to propose ever more outlandish concepts — one of which is the eye-catching Air Yacht, a hybrid vehicle that looks like a crossover between an airship and a catamaran.
This futuristic aircraft is the work of Italian designer Pierpaolo Lazzarini, founder of Rome-based Lazzarini Design Studio, which has designed a number of innovative projects for the automotive, yachting and aerospace industries.
Composed of two large parallel blimps linked together by carbon fiber bridges that hold the whole structure together, the amphibious Air Yacht would be able to move almost seamlessly through the air and water. Passengers and cargo would travel in a rigid, aerodynamic cabin between the two blimp structures.
This levitating contraption, which would be powered by hydrogen and solar power from its rooftop panels, would be able to reach speeds of up 70 knots (nearly 81 mph) when flying and 5 knots (almost 6 mph) when sailing, its designers say.
The choice of hydrogen is an interesting one, as other recent airship projects have opted to use helium instead of hydrogen.
Asked about this decision, a spokesperson at the design studio said it opted for hydrogen due to its larger lifting power, which makes it possible to limit the volume of the blimps. Despite hydrogen being flammable, current technologies and materials make it possible to use the gas safely and securely, the studio says.
While the original concept measured a whopping 265 meters (869 feet) long and was capable of carrying 200 passengers, the latest iteration is much more compact at 100 meters (328 feet) long. (Presumably, it would have a somewhat lower payload, too.)
The Air Yacht has a stated flying endurance of 48 hours, and it is being designed to allow for boarding and deboarding while on the move. Helicopters would be able to land on a helipad located on top of the cabin to drop off or pick up passengers, the studio says.
Given the limited number of travelers with access to helicopters, it’s not surprising that the aircraft concept is targeted at wealthy individuals as a flying megayacht of sorts. The luxe cabin design features a shipowner’s suite that occupies the central space and provides 360-degree views. Additionally, there are five smaller suites, plus a large area for lounging and dining.
Although Lazzarini Design Studio has yet to secure investors for the Air Yacht, the studio is moving forward with testing a 30-meter (98-foot) scale model in Germany later this year.
There will likely be some unexpected challenges in this next phase of the Air Yacht’s production journey, and only time will tell whether this latest aircraft will help spark a renewed interest in airships.