July 2, 2022
Industry News

Carbon Fiber Helps Pioneer a New Era in Airships

A carbon fiber frame has brought new life to forgotten zeppelins. The skies may soon be filled with airships ferrying people and cargo like never before.

The Wingfoot One, Goodyear's newest non-blimp "blimp".  Photo Credit: Goodyear

Revolutionizing Cargo Transport: Carbon Fiber-Powered Airships Soar High

Ever since Francesco Lana de Terzi, the "Father of Aeronautics," envisioned the "Aerial Ship" in 1670, humankind has dreamt of soaring through the skies with the ability to carry people and cargo. While significant progress was made in the late 1800s and early 1900s, especially with Count von Zeppelin's pioneering airship designs, the focus gradually shifted toward passenger airplanes. Tragically, the Hindenburg disaster in the 1930s marked a turning point, causing a halt in the pursuit of large-scale cargo air transport. However, a renaissance is now underway, fueled by carbon fiber technology.

Goodyear, renowned for its camera-equipped blimps that capture sports events, parades, and outdoor spectacles, has unveiled the Wingfoot One, technically not a blimp but a semi-rigid airship with a frame made from carbon fiber and aluminum. This advanced "blimp" offers substantial improvements, including the capacity to hover in place, unlike traditional blimps that require airspeed for maneuverability.

Wingfoot One, larger than Goodyear's previous blimps, measuring 249 feet long (53 feet longer than its predecessors and 14 feet longer than a Boeing 747), ushers in greater comfort by providing reclining seats for 12 passengers and 2 pilots. It's also faster, boasting a top speed of 77 mph, 15 mph faster than its predecessors.

In the realm of cargo transport, the Aeroscraft, a massive 266-foot-long, 110-foot-wide rigid airship resembling a colossal whale shark, is making its mark. Constructed with a carbon fiber and aluminum frame encased in a mylar composite material, it reaches a cruising speed of 115 mph. Its revolutionary buoyancy system, inspired by submarine technology, utilizes helium tanks and expansion bladders, offering unmatched versatility in load management.

One unique feature of the Aeroscraft is its ability to operate without the need for ground crews or runways, enabling access to remote regions for the delivery of heavy equipment and turbines, usually only accessible by ocean freighters.

The adoption of carbon fiber technology has been pivotal in achieving lightweight yet robust structures for these airships. The carbon fiber frame ensures strength without excessive weight, making it a game-changer in airship construction.

Although still in the prototype phase, the Aeroscraft's maiden lift-off, ascending 35 feet before settling back to Earth, heralds a promising future for these carbon fiber airships.

Igor Pasternak, the mastermind behind the Aeroscraft, envisions the creation of a fleet comprising 555-foot-long airships capable of transporting 66 tons of cargo, with a grand vision of launching a colossal 770-foot-long airship capable of carrying 250 tons by 2020.

Recent studies by the Pentagon's U.S. Transportation Command have revealed that large airships can transport cargo at significantly lower costs than traditional fixed-wing aircraft. With airships costing one-third of a Boeing 747 and consuming two-thirds less fuel while accommodating larger cargo loads, they are poised to revolutionize freight transport.

The resurgence of these airships, which have evolved since the late 1600s, is no accident. As Igor Pasternak notes, "we are ready" for this new era in air cargo transport.

The Aeroscraft is a semi-rigid airship with a carbon fiber and aluminum frame (bottom) surrounded by a silvery mylar skin (top). Photo Credits: Popular Mechanics

The Aeroscraft utilizes helium tanks (1) to fill the ship's "skin" (2), making the craft rise. To descend, air bladders (3) intake air from outside the ship. Photo Credit: Popular Mechanics.

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