- Credit: Dassault Systèmes

Stop the World – I Want to Get Off

1y ago


The title may seem too dramatic for you but at times I find that I am racing through life without stopping to appreciate what I have. "Life is not a sprint, it's a marathon." - I heard this saying long ago and when I feel that I am about to break down I remind myself that life is really not a sprint and I can slow down without loosing anything as it's not about getting this or that first. And when I stop, I start noticing things that I missed before but I feel really stressed out not doing anything as if I am wasting time while others are racing towards their goals. For paranoids like me there could be a great way to pause but move at the same time - airship travel.

Humanity was not blessed with wings of our own but we are drawn to fly and as we always do when we desperately desire something - we invent. From jumping off cliffs with hand-made wings to supersonic and hypersonic flights, somewhere between these two points airship was invented. The first successful human-carrying flight technology is considered to be hot air balloon. The physics behind it is very simple - air has it's mass as like everything it consists of particles. Balloon filled with air will not go upward as it has the same density inside as outside so to make it lighter than air we need to make molecules move faster inside the balloon, then air will start to expand as the molecules move apart from each other. This can be achieved by heating the air inside thus activating the buoyancy force.

The principle of buoyancy is perfectly explained by Archimedes:

- Any object, wholly or partially immersed in a fluid, is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced by the object. -

For many reasons airship is a better way of transportation and for many others it is worse. Operating the balloon is relatively easy, to descend you just need to cool the air or let some of it out and to move up - heat it, to maintain altitude - cool and heat by turns. It is sideways that gets tricky as you need to know beforehand the wind direction at different altitudes and depending on the desired direction go to the corresponding one, so basically you will float with the wind. This is one of the many flaws that hot-air balloon technology has and that was solved with the technology revision - dirigible (which means that it is steerable and comes from Latin "dirigere" - to direct) balloons or simply dirigibles as we know it today come to the light.

First 24 km of controlled flight on a dirigible equipped with a steam engine and a propeller is believed to have taken place in France in 1852 by Baptiste Jules Henri Jacques Giffard, a French engineer. It was not filled with hot air but with hydrogen as it is 14,5 times less dense than air and thus does not need to be heated to have lifting properties. Still this was not the best solution as hydrogen is very flammable and deflates easily due to small molecule size and steering was not that perfect.

Many tries and falls, horrible and deadly disasters later modern airship became a more safe and reliable transport that is still, in my opinion, very underappreciated. It is mainly used for advertising, meteorological, military purposes and sightseeing. As I said earlier it has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. It has to be really large and it needs lighter-than-air substance to be able to lift off, hydrogen is affordable but dangerous and helium is rare and expensive. Solar energy can also be useful as energy source for engines. At certain altitudes it is still dependable on the weather but with modern lightweight and high strength materials the maneuverability can be improved by making the hull any shape not only classic balloon and gondola design. The distance of flights can be practically limitless, blimps don’t need a runway to land, passengers can get on and off using a lift or a helicopter and so on. Several companies are currently developing airships but that is still ongoing but when it is introduced to the public it can be the ideal future way of travelling - comfortable, picturesque and relaxed, a great chance to give yourself a break and slow down a little while cruising over the world. Something that is worth anticipating.