Making airships\blimps\dirigibles the dominant form of air transport

While similar to other questions they mostly focused on what impacts required in the past to keep airships as a popular air transport method today, this question is about how to make airships the dominant method air transport method ASAP.

What I want to know is what changes can a single man make to make air transport dominated by airships. It can be political (such as taxing other forms), it can be engineering related, the only thing that are a must is as follows:

• There is no worldwide "blimp cabal" (unless you figure out a realistic way for a single man to start one) pushing for this change, the man pushing for it can pay\bribe others if he's rich enough but he can't be richer then the richest man currently alive, if he's a politician he can be the president of a country (any country, pick one) but can't be of two (or more), he can be anybody you want but while he's powers and abilities can be great but they have to be realistic.
• No magic, this man lives in the modern real world.
• The man is over 18 & wants to live to see his dream come true so answers that play too long of a game won't work.
• Just to make it clear the man can in fact be a woman.
• Can we make it clear, you don't want to have this change made in the past (say, 1930s), you want to abandon all the planes we have today (military ones too?) and switch to dirigibles? – Alexander Aug 30 '18 at 21:18
• Yes exactly, what we got here is a "airhead" who's obsessed enough to do anything to get airships the popular air transport who lives in modern day earth. – cypher Aug 30 '18 at 21:23
• How do you differentiate good answers from bad answers? – dot_Sp0T Aug 30 '18 at 21:28
• @cypher you are asking us to extrapolate and invent. There's hardly anything more or less realistic short of calling alien intervention.. – dot_Sp0T Aug 30 '18 at 21:51
• (a) How will you judge which is the best answer? (b) Just to help, the hard-science tag loosely means, "prove it true beyond a shadow of a doubt." It's a rigid tag that will restrict the number of answers you get. In this case, probably none because political and legal solutions are very hard to "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt." – JBH Aug 30 '18 at 22:31

The answer is simple, a very rich man makes blimps very cheap to use. It will definitely drain his pocketbooks quickly, but so long as the prices are very low people will choose airships to travel on. Lots of small companies will likely use them for shipping and passengers who wish to travel abroad but couldn't afford it before will take it up quickly. Depending on how spacious the blimps are and how fast, people may choose them over busses for a lot of travel, and possibly over trains if not for novelty then for savings.

Anyways, its an uphill battle and you can't make it the best form of transportation, just popular enough to be in use.

• Modern plane building/leasing business worth hundreds of billions of dollars. this man needs to be very rich to undercut it. – Alexander Aug 30 '18 at 21:32
• Too rich in fact, part of the question states " he can't be richer then the richest man currently alive". – cypher Aug 30 '18 at 21:35
• @cypher Isn't the richest man on earth worth over $500 Billion? That's enough to do some amount of this, and I don't really think there are any other reasonable answers tbh. – Clay Deitas Aug 30 '18 at 21:38 • Jeff Bezos is worth 163 Billion$ (which is ridiculous TBH but also OOT), according to statista.com/topics/1707/air-transportation the commercial airlines is a 834 billion \$ a year industry, he can't try to undercut their prices as even if he gives every cent he has the industry has too much money to simply bankrupt him within a couple of months, he might put a dent in it and have more airships then currently available right now but the question is about how to make airships the dominant form not just more popular then what currently is. – cypher Aug 30 '18 at 21:49
• The other problem with airships is not cost but also convience a plane from the UK to America takes hours an airship days more like a cruise ship. Some people might desire an 'air cruise' holiday but for others wanting just to get to a particular destination for business or pleasure planes have the edge. – Sarriesfan Aug 31 '18 at 6:11

First, I think your best bet is to focus not on traditional blimps and dirigibles, but on modern hybrids like the Skytug and the Airlander.

Hybrid aircraft are vehicles that use LTA (lighter-than-air) technologies for some of its lift, while also having HTA technologies like wings (hybrids with wings are often called "dynastats") or rotors ("rotastats"). Even without understanding the detailed technology, it should be easy to intuitively grasp why hybrids are promising. In the same way that hybrid gas-electric cars can give you most of the benefits of an electric car without most of the disadvantages, hybrid aerostatic-aerodynamic aircraft can give you most of the benefits of an airship without most of the disadvantages.

To some extent, this is still technology in the experimental phase. The US Army's LEMV project (which triggered much of the initial funding) was canceled without putting anything into actual operation, and the civilian startups that spun off from the increased interest are still not exactly mass-producing commercial products.

The specific potential advantages of hybrids include:

• Size. The Airlander is by far the largest aircraft around.
• Transport mass. Some (unproven) rotastat designs can carry an order of magnitude more than helicopter "aircranes".
• Lower fuel consumption.
• Longer flight range.
• Shorter runways (without the massive fuel costs of VTOL).
• Possible cheaper airports (a side effect of most of the above).
• Lower operating costs.
• Not particularly interesting to terrorists. (It's hard to blow up a building with a giant helium balloon that's only carrying a tiny fraction of the jet fuel of a similar-scale jumbo jet.)

However, a hybrid that can travel as fast as a typical long-range passenger plane at reasonable costs is probably not plausible with current technologies. And obviously, replacing something like a fighter jet is even more implausible.

So, the way to make hybrid airships "the dominant method of air transport" is to change what air transport is useful for.

One option is a fossil fuel crunch, or a worldwide depression. If it costs £500 instead of £50 for a Ryan Air flight from London to Barcelona, and most people can no longer afford to spend that much on a vacation, then a £50 alternative that's much slower than a jet but still faster than a train or driving looks pretty attractive.

But a more interesting option is to expand air transport instead of shrinking it. Make hybrid aircraft the dominant form of air transport without even putting a dent in aerodynamic transport, by eclipsing it. Find things that are done mostly by surface, or not done at all today, that could instead be done by airship.

• Cruise airships. This has always been the thing airship enthusiasts focus on, and it's obviously never been nearly enough on its own—but as one component of an expansion of airship travel it certainly can't hurt.
• Rotacarriers that can launch fighters, bombers, and cruise missiles from the air, without needing an alien energy source like the Helicarriers from the Marvel movies.
• International deliveries almost as cheap as 4-to-6-week shipping but only taking a few days. (And imagine the large airships serving a fleet of small local airships which directly launch drones for the last mile.)
• Airship supertankers. They're never going to replace seagoing tankers for some things, like oil, but shipping perishable produce?
• Air ferries. Drive your car onto the airship at Rostock, arrive in Copenhagen before the sea ferry has even made it to Gedser.
• Aircranes. Today they're mostly only useful for things like rapid military engineering, but hybrid aircranes could replace fixed cranes for everything but massive-scale long-term uses like dockyards.
• Local transport between places too small and remote to be worth fully servicing by jets. A 20-minute flight can't beat driving if it requires a layover in a hub city, but a 90-minute airship flight can.
• Commuter transport. Go to the airship airport in eastern CT, board the same way you board a train, land in Manhattan… who'd bother taking a train?
• Transporting vehicles and resources for remote expeditions and military buildups.
• Strategic command/recon/intelligence. This is what the US Army's LEMV project was about. Imagine an AEW&C aircraft that could do everything the E-3 AWACS does at a fraction of the cost, with much simpler and cheaper in-air refueling so it never has to land, with the ability to launch a fleet of recon drones, and without the weight limitations of a 707 body. You'd still want something jet-based like the E-8 Joint STARS for rapid deployment, but for everything else, it would be hard to beat a command airship, if it all works out.1

I don't know which of these is most promising in the near term, but an Elon Musk type (but with even more money) could do the research to answer that question, focus on one or two at a time, and conceivably pull it off within a generation. (Especially if he doesn't fight to maintain dominance in each new field he opens, but instead welcomes the competition, and meanwhile uses the money from his market lead to jump into the next market on his checklist. It would only take one or two successes like that before people are ready to throw money at him for whatever he tries next.)

1. Obviously, the US Army disagrees. But, even ignoring the argument that LEMV was probably ahead of its time, if you look at where they put their funding after canceling LEMV, it mostly went to JLENS. I don't think a blimp enthusiast would be too disappointed by having to share a bit of the air expansion with helium-lift vehicles that are only not considered airships because they stay tethered and never land.

• Does anyone else see the gigantic pair of buttocks in the fourth image down in the wikipedia Airlander page? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Penguino Apr 16 at 23:17

Fossil fuels are bad for the environment.

This man should convince the world that all planes burn fossil fuels, and if we want to save the world from global warming, we need to stop this practice. By contrast, dirigibles will fly on safe helium and electric motors. Eventually, all governments will enact laws that would make traditional planes very expensive to operate. Some countries may ban them altogether. New era of electric cars, trains and dirigibles will dawn on us!

• Electric planes would still be better by that time. Either that, or hydrogen powered planes that use electrolysis on the ground to convert water to fuel. – Clay Deitas Aug 30 '18 at 21:44
• @Clay Deitas for the sake of this scenario let's say that this man would try hard enough that it won't happen :) – Alexander Aug 30 '18 at 21:49
• @Alexander He can try but as he has no power over the rest of the world mind there needs to be some realistic way for him to to "not let it happen" as the rest of the world doesn't share is "blimping" passion. – cypher Aug 30 '18 at 21:51
• @cypher let's say he buys out every emergent company and sits on their patents. – Alexander Aug 30 '18 at 21:53
• I think too many well established companies already have the ability to make and use hydrogen, but its not cost effective compared to fossil fuels. If fossil fuel were out I don't think you could stop the transition that easily. – Clay Deitas Aug 30 '18 at 22:35

Terrorism.

You're never going to out-compete planes with blimps or dirigibles on their merits (not without fantasy-tech, anyway,) so your only real option is to artificially and astronomically increase the risks/costs associated with the competition.

If the man is able to sabotage or otherwise destroy enough planes (preferably in the air, which increases risk for users, but on the ground can work too,) society will stop using them as the risks begin to outweigh the benefit of fast travel. The actual number may not need to be huge if he can maintain his assault without getting caught/countered. Even a single high profile airliner accident can put a (short term) dent into ridership numbers; imagine if an airliner, somewhere, went down every few days. Passenger flights will quickly grind to a halt. Freight will take a bit longer, but as the overall number of flights go down the risk to any given remaining flight will rise, so the chilling effect will snowball.

Of course, there's the question of how to pull something like that off, even if you have a huge amount of resources at your disposal. Traditional tools of terrorism like bombs aren't going to be sufficient. You would probably need to infiltrate all of the major manufacturers. If you're rich enough, buying a controlling stake in them would be a good start. Boeing's market cap currently is ~200B, and Airbus' ~100B, so that's not completely out of the question.

All of that would of course be an extremely long shot, and your risk of getting caught before you succeed in your mission is overwhelming, but that's going to be your most viable path. This of course assumes that the man is willing to be a mass murderer (or at least cause incredible economic damage) to see his life's quest realized.

• The easiest way to take out planes is simply guns with an auto targeting system. A standard BMG can be a threat to most airplanes, and bigger non legal bullets would be even more dangerous. Of course there's plenty of ways to stop them, but as far as highest payout lowest risk they are definitely it. If you can take out enough planes in one go after establishing blimps, you can simply fill the necessity left by the overflow from lack of planes as well. – Clay Deitas Aug 30 '18 at 22:33
• @ClayDeitas Problem with just shooting down planes is it's not very sustainable. You'll be very successful for a short while but you'll get caught/destroyed in short order. Even if you're not, since the mode of attack is obvious governments will quickly establish large high security zones around major airports. And planes will come right back if you can't keep the pressure on. – Gene Aug 30 '18 at 22:43
• Yeah, that's part of the reason I didn't suggest it myself. Also I wasn't sure "become a terrorist" was a good path to go down lol. @Gene – Clay Deitas Aug 30 '18 at 23:08

You seem to want or need to have a person single-handedly responsible for the shift from heavier-than-air flight to lighter-than-air flight.

I'd like to suggest an alternative approach which may give you the result you require.

Back in the 1970s there was a some fairly serious talk in some circles about a possible resurgence in the popularity of blimps and dirigibles for long-distance travel. The reason? The Energy Crisis which began in October of 1973.

Currently we are undergoing a climate crisis based off the use of fossil fuels, and oil-based energy continues to become more expensive as we continue to burn through irreplaceable reserves.

Additionally, consider that while airborne transportation is very popular with over 100,000 flights worldwide per day, it seems to be increasingly difficult to turn a consistent profit from year to year in that industry. Wikipedia lists 83 airlines, since 1979, which have gone out of business, re-organized as another business, or have merged with a larger airline.

You'd have to work out the timeline, but I would suggest a future where it is simply too expensive for most commercial endeavors to employ heavier-than-air flight in their daily operations. One man has seen the writing on the wall and has positioned his considerable wealth into the re-development of dirigible and blimp technology. During the crash of oil reserves his gamble pays off and he's now the leader of some dirigible monopoly.

Dirigibles would now occupy the place of the ocean-going liners of the late 19th and early 20th century as the primary mode of international transport. A 1930s dirigible crossing of the Atlantic took from 3 to 4.5 days, depending on weather and routing and such; I would suggest that with modern technology and knowledge of atmospherics one could probably guarantee a crossing in either direction in 2-3 days.

An envelope calculation figures that it would take about 1.16x10^12 cubic feet of helium to carry the same amount of cargo as a supermax vessel, so you may want to consider a similar, parallel, ocean-going sail industry! It currently takes a cargo vessel 9 or 10 days to cross the Atlantic -- sometimes as long as 20 days, depending on the actual destination. My own limited experience with ocean-going sailing makes me believe that a modern cargo vessel with the best sail technology would take a good month to cross the Atlantic. So: maybe the majority of cargo is moved around via ocean-going sailing vessels, but you'd still have some class of super-dirigible for carrying cargo more quickly.

Helium without an oil-based economy is an interesting problem. We don't have a lot of helium in the atmosphere because it's so light; it floats to the top of the atmosphere and is blown off by the solar wind. My understanding is that we get most of our helium from the oil industry. So if you want your dirigibles to be elevated by helium, you're going to have to find a source.

I would suggest a world which uses fusion energy. It's a source of energy which would be only economically feasible for city-scale power production, but which produces helium as a "waste" product. Now you have a cheap source of helium. But, fusion power would be too expensive, not to mention too bulky, to power even a very large cargo vessel, much less an aircraft.

Now, while hydrogen has proven historically to be a bad choice as the lifting gas for dirigibles, I would suggest that is only true using 1930s technology. Using modern technology and materials the use of hydrogen as a lifting gas would arguably be much safer, with the added benefit that you can use it as a fuel for propelling the dirigible. So, if it's a story you're writing, or an RPG milieu, you may want to use hydrogen as the lifting gas to introduce some kind of balance or limiting feature in your world, especially if you really don't want to use fusion technology.

And the use of dirigibles would not preclude the use of fossil fuels in other areas. The military, of course, would continue to use fossil fuels in nearly all their aircraft. Private and government aircraft would probably use jets powered by liquefied hydrogen.

Those are my thoughts on this interesting question. Hope that helps.

Focus on Underdeveloped/Remote locations The best way to beat planes is by ensuring you have a monopoly/cabal by the time they become attractive. A lot of places in Africa for example could be connected with airplanes, but there's simply no infrastructure to land them and even if they got an airfield there's still the question if there's a road from the airfield leading to wherever it is the cargo or passengers must be.

An airplane requires an entire airfield (provided you want real cargo planes and not small WW2-era soviet proppeler planes and such), whilst an airship merely requires a small clearing. Airships can transport more cargo in one haul. If you have a plant for lifting gas then you can save a lot on the fuel bill as well.

Basically ensure you got a dominion on air traffic by the time the country becomes developed enough to start planting down sufficient airfields and roads to mess up your business plan.

I can only see this taking off in underdeveloped countries, because cities in Europe for example are too close to each other to make trains unattractive for short and mid-ranged travel and aircraft handle the long range stuff and in North America you got plenty of airfields, railways and well-build roads. Not to mention in these places there are 'cabals' active protecting the airplane industry or the trucking industry or the train industry,...

It also helps that in a lot of African countries there are dictators. If you can convince and befriend those people then you're good. Sure you have to worry about being backstabbed, but if all goes well...you're probably in a better position than say in the USA or Europe.

A single man can do the following:

• Discover an easy way to produce helium
• Develop an optimal shape to minimize effect of cross-wind, or harpoon anchors that keep landing blimp stead during takeoff and landing (thanks to user535733)
• Prevent Hindenburg disaster (I hear it might have been sabotage). Instead, stage several similarly spectacular airplanes crashes, e.g. killing the beloved royal family in front of a crowd gathered to welcome them. Or crash a school trip. Or convince military rival to use kamikaze.

Other world changes that would help if you are willing to use them:

• Very rare fossil fuels, or not enough quality metals to make powerful but compact combustion engines. Airship can be powered by a steam engine (and use heat to keep zeppelin in the air)
• Humans vulnerable to even moderate acceleration (airplane pilots pass out)
• Less wind, as user535733 has said. Or rather less wind at ground level, and more turbulence up high. Larger vessels are less affected by turbulence.

Because aerodynes (fixed wing aircraft and helicopters) so decisively outclass LTA in virtually every aspect of air travel, what you are asking for is virtually impossible.

Unless you change the timeline to have Leonardo da Vinci be the inventor of dirigible airships.

Leonardo was a polymath, and keenly interested in the science of flight. Like most people of his day, he considered the only true natural model to be bird flight, and spent a great deal of time studying bird flight and attempting to design Ornithopters to allow humans to experience flight as well. Although his designs included subtle details like ways to flex individual portions of the wings to control the flight, much like a bird does, he never overcame the fundamental limit of human muscle power, which makes ornithopter flight extremely difficult (even with modern materials, gearing and other innovations which would be far beyond anything Leonardo had access to).

Leonardo's flying machine

However, Leonardo was a polymath, and among other amazing things, designed a submarine for Ludovico Sforza, indicating he was also aware of the principle of displacement, and how to manipulate it in a fluid medium.

Model of Leonardo's submarine. The white "bags" control the buoyancy

The last invention to consider is Leonardo's "Roasting Jack", a device which used a form of turbine to capture the energy of hot air rising from a cooking fire to turn a spit.

Leonardo's roasting jack

Now we rearrange Leonardo's thinking a bit. He is keenly interested in flight, but aware not amount of human effort will ever cause his flying machines to work. He knows that increasing or decreasing the bouancy can cause an object to rise or sink in a fluid medium, and he knows hot air rises. "What if..?" he wonders "The bags in the Submarine were filled with hot air"? Some weeks of experimentation in his workshop soon allows him to create hot air balloons in the late 1400's, and his patron, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, is very quick to see the advantages of air observation. Soon, with the amount of support he is getting, Leonardo begins adding bits and pieces of his other inventions to the design in order to have powered flight. A clockwork device from his car can power Archimedean screws, for example.

Leonardo's car. The clockwork "engine" can provide power for flight

While Leonardo's airships would be very rickety and limited, humans would have powered flight starting in the early 1500's. With 500 years of development, airships would be refined to a very high degree, and since most of them would likely be thermal airships (i.e. have their lifting power from heated air), they would be much safer than the hydrogen balloons and airships of our timeline. In this timeline, people who advocate for heavier than air flight modeled after birds would be dismissed as cranks.

Skyyacht thermal airship prototype

• While I like the answer unfortunately that would mean the man has a time machine at hand to change history, but I have to admit that a airship time machine would make for a nice addition to the story. – cypher Sep 2 '18 at 19:52
• Trying to stay within the confines of the OP was simply impossible. An alternative timeline where Leonardo da Vinci discovers lighter than air transportation seems the simplest way to satisfy most of the conditions, and by the 1930's, airships will be 500 years old, meaning they will indeed be the dominant form of air transportation. – Thucydides Sep 3 '18 at 0:33

Instead of making it the dominant long-range transport, make it the dominant short to mid-range transport.

As you can read here: https://tvtropes.org/UsefulNotes/Airships

Airships of the modern age are extremely resilient and are in some cases even better resistant against tough weather than modern aircraft, with most weather related accidents happening because the pilot of the airship overestimated the Airships capabilities.

Through the use of gasses these Airships are cheaper to fly than conventional aircraft and helicopters. With loads of up to 250 tons they can transport cargo or personnel and heavily reduce traffic. The big problem is demand and production: if no one buys them or produces them the price remains high.

So the rich man does what any person would do: he starts research, production and advertisments. With a small cargo company for starters (as example) he could show successes circumventing tough traffic areas like cities and providing safe, fast and reliable transport (you need it somewhere at a specific time? This thing aint bothered by trafic jams or the hour of the day!). From there as more Airships can be produced, demand rises and others try to mimic the success the airship business can take off.

An alternative/additiin might be to transport people between cities like trains, only you dont need to build and maintain rails and can increase/decrease airship traffic based on demand more easily than trains can.

Actually something very much like this is happening right now where I live: someone "invented" an electric, cheap and ultra-light mini-truck. Electric trucks used to be as anathema as Airships. A business was made that allowed you to order a very basic set of foods and drinks at a low price and have it delivered for free. This is possible as the owner doesnt have to pay for stores, the trucks drive dirt-cheap on electricity and the owner only needs a warehouse. This has been so successful that when my wife applied for it she came on a waitinglist of more than 6000 people, and the only way that list went down was by buying enough mini-trucks to supply it, and that list has been exponentially decreasing all because of the re-invention of existing technology in a way nobody thought would be useful. So by that model using something similar for Airships should be possible.

The newest, fastest(90-140 mph) class of airship. Hybrid airships are not hybridizations of different categories of airship. Rather, they are hybrids between lighter-than-air(LTA) airships and heavier-than-air(HTA) vehicles such as airplanes, tiltrotors and hovercraft, and often all of the above in that they combine the two main methods of generating lift. In a pure LTA aircraft all lift is generated due to buoyancy of its gasbag, and in a pure HTA aircraft all lift is generated from aerodynamic forces — usually the pressure difference on the both sides of a moving wing, either fixed as in a plane, or rotating, as in a helicopter. Hybrid airships derive their lift from both sources, and many proposed designs can actually vary the ratio between them. They are an extremely recent category of airship, and are preferred by many over LTA airships because of their larger cargo payloads. A hybrid the size of a midsized blimp can carry 20 tons. Hybrids the size of the Zeppelins of the early 20th century can carry 250-500 tons to the Zeppelins' 50 or so. But even more important than the larger payload is their ability to land without expensive, specialized ground assistance, and their greatly increased redundancy, safety, and resistance to bad weather. Hybrid airships can be any class of airship. Notable hybrids include the Lockheed-Martin Skytug, the Solar Ships, the Aeroscraft, and the U.S. Army's LEMV.

Solve the low-altitude problem

Lots of the original problems with aerostatic vehicles have already been solved in the last 80 years: We have stronger and lighter structural materials, fireproof-and-puncture-resistant gasbags, lighter and better energy sources and motors, vastly improved understanding of the atmosphere, excellent long-range navigation, fantastic weather data collection and modeling capability, and trivial high-data-rate ground-to-air transmission today.

However, the big problem remaining today is the one that ended most civil aerostat programs in the 1920s and 1930s: An errant wind during landing or takeoff can smash your expensive vessel into the ground, a building, nearby trees, bodies of water, or snap the line and kite it away. The greatest threat to airships is proximity to the ground. That's the risk the prevents a real airship rennaissance. S/He must find a way to significantly reduce that risk.

Prove Global Warming / Get Jet Fuel Taxed

The main advantage Lighter Than Air vehicles have is fuel efficiency. So that is the thing that needs to become the dominant factor in aviation.

In a variant of Alexander's answer, your protagonist must create an AI or climate model that predicts everything happening to global weather changes and longer term changes. Preferably, it accurately predicts the number and strength of hurricanes as well as floods and droughts.

Rather than engaging in a mission impossible to convince the governments of the world that actions need to be taken based on this, the model should be marketed to insurance companies across the world. They will love the improved risk modeling, freak out at the longer term risks and raise their premiums sky-high.

With the general population suddenly unable to insure their houses and businesses, they will demand action from the government. Your protagonist, with the backing of Big Insurance, can then show how climate change can be reduced by immediately scaling back fossil fuel use by CO2 taxes or even forbidding further extraction of coal, oil and gas.

This won't happen easily or all at once, but the proven track record of weather disaster predictions plus somewhat accurate cost/benefit projections of action vs inaction will get governments moving.

With jet fuel going from tax-free/subsidized to heavily taxed, airplane travel will become unaffordable for most. That creates the perfect conditions for the Return of the (solar-powered) Blimp.