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Imagine that the taboo around Airships and dirigibles is broken. Besides some cargo, passenger and tourism Airships there's one company that focuses on the super-rich by selling what are essentially flying super-yachts.

A metamaterial skin prevents the gas from escaping the hull, meaning you'll lose maybe 1% of your gas per year. Electricity is created through pressure, wind, batteries, a backup engine and solar panels on the outer shell (mainly semi-rigid or rigid Airships are used I assume). Water can be collected and filtered for use both from rain or by collecting from the sea/lakes. An on-board computer accessible from anywhere in the ship keeps it level, can steer the ship to any destination while avoiding obstacles and it monitors the local weather and news reports to keep the airship safe from hazardous weather conditions (rule of thumb: Any weather with winds faster than the Airships max speed is dangerous). And similar to Airships of old it can reach a whopping 130km/h.

Now most problems that would arise can be handwaved away with future materials or for the most part existing solutions and real-life Airships already exist that can do what I want. But what I cant figure out is how to make these Airships comfortable to enter and exit. You want whoever from your small crew to be able to get out and get the groceries or maintenance parts without the need to stop where you are going. But more importantly you want to get in your supercar and be safely on the ground or return to the airship with minimal discomfort and minimal facilities. So far the only solution I have thought off is an extendable elevator at the bottom of the airship and a parking lot. But that still means you need a pretty damn long extendable arm on your elevator to reach the ground if you are anywhere near houses or worse some flats. It also means your crew wont be able to leave without stopping the airship.

Anyone got any bright ideas?

Criteria on which the solutions will be judged: - Passenger/storage capacity.

  • comfort (less effort in a more natural position = more comfort in general)

  • Overhead (=minimum preparation time to use the solution. Having to strap on a parachute has a higher overhead than stepping in a flight-ready helicopter).

  • average speed

  • Average distance it can reach.

  • Service time between uses, including potential refueling.

  • Ground facilities required to use the solution. In some cases the size of the area required to for example land would need to be mentioned as a ground facility as well.

Edit: this is not an all-airship future or a steampunk setting. Airships would simply supplement current transport options. And just like all other transport before it, the rest wouldnt become obsolete.

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    $\begingroup$ There's no taboo, they're just not very good when compared to the other options. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Nov 1 '18 at 12:24
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    $\begingroup$ Comfortable is a matter of opinion. Some people do like parachuting for quick exits. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 1 '18 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan how are you going to parachute up the airship paragliding would work in a way, but it would be risky and time consuming. Comfort in general means as little effort as possible with a low-effort posture. Like in a chair. And that chair is deemed more comfortable in general if its softer and more supportive etc. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Demigan i am trying to say that to have living space the size of yacht the lighter than air sections would need to be the size of a stadium. $\endgroup$ – Andrey Nov 1 '18 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ If you live on an airship you don't do your own shopping.... $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 1 '18 at 16:41

13 Answers 13

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A detachable, considerably smaller airship.

It will use gas of the overlord to offset most of the weight being lowered, minus a small amount which will allow for a mostly controlled descent. For safety (and a means to return), a cable will be attached between the two and an electric winch will be used to retrieve the smaller airship, along with any extra goods which may have been acquired.

Upon redocking, there wouldn't really need to be much need to equalize the gas until the next load is taken off (presumably of differing weight, and therefore, gas will need to be added/removed).

Edit: I guess I should have pointed out that the cable is also a means of equalizing gas so that the smaller balloon can remain on the ground if need be, or extra gas can be pushed to it to make the winch's job easier.

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    $\begingroup$ A detachable, considerably smaller airship. = A helicopter? $\endgroup$ – user55267 Nov 1 '18 at 13:10
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    $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure airship is the term for lighter-than-air aircraft. Helicopters fly by beating the world around them in to tenuous submission. $\endgroup$ – ColonelPanic Nov 1 '18 at 13:41
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    $\begingroup$ @ColonelPanic I just want to point out that any viable flying machine, airships included, are equally as costly and complex as a helicopter. Airships themselves, even in sci-fi future, require fuel, maintenance, pilots, and more. The "considerably smaller" part is a slight issue - look at how large a typical hot air balloon has to be just to lift a couple of passengers and a basket $\endgroup$ – automaton Nov 1 '18 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @automaton while true, Airships seem generally very low-maintenance and lack vulnerabilities that helicopters for example has. Also a Hot air balloon is about as similar to other Airships as a first world war biplane to a jet airliner. Theres some comparisons but in reality they arent very similar. Especially a HTA hybrid airship would require a lot less volume. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 21:56
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    $\begingroup$ @automaton What Demigan said. Also, sure, everything requires maintenance, but your mother ship's mechanics will be able to work on the landing ship. Same with having the same fuel and pilots. And to emphasize Demigan's point: helicopters require hellamaintenance. Also, helium >> hot air in terms of lift per unit volume. $\endgroup$ – ColonelPanic Nov 2 '18 at 12:02
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Jetpacks!

sweet sweet sweeeeet poster for the movie Rocketeer

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rocketeer_(film)

If you are going to have airships, you need jetpacks. I can picture the crewman spotting the grocery coming into view below as he is shaving. He straps on his pack and tumbles backwards off of the airship into free fall, zipping his pants and buttoning his shirt as he falls. Shaving cream remnants blow upwards off of his face. He turns his jets on full blast 10 yards above the ground, runs into the grocery and grabs a 12-pack of Moxie, pays with a single silver coin, then back outside and blasting off to catch up with the airship receding away.

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    $\begingroup$ Wish I could give this+2 $\endgroup$ – nzaman Nov 1 '18 at 14:09
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    $\begingroup$ This wins due to the Rule of Cool. $\endgroup$ – Renan Nov 1 '18 at 15:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Renan I think there are more practical solutions, but I'm upvoting sheerly because Rule of Cool =) $\endgroup$ – automaton Nov 1 '18 at 15:44
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    $\begingroup$ Preposterous. What self-respecting airshipman with a jetpack would be using shaving cream? Think man! $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 17:00
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    $\begingroup$ Obligatory xkcd $\endgroup$ – Punintended Nov 2 '18 at 15:20
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Skycrane

enter image description here

As long as you have lifting power, there is no reason that you can't just pick up and lower a large, comfortable elevator box (doesn't have to be shaped like a house).

If you want to keep moving while dropping someone off, why not just replace the elevator box with something with wheels?

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ +1 for fitting well into the flavor of an airship-driven future. Unconventional but viable, and a little zany too $\endgroup$ – automaton Nov 1 '18 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ How does the helicopter get close to the airship without ripping it open with the propellers? Is there a landing pad on top of the airship? $\endgroup$ – John Locke Nov 1 '18 at 16:55
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnLocke I guess I was unclear, the crane is lowered directly from the airship. Its just that the real-world examples all involve helicopters; not many people are doing blimp lifts these days. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Nov 1 '18 at 16:56
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion Ok, your helicopter pictures made me think you were using a helicopter. $\endgroup$ – John Locke Nov 1 '18 at 17:37
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnLocke also there is the option to attach hooks above the prophub that the airship will hook on to, the engine is shut down and then the heli gets reeled in. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Nov 2 '18 at 10:59
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Small landing pad on top of airship, used by a conventional helicopter, flying cars, or drones for deliveries. In fact, groceries can be delivered by drone straight to the receiving hatch in the main gondola.

Also, the USS Akron that you mentioned could launch and retrieve airplanes. Modern electronics should make this process a lot safer and smoother.

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    $\begingroup$ I really like the drone idea for groceries and other supplies. Much lighter than an airplane if you don't need to send people down. $\endgroup$ – Tracy Cramer Nov 1 '18 at 23:33
  • $\begingroup$ Actually a drone could also carry people up and down too. engadget.com/2016/01/06/184-delivery-drone-for-people $\endgroup$ – Thorne Nov 2 '18 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ It doesn't even need to be on the top of the airship -- you could have a landing/cargo bay on virtually any horizontal surface. $\endgroup$ – Nic Hartley Nov 2 '18 at 17:50
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I would suggest an elevator without a shaft, i.e., a sort of cable car or gondola. Perhaps the entire "cabin" descends from the airframe on a cable, and serves as an anchor while it sits on the ground. It might get a bit unnerving in high winds, so an alternative would be to drop a weighted anchor first, then have the cabin or a part of the cabin descent along the already-taut cable.

The balloon will continue to float overhead, and the only real risk of harm is if other balloons are parked too close together (they might crash into one another in the wind). I am assuming you have figured out a solution for dangerous weather -- either descending the entire airship to ground level and securing it, or perhaps flying high above the weather.

If the cable car is large enough, it could include parking space for the owner's supercar and comfortable seating for his guests.

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    $\begingroup$ This would be improved if you add a picture from the movie "Filibus: The Mysterious Pirate of the Skies." It's in the public domain. $\endgroup$ – Jetpack Nov 1 '18 at 15:13
  • $\begingroup$ I don't know it. Feel free to make an edit. $\endgroup$ – Joe Nov 2 '18 at 17:05
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If your modern day analogue is the yacht, I would think they would dock at marina like area. Unlike cars, which are mandated by local governments to have extra space for parking, (typically) no such laws apply to yachts having public mooring. Instead (mostly) private enterprises dedicate space that caters to the specific needs of the vehicle, and their super rich owners.

If, however, your airships are as common as cars, then you would need government intervention and infrastructure investment in order to prevent utter chaos in the skies.

You also asked about the physical considerations. I can envision a system similar to what was used back when airships were common. They were typically tethered to a spire which could raise and lower the ship mechanically. But if we are envisioning a marina analogue, I would imagine a tower more than a tether. One that had an interior so as to protect the fliers from the elements. That interior would have a covered landing platform that could extend to the airship door. It would also have the ability to dock several "layers" of airships. Each story of the tower could contain 4 or so airships along it's circumference. This would be an efficient use of vertical space for precious land.

The tower would likely have maintenance facilities, and a "dry dock" if longer term repairs are needed. This means it would likely have a way to bring an airship down to ground level, where there is separate facilities for major work. I envision crane like arms extending from the center of the tower that extend out past the spaces of the currently docked airship. The airship tethers it's nose to it, and then the arm moves the ship to it's appointed dock, or even to the ground for long term storage or decommissioning. Each tower might only have 2 or 3 cranes that can move up and down to different levels as well as extend its arm our. Or maybe there is one crane on each level, servicing that level only.

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A small light aircraft could land or take off from the top of the airship. Unless the airship is in bumpy air, the airship's environment will be ideal for landing. This is especially true if the airship is running under power. This will create a headwind if you land tail to bow. That's ideal for landing and taking off.

You can keep the landing craft pretty light since it doesn't need a lot of fuel or speed. A Cessna 152 or a smaller Piper would work fine. Larger aircraft that can hold more people/cargo would work as well.

Actually you don't really need the headwind for taking off if you don't mind a bit of excitement if the aircraft does not reach flying speed (higher than the stall speed) by the time it gets to the bow of the airship. The aircraft will quickly achieve the proper speed as it falls. Thus, cargo runs can just be taxied off the side. I wouldn't recommend this for most passengers.

Some zeppelins had hooks under them to catch and release a single aircraft that had the proper attachment and reinforcement to the top of the aircraft. That would fail your "comfortable" requirement and hooking was a bit of a tricky maneuver.

There were plans, before airships fell out of favor, to create flying aircraft carriers. If they could build those pre-WWII, we can build them today. The only thing that makes it trickier is that modern aircraft generally hive a higher stall speed than the older aircraft.

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  • $\begingroup$ they were more than plans. They build 2 of them, carrying 5 aircraft maximum each (although 3 was more practical). $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan, yeah I thought so but I couldn't remember it enough to put in my answer. $\endgroup$ – ShadoCat Nov 1 '18 at 22:57
  • $\begingroup$ If you look at the OP you can see a link to the USS Achron, which was one of the airborne carriers. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 22:59
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You want one or two ultralight vehicles. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultralight_aviation

You have a huge hull filled with gas. On many of the old dirigibles, parts of the passenger cabin and often the entire crew cabin were built inside the hull. You can absolutely build a small hangar inside from which to launch and land your ultralight flyers. Many types of ultralights have takeoff and landing roll distances of around 50 feet.

The aerodynamics of flying into a closed hangar for landing could be interesting, I don't understand enough about that to judge, but if this part works out, you have a convenient method, you can field different types and sizes for different purposes, you can stored them inside your hull and have space there for refueling and repairs as well.

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  • $\begingroup$ For takeoff you might use a drop ramp, just long enough for an ultralight to get above stall speed. As noted in other answers, such a launch method would be, well, quite exciting. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Nov 2 '18 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ Or you could just use a hook that lowers the ultralight (with engine running) out of the hanger, which then detaches and flies off. For retrieval the ultralight flies up under the hook, climbs slightly to attach, and is winched in, turning off the engine as it enters. This is exactly how aircraft launch and retreival worked in the Akron (see the middle of the "Technical Descripton" section). $\endgroup$ – Curt J. Sampson Nov 4 '18 at 5:08
  • $\begingroup$ The link to the Acron is actually very interesting. $\endgroup$ – Tom Nov 4 '18 at 6:44
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At least one US Navy blimp had an extendable hook that a small plane could fly up to, engage, then get hauled up inside. No need to invent anything more complicated.

Bush pilots fly in circles and lower a rope when delivering goods in the rain forest (where there are no runways). Centripetal force keeps the bottom of the rope relatively stationary allowing items to be placed in a bucket attached to the end of the rope. Scale it up a bit to accommodate passengers.

It isn't particularly comfortable, but the military worked out a system wherein a passing aircraft snags a cable lofted by balloon. The person embarking the airplane gets yanked aloft then winched inside.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7q3MnJBxrw Disney's UP movie style. Have a homing device aboard, and your airship comes and pickups you up.

enter image description here

http://www.tarproductions.com John Freis, 51, ties 170 helium balloons to his lawn chair (in a sophisticated manner, of course) and flies up to 12,400 ft, traveling 46 miles in almost 4 hours. He had a parachute, oxygen, GPS, ballast and a BB gun.

https://youtu.be/6Hp2Ys3lHSc?t=682

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Perhaps a small bay with powered hangliders with extra glass panes to protect from wind could fill the same function as a dingy would today?

Pick one add, some comfort improvements. A large airship could have many of varying sizes etc.

Electric engines should help reduce noise too.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powered_hang_glider

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultralight_trike

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ultralight_aviation

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The assumption is that airships are shaped much like sausages. Could an airship not have a large "Keel" that could contain an elevator and other access structures.

Dynamic position control similar to that used by floating oil platforms could allow the keel to touch down and the crew could step off onto the ground and roll on any livestock, farm goods or grand pianos that were required.

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Why not land? Submarines increase and decrease their buoyancy by taking on water. I suspect you could do the same with the durable. My thought would be to pump the Helium into to tanks while filling an inner bladder with air from outside. It would decrease the lift, and the airship could land while preserving lifting gas.

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  • $\begingroup$ Because Airships are big and landing might not be an option. Imagine going to New York and the only place to land is an airfield or a very large field likely outside of the city. While practical, its not the place you want to park your flying home. Assuming the airfield has a space where the airship isnt in the way ofcourse. $\endgroup$ – Demigan Nov 1 '18 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ NY is easy: top of the ESB is a mooring tower but it was only used once. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Nov 1 '18 at 18:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Mazura, it was only used once for a very good reason: the winds make docking extremely hazardous. $\endgroup$ – Mark Nov 1 '18 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ Even a small airship needs a big landing field. The Goodyear blimps require an area 150+ meters across, and they're the airborne equivalent of a small travel trailer. A "flying super-yacht" would be something comparable to the USS Los Angeles or the Graf Zeppelin, 200-250 meters long and needing about 500 meters of landing field. To put it in the context of New York, Kennedy International could park maybe a dozen airships. $\endgroup$ – Mark Nov 1 '18 at 21:56

protected by Monty Wild Nov 4 '18 at 3:54

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