Recently I have asked a question about assessing the viability of airships in the scenario of my world, concentrating mainly on their usage as cargo haulers. The answers have been pretty positive and as such I'll explore other applications that came to mind in the aftermath.

I'd really appreciate if you could provide feedback about their feasibility.

  • Military: I was thinking that such airships could function as airborne aircraft carriers, designed to allow docking of smaller VTOL aircraft, providing maintenance, fueling and support along with amenities for the pilots. Another application for the military could consist in functioning as movable command centers and forward bases (logistics, armories, support), making fixed outposts mainly redundant unless they were to support the ships themselves.
  • Passenger: I have also been considering how they could be employed for the transportation of civilians across the planet. Even though I figured that planes would remain dominant in this field (given that they would still humiliate ariships when it comes to speed) I'd think that airships employed in this sector would essentially serve as the analogues of cruise-ships, providing extremely comfortable travel conditions (compared with the planes) and leisurly activities to be enjoyed in the clouds. Another application for passenger airships would be for disaster evac/relief, allowing to expedited extraction of civilians from areas afflicted by earthquakes and volcanoes (which would be quite widespread on my world)
  • Scientific: Some aerostats could serve as research vessels/outposts across the different layers of the atmosphere. They could be used for the studying and monitoring of the atmospheric composition and dynamics (weather patterns especially). Not to mention other avenues of research related to engineering, physics and biology at high altitudes. They also could serve as advanced data centers for big data applications.
  • Geoengineering: I figured that the civilization responsible for these crafts would be capable of practical geoengineering, so I figured that there could be aerostats designed to manipulate the atmosmpheric composition and dynamics through the use of chemicals and other means.
  • Habitation: This would be the most advanced application of the airship technology available in my world, the creation of settlements in the very skies of the planet, each capable of supporting the population equivalent of a small town (about a few thousand inhabitants per settlement, pheraps even more by clustering more cities togeter in a sort of flock), semi-independently from the surface. Of course they'd still rely on ground station for things like supplies and aspects of infrastructures that would require massive facilities (waste disposal would be the worst offender coming to mind), but through the use of advanced storage and recycling system I figured that they'd be capable of independent function for extended periods and even move across the world by taking advantage of the jet streams. I feel also like I should expand on the concept a little bit more, the idea is that they'd be conceived by the world's elites to serve as safe havens for them, keeping them away from the surface's pollution and the dangers posed by the volcanoes and earthquakes. The idea stemmed mainly from the proposals to colonize venus by building areostat-colonies and deploying them in the high atmosphere where the conditions are similar to earth's. Another reference to an already existing concept would be the Cloud 9 spheres. Admittedly this connects to a previous question of mine, but I believe that here more important information is supplied.

Here is some information about the planet or rather gas giant moon:

  • Surface gravity: 0.9 G
  • Atmospheric surface pressure: 1.5 atm
  • Composition: 70% Nitrogen, 24% Oxygen, 1% Carbon dioxide, 5% other gases (adjusted for habitability the other gases are mainly noble gases)
  • Would be rather thick and dense, not sure how to quantify that with any precision though
  • Very geologically active due to tidal effects from the gas giant (comparing it grossly with Japan, though I am still looking into that)

About the airships here is some specs:

  • Materials: Ultralightweight materials such as carbon fiber, graphene and carbon nanotubes are employed in construction as well as other ultralight alloys made possible by an advanced science. They'd also rely on the use of advanced nanotechnology.
  • Power source: Advanced nuclear reactor(s) based on post 4th generation technology for increased efficiency, built with a modular design to easily exchange the fuel. May consider usage of nuclear fusion if there would be feasible ways to miniaturize and lighten the infrastructure needed to generate nuclear fusion. (Could helium-3 be a game changer?) Solar and wind energy are used as well in combination with the reactor or on their own for designs requiring less lifting.
  • Bouyancy: Guaranteed by bladders inflated with helium for safety reasons and due to being relatively easy to come by in this setting and to this civilization.
  • Propulsion/lift: Electric jet engines combined with ducted propellers for directional movement and lift contribution/stabilization akin to a VTOL.
  • Hybridization: Overall the airships would have a hybrid design, in which the bouyancy supplied by the gas is combined with aerodynamics and engine-generated lift to remain airborne and move around, both in the dynastat and rotastat variants depending on applications.

Do you think that these uses for advanced airship technology are plausible in my world?

Links kindly provided by Andrew Breza in previous question. Mention of cloud 9 habitats kindly provided by BMF

Here is a link to an artstation gallery with more concept arts for the Venus floating settlements by Sergio Botero: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/3AdQJ

  • $\begingroup$ I understand that you're effectively using handwavium for the nukes, but whatisnuclear.com/thorium-myths.html. If you're running a reactor, the radioactivity of thorium is irrelevant, the short half-life fission products will require the same amount of shielding as any reactor of similar power. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Sep 1 '21 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ Ah, I was wrong. The decay chain for irradiated thorium includes TI-208, on its way to lead, a much stronger gamma source than in a conventional uranium-only reactor, so you'd potentially need more massive shielding. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Sep 1 '21 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ @jdunlop I see you didn't answered previous one, write a no-answer to this one, I would like to read your arguments in more details. I was crunching numbers today and was positively surprised by how a blimp could lool like with modern ship reactor. It definetly not for airplanes, they have no chances, but blimps it seems there is a chance - and I would like to read detailed answer why not. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 1 '21 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ "[Atmosphere] would be rather thick and dense": It will be exactly one and a half times as "thick and dense" as Earth's atmosphere, because the question states that the pressure is one and a half (Earth) atmospheres. (And, by the way, it has waaaaay to much carbon dioxide, about 150 times more than Earth's atmosphere; at that partial pressure carbon dioxide is toxic for Earth animals, including humans. The animals in that world must have a very different gas exchange system.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Sep 1 '21 at 23:08
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    $\begingroup$ WWI era blimps were used for forward recon and control and WWII era zeppelins were built with launch and landing facilities for byplanes so your military applications are kind of a given. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 2 '21 at 1:34

Military uses:

  • early warning detection.

The chinese are currently re-introducing static airships for early warning. "Static" means they are anchored to the ground by long lines. The airship has a radar installation on board and uses its height to scan farther than a land-based radar of the same size would. In WWII and the cold war the Americans used flying airships for similar purposes. You could have an AWACS/ELINT/whatever on steroids compared to current airborne radars with much longer on-station times.

A big advantage of such systems is that a radar is static and vulnerable to SEAD strikes which can remember the location of the radar even if it is switched off again. Airships can move their bulk in order to reduce the chance of successful SEAD.

  • in-depth AA system.

One of the big disadvantages of modern ground based anti-air systems is that anything they fire has to climb to the correct altitude and still retain the speed and range to intercept a modern aircraft. Some airships could be outfitted as missile barges using the radars and early warning detections to engage hostile aircraft.

Airships are extremely resiliant due to inherent redundancies and even with hydrogen inside the bladders it would still be hard to down an airship. For reference an airship in WWII had come into range of German anti-air defenses like 80mm flak twice, lost 50% of its lifting gas but still landed safely. It would require specially made missiles to deal significant damage to an airship. Added difficulties for shooting them down are that the envelope of the airship is hard to detect with radar, meaning that you have to target the individual components inside the ship to down it. Which is hard with the redundancies and the option of spaced armor plating (especially with Graphene) can make it hard to directly assault the components.

Added potential is CIWS to defend against such missiles fired at the airships can make them even more resiliant. Some smaller airships could support this type of CIWS duty with missiles designed against anti-airship missiles in a naval-like supporting structure.

  • light anti-asymetrical warfare aircraft.

Similar to the the Akron and Macon an aircraft carrier airship could be designed to launch Light Attack Craft. Their roles would mostly consist out of scouting, commanding small groups and attack on light targets or targets close to friendly positions. You would likely not need many of these as forward airfields would easily be build and they would mostly be used in places where enemy air defenses are suppressed or not available.

In a war like Afghanistan such aircraft are significantly cheaper to operate and can attack targets closer to allies which is a great boon when ambushes often happen at short ranges. The aircraft carrier would offer an advantage as the aircraft can remain on-station high above the target area and detatch in minutes after a call comes in for help.

  • Passenger

I suspect that with nuclear electricity the usage of trains would be superior to airships. With only the need for tracks it would be fast and efficient while airships would still need a lot of time taking off and landing compared to trains. As a mid-range transport across terrain that makes railways expensive or hard to build they could have an advantage though, especially if boarding is as fast and hassle-free as trains which would beat aircraft.

  • habitation

Purely as a rich people's retreat its possible. Although I suspect that a previous idea of mine would attract the super-rich more: airship superyachts. The ability to move anywhere freely from the rest of the super-rich would be a much appreciated boon.

  • $\begingroup$ Excellent suggestions! Especially the military ones! And they also gave me an idea for additional applications too. Thanks a lot. On a side note, I'd ask you to check again the passenger section, I already thought that they'd not work very well as pure means of transportation, but maybe they could work out as airborne cruise ships. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ Similar to the superyachts, a cruise ship version could work if you make full use of the inherent abilities of the airship. Fly passed beautiful vistas and to locations both inland and at sea. I heard that the "specialness" of a cruise quickly subsides and becomes relatively boring. So having the advantage of flying across land to give something more to look at would be a good benefit. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 2 '21 at 13:05

Okay the military applications you have mentioned are over a hundred years old, early airships were used for control and command during World War One. There were also variants that were built and other more ambitious designs that weren't, because Hindenburg Disaster, for midair biplane launch and recovery.

Freight/passenger heavy lift is the main use that modern airships like the HAV-10 are being designed for today so that is kind of a given.

Aerostat based permanent structures are easier to build than they are to supply but if you have enough, very cheap heavy lift capacity to keep the materiel and personnel flowing then if you can't build the facilities light enough sure why not. As a note you can possibly supply things like electricity and water up the tether line of airborne dwellings at fixed locations.

  • $\begingroup$ Doing some math, the HAV-10 has 7 tons of lift but lets round up to 10 tons because of the thicker atmosphere. A WW2-era light carrier is about 15,000 tons (Independence class) and a modern supercarrier is about 100,000 tons (Ford class) with a full load. Let's do aero. eng. black magic and shave 2/3 of the weight away (not possible in the real world). So about 500 HAV-10s are needed for the shaved CVL and 3333 HAV-10s are needed for the shaved CV. And providing enough engines to offset buoyancy yields equally improbable numbers. Airships as carriers/cities just doesn't seem plausible. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 5:27
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan Depends what you want to carry, a recon force of light weight one man prop planes built using lightweight composite, yes, a major strike force of modern jet aircraft, no. Also an airship carries virtually no armour so shaving more than a third of the weight off might not be as hard as you think. So it depends on your force projection needs. Cities, or any other structure that is either fixed or must be towed to move position, don't need engines and don't have the same limits on gas cell size, geometry, etc... that a moving vehicle that has to be aerodynamic. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 2 '21 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ The biplane aircraft carriers were actually build. The Akron and Macon. The design was bad though, some design of the ships had been botchee by not realizing the frame would get in the way for example. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Sep 2 '21 at 6:09
  • $\begingroup$ GrumpyYoungMan I understand, though consider also that the design is hybrid meaning that they'd be capable of relying on propellers and thrusters for additional lifting capacity in the case of the larger structures. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 7:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan Yeah from memory the Macon at least was a prototype that really shouldn't have been in service but "needs must". The flying landing strips were never put into service after a certain German zeppelin meet an untimely end. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Sep 2 '21 at 7:05

Military: forget it, too vulnerable and easy to attack

Analogues of cruise-ships: several companies working on this; look up 'Airlander 10'

Habitation: this is one I've thought about a great deal. Essentially the same technical specifications as a cargo airship, but half the cargo hold converted into living quarters. They harvest birds (and pollen and flying insects) for food, travel the planet following bird migrations for food, do hauling jobs along the way, pick up and drop off people. They are better able to exploit certain parts of the surface (e.g. the middle of the ocean or a dense forest) than most surface-dwellers are, so they have access to some resources from there, resources like whale oil. They keep pet birds (parrots, falcons, etc.) and wear feathered cloaks. They are nomadic, so don't think of a town in the sky so much as a horde in the sky. They will have to be very conscious of weight which will influence everything, so their furniture may be balsa wood and canvas slings for example rather than earthbound furniture.

Keep the population small; otherwise they may quickly exhaust the thin resources of the sky. Think about giving your world some abundant large birds that are good to eat, travel in huge flocks, and eat 'on the wing' in the sky.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm not bad suggestions, though I never envisoned these settlements as ever being able to achieve anything close to true self-sufficiency from the surface, though the idea of them relying on airborne creatures for sustenance is pretty good is quite good. Thank you. For the military applications, consider that they'd be able to reach rather high in the sky and have advanced self defense systems and protective materials (think like a flying aircraft carrier), you sure they'd be that easy to attack/take down? $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Clouds too: everybody needs water and how do you get water in the sky? Imagine sailing through a cloud with a fine net like this: yewtu.be/watch?v=G4GHGBov15U $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Sep 2 '21 at 15:13
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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal-clad_airship – it's been tried and is not beyond the bounds of possibility. A flying aircraft CARRIER isn't a good application of lighter-than-air ships, as they just can't carry much weight without becoming heavier than air. $\endgroup$
    – Ligament
    Sep 2 '21 at 15:16
  • $\begingroup$ Ligament Oh excellent point about the water! Yeah they'd absolutely use that. Good to know about the metal-clad airship possibility, especially considering the availablity of materials that are meant to substitute metals for protection (carbon based mainly). About the carrier concept...yeah the added weight would be a problem, but consider that we are dealing with an hybrid design so it would be capable of offsetting extra weight with the usage of thrusters and ducted rotors. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 15:32
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    $\begingroup$ Ligament Excellent suggestion, though about military applications allow me to direct you to this: youtube.com/watch?v=d7KgjObskvM This video illustrates the concept of a nuclear powered flying aircraft carrier designed to be capable of continous flight, holding fighther jets and even of vertical lift off. In this context I believe it would make it plausible to have an airship with hybrid design capable of additional lift thanks to electric jet thrusters, specifically a rotastat design. $\endgroup$ Sep 2 '21 at 17:41

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