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This question already has an answer here:

So is it possible that an airship could actually fly using a steam engine? For example a blimp like airship that could carry a dozen or so people, as well as coal for a fuel source, and obviously a steam engine onboard or would fall that be too heavy? Once airborn I was thinking it could use air currents to save on fuel. Curious about the possibilities, pros and cons of a steampowered air ship.

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marked as duplicate by M i ech, SZCZERZO KŁY, L.Dutch, JDługosz Jun 1 '17 at 11:00

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • $\begingroup$ A steam engine requires: a high-pressure boiler, lots of water, and plenty of fuel (coal, usually). All of those things are heavy. The boiler usually is a massive bulk of stainless stell, you need several tons of water for a small-to-medium boiler, and a similar amount of coal. Normally, that's heavy enough to be impracticable. In real life, airships only developed after the explosion engine was developed (much lighter engines with much lighter fuel, and no water at all). $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Jun 1 '17 at 7:09
  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure it's a duplicate. I remember reading for exact same premise and reaching conclusion that no. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Jun 1 '17 at 7:21
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After a second thought, I think I will post my comment as an answer.

A steam engine requires: a high-pressure boiler, lots of water, and plenty of fuel (coal, usually). All of those things are heavy. The boiler usually is a massive bulk of stainless stell, you need several tons of water for a small-to-medium boiler, and a similar amount of coal. Normally, that's heavy enough to be impracticable. In real life, airships only developed after the internal combustion engine was developed (much lighter engines with much lighter fuel, and no water at all).

Even with some handwavium about the boiler's size and weight, the problem with steam engines is that the power output of the engines depends on the steam. You need a lot of steam or a extremely hot steam to produce a powerful output. A lot of steam needs a lot of water, while a very hot steam needs a lot of fuel and a extremely strong boiler (and so, bulky and heavy).

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It's not actually that bad

What people forget is that the steam engine has also had significant improvements in the technology over the centuries. It's a lot lighter and more efficient than the early engines. It's also important to note that the low torque high speed rotation of a propeller is an entirely different beast from a railway engine.

Consider the Keen Steamliner, it's an oil burning steam powered car, on the outside it looks like an ordinary small sports car (I can't testify as to its handling). The biggest problem is the water cycle, if you don't have a good condenser then you're going to have a lot of water losses and that means carrying a lot of water, you must have a closed cycle engine. Luckily airships and condensers have one important factor in common: A large surface area.

Coal is harder to handle as a fuel than oil and the energy density is significantly worse, but you're not asking the impossible

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  • $\begingroup$ yes, but wouldnt the chaimber holding the steam weight alot? also u would need alot of heat to produce steam, and the air is colder up in the clouds $\endgroup$ – jeyejow Jun 1 '17 at 10:27
  • $\begingroup$ @jeyejow, no more than a standard car internal combustion engine, we're not talking the Flying Scotsman here. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 1 '17 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ well assuming the airship is really big, comercial airplane size, you would need alot of steam and pression to be able to lift it, plus you would need to carry whatever things you are using to make steam, plus the airship would get pretty hot, depending on were you store the steam-making mechanisms, so its really not a practic solution at all, one side you have a mechanism that need to be really hot to function, and the other you have cold air from out side, plus a heavy airship, not ideal at all. $\endgroup$ – jeyejow Jun 1 '17 at 13:35
  • $\begingroup$ @jeyejow, you know airships are "lighter than air" right? Generally helium filled. You don't need to lift it, just blow it along. They're big, unwieldy, slow, but fundamentally not heavy. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jun 1 '17 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ But they become really heavy once you have the steam-making mechanics + fuel (+ whatever it will carry) $\endgroup$ – jeyejow Jun 1 '17 at 13:40

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