There is no one who will not look up at a blimp in the sky. I don’t think you could find a single person who wouldn’t look up to see a blimp. When was the last time you saw a blimp? There’s something about airships that are just sort of magical. Like any kid who has gone to a grocery store and gotten a helium balloon realizes that this is like a magical quality.
So, an airship is this same thing on a ridiculous scale. Blimps were once at the forefront of aviation innovation. It looks like a scene from 1992. Now airships are often used for advertising or aerial broadcasting or even for military purposes, but actually, there could be a whole new future of transportation and shipping with airships at the center. What we’re building is a segment of the transport industry that doesn’t exist, that has never existed. It’s probably been a while since you last saw an airship in the U.S.
GIANTS OF THE SKY
So what’s up with blimps? An airship and a dirigible mean the same thing, there’s steerable aircraft, usually filled with a gas like helium, which makes them lighter-than-air. It’s a lot like flying a boat, really. It gives you the sensation of boat on the water. A lot of people think it’s a balloon with engines on it. And how hard could it be? But it’s probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever learned to fly. There are different types of airships, those with a spine-like structure, semi-rigid or rigid, and those without non rigid airships.
So a blimp has its shape in the same way a balloon has its shape because the pressure of the gas inside is expanding and creates that shape. If a blimp were to deflate, it would lose its shape. A rigid airship has a rigid framework. In the early 1900s, airplanes were still flimsy and wooden and really couldn’t carry much. Then airplanes quickly innovated past airships.
There are also some big accidents like the Hindenburg. There’s a limit to what an airship can do. And to be honest, Hindenburg probably reached that limit that that was the best thing airship could ever do. The world had never seen an aircraft as large as the silver dirigible, the famous Hindenburg.
Now, it was already obsolete by the time it first flew. In almost no time at all, the passengers looked down to see the east coast of America gliding by beneath them. Hindenburg made 62 successful flights before it crashed in. Hindenburg was a successful transatlantic airliner. It’s the greatest adventure you can have in modern days. Through 1936. I enjoyed the trip tremendously. It was a real revelation. Right?
No airship really practically could ever fly faster, couldn’t really fly farther, and couldn’t really carry more people. She will carry 50 passengers, a crew of 40 and 30,000pounds of mail. It was 804-feet-long, making it the largest aircraft ever built. Everybody talks about the Hindenburg crash being the end of the airship. All it did was speed up the end a little bit. The Hindenburg’s seven million cubic feet of hydrogen gas had ignited. Airships would have been over anyway because they simply couldn’t compete with heavier-than-aircraft. Thus ended the age of the dirigible.
Now, there are only 39 registered airships in the United States and at least three of those are the iconic Goodyear blimps flying now. Goodyear has at least four others that are registered but are not being used. And of the more than 425,000 commercial pilots in the United States as of 2019, just 124 of them have a rating to fly an airship. Then of those few, just 13 fly with Goodyear.
Goodyear was founded in 1898 during the American Industrial Revolution. Well, the blimp and Goodyear are kind of synonymous. Since 1925, we’ve had a public relations aircraft flying in some form or fashion. I’ll tow you and your team of surfboard riders behind the airship. Gee, I’d love to try that. We were involved in the rubber and fabric business in the early 1900s.
That fabric was used to make the balloon part of the blimp. By 1917, Goodyear was flying its blimps and making blimps for the U.S. Navy. And many people are surprised that the United States had a fleet of rigid airships. They were operated by our Navy and they were designed as flying aircraft carriers. Under side of Navy Dirigible, Los Angeles, glider prepares for free flight.
These giant airships would fly through the air and they had small, heavier-than-air fighter and observation planes that they carried in the same way that an aircraft carrier ship floats on the sea and launches and recoveries airplanes. The U.S. Navy used airships to oversee American waters during World War Two. We’re seeing a great loss of surface ships on the ocean. And when they started the program in the blimps were escorting the ships across the ocean.
So greatly improved our military program at the time with the technology that they had. And Goodyear continued to build its own airships, post-World War Two, for basically PR and marketing reasons like we still do today. And we had basically the same model from about mid to late 1960s all the way through 2016. So now the Goodyear blimps technically aren’t blimps anymore.
As of 2014, Goodyear’s airships are semi-rigid aircraft and made in partnership with Zeppelin. Now, they’re more manoeuvrable, have three engines and they’re larger than the old models. One of Goodyear’s main airship functions now is aerial broadcasting. We have partnerships with a handful of particular networks. They’re involved in different kinds of sports. So golf, a little bit of NFL stuff, NBA, NASCAR obviously with Goodyear both on the track with our tires and in the air with our blimps.
So, when we’re in that small town in Kentucky that we haven’t been to in 20 years, the whole town will come out in. The fences are just lined when we get there. And that’s part of the rarity, I guess.
AIRSHIPS OF THE FUTURE
The inconsistency that we have because there are so few of us, is really almost our, you know, one of our greatest assets Blimps are still used for advertising, but there are more cost-effective ways for companies to get their message out.
We’re in online digital world now. And if you want to get a message to people efficiently and effectively, does it make sense to hire a blimp to fly around or does it make sense to just do online advertising? It’s expensive to fly a plane, in part because helium is so expensive. In fact, CNBC did a whole other video about why.
Helium might be incredibly abundant in the universe, but it’s rare on Earth. You have to find it. You have to refine it, you can’t create it. And so it is expensive. Another lifting gas, hydrogen, is more dangerous to use because it’s more flammable. But despite this, some companies are working on bringing airships into the future. There are a number of airship projects around the world currently going on. Lockheed has an airship project going on, right?
They actually flew a prototype in 2006. There’s a company in Great Britain called Hybrid Air Vehicles. Prepared for lift off. The company hoping to sell airships made in Britain to the rest of the world. That flew a small airship, Airlander 10, which was basically a airship that had been built for the American military. They’re currently working on developing a larger, more practical airship.
There’s a company called Flying Whales. Flying Whales is a French company that is developing the biggest airship in the world, the biggest aircraft in the world. All related to their ability to deliver cargo and to deliver cargo to inaccessible places. The goal is to develop a solution that will propose to load and unload up to 60 tons of cargo and transport this cargo without any transport infrastructure, meaning that we will never need to land to load and unload.
Without needing to lay out a new railroad or construct a new airport in these hard to reach areas, it makes the cost of shipping a lot less. But Flying Whales doesn’t have an airship built just yet, and figuring out how to best balance the airship with the cargo load remains tricky. What happens when it drops that heavy thing or leaves it on the ground? Delivers it right? Is it going to shoot up? Boom, right.
It’s always a matter of equilibrium. We use a lot of digital simulation to work on this. The idea is that as the airship drops tons of cargo, it’ll be picking up an equal amount of weight, whether that be in water or construction material to offset the loss of the load. And it’ll take hundreds of millions of dollars to ultimately manufacture the airship. Today we already have some big investors. Like the government of Quebec and the Aviation Industry Corporation of China and more.
Flying whales plans to build its first factory at the end of 2021 to start building its airship. Then it plans to fly in 2023. After it undergoes rigorous testing and standards, flying Wale’s plans to enter the commercial space in 2025. It’s something that will bridge the whole global economy and the global society to regions that are today may be a bit remote and disconnected without impacting too much the environment. It is quite iconic for the future of transport. We all have to think of the impact we have on the environment. That’s, that’s a fact.