Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Rash of Plane Crashes: Rethinking Small Craft Travel

Anyone who has followed my blog for a while knows that I have a bias toward the airship.  I think they are fascinating in their design and potential.  Seen as not very practical in execution, they drifted into the realms of Football Game advertisements, instead of mainstream transport vehicles.  We can thank the disaster of the Hindenburg for the state of the airship in this day and age.  

But airships have been seeing a comeback:  For the first time since before World War II, a German airship has been seen in the skies of London.  Canada is looking to airships to solve the problem of global warming melting the ice roads between remote locations in the Great White North.  Airships are even being used remotely for border patrols along the US-Mexico border.  

And now, it seems, I keep hearing about small aircraft crashes.  Within Utah and Wyoming we have had three fatal crashes in a matter of weeks, and I just read this story about a similar small plane crash in Easton, Mass.  It seems with the price of fuel, the increasing need for safe travel, and the growing complaints against airlines closing smaller community flights, we need to rethink the travel options.  

Enter the airship again.  Airships are ideally designed for small community flights to larger airports.  They can carry smaller passenger loads and still make money, because they use only a fraction of the fuel a jet or propeller plane uses.  That, added to the fact that they can land at any clearing without the need for a paved or prepared runway, makes the airship an ideal vehicle.  

Now, you may be asking why I think a Blimp can be more effective than a plane.  I don't, because I don't see airships as blimps.  Airships have rigid frames that enclose their envelope, and can even be heavier than air (as opposed to lighter than air).  They can be hybrid craft like the Aeroscraft, and even be solar powered, like the Turtle Airship.

Of course, neither company has completed their prototypes as of yet, and they are much anticipated.  While they may take twice as long to reach your destination they would use a fraction of the fuel, fly lower in the atmosphere to avoid impact on the existing flight paths of planes, and provide more overall space than a comparative jet.  

Perhaps airliners will see the potential of such craft when they are finally launched, and we will start to see more local flights being taken by more fuel efficient airships.  Perhaps the dream will never be realized and the world of flight will continue to shrink based on fuel restrictions.  

Either way, something must give in order to decrease the growing frustration regarding the airline industry, or we will find our global economy throttled slowly and painfully.  Of course, there is always the idea of the Trans-Aleutian Bridge

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