The Goodyear Blimp has nothing on this futuristic airship.
The Solar Airship One is a rigid airship that promises to go beyond sci-fi fantasy to reality in the not-too-distant future by circumnavigating the globe using green energy—specifically, solar and hydrogen power—without ever touching down. The designer, Euro Airship, is building what it calls the “commercial airship of the future,” predicting the Airship One will have 80 percent less fuel consumption and CO2 emissions than conventional aircraft.
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Other firms, including google cofounder Sergey Brin’s LTA and the U.K.’s Hybrid Air Vehicles, are also in the process of building eco-friendly airships.
But if this pans out, the Solar Airship One could have the most ambitious initial flight—an equatorial journey around the world of 21,598 nautical miles lasting from 20 to 30 days. Flying at an average altitude of 19,685 feet, the rigid airship will have a reinforced envelope with a double layer, according to its website, that provides stability against external pressures, while also regulating internal temperature. The airship’s 15 separate gas envelopes will also be managed individually by software, creating faster maneuverability in different conditions.
Euro Airship told Flying.com that its craft would normally have a range of about 540 nautical miles, but incorporating solar film into the top half of the envelope to recharge the batteries will allow the airship, at least in theory, to fly perpetually. Its hydrogen fuel cells can then power the aircraft’s electric engines by night.
The Solar Airship One is timely, said company officials, given the debate about sustainability in aviation. “The goal is to educate, to catalyze the young generation, for us it is very important because of the climate change, because of the natural disasters coming,” Euro Airship crew and French aerobatic pilot Dorine Bourneton told Flying.com recently. “That we need to have a new mobility—a green mobility.”
The French firm has signed on the logistics team that managed the round-the-world balloon flight of Bertrand Piccard. Bourneton said that she, Piccard and former space shuttle astronaut and French Air Force pilot Michel Tognini would pilot the Airship on its circumnavigation.
Euro Airship will begin construction of the Solar Airship One in 2024, and final assembly will take place the following year. In 2026, after gaining experimental certification, the company is planning to begin its intrepid voyage.
But the new design will be more than a one-off. After the tour, Euro Airship expects to pursue full-type certification. The company has partnered with Capgemini Engineering for the design and manufacturing. “For the past 3 years, our engineers and researchers have been working closely with Euro Airship on the design of this innovative airship,” said Corinne Jouanny, Capgemini’s head of Portfolio and Industry Centers of Excellence in a statement. “We are putting their skills to work on this unprecedented challenge.” As part of the collaboration, Capgemini will create a “digital twin” of the airship. Safran will also be working on the electric motors for the airship.
Euro Airship sees a future for the aircraft in ecotourism as well as military surveillance. “We can be at 6,000 meters [altitude], and we can use it without a crew, and stay up for [a long time],” Bourneton told Flying.com.
If everything goes to plan, that could be an understatement.
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