Hydrogen Airship Fantasy

Imaginary Aircruise clipper

The press falls for publicity stunt… Hook, Line, & Dirigible:

What began as a fun exercise by a London design firm, to publicize the creative thinking of the firm and its client Samsung, has been picked up as if it were a real “news story” by CNN, the Telegraph, and other media outlets.

Tragedy at LakehurstThe firm of Seymourpowell has previously designed sex toys and packaging for condomstampon applicators and cat food but has never engineered an aircraft, yet they recently announced “plans” for a 100-passenger, octahedron-shaped, 870-foot tall luxury airship called the Aircruise, inflated with over 11 million cubic feet of flammable hydrogen (just like the Hindenburg).

Apparently no-one told CNN or the Telegraph that this is an amusing design exercise and not a real aeronautical possibility, and they didn’t check with any engineers before printing the Seymourpowell press release.

This was a great publicity move which generated significant media coverage.  And there is no denying that Seymourpowell’s airship fantasy is beautiful: It inspires people to imagine the possibilities of the future, just as they intended, and shows that Seymourpowell and Samsung can dream great dreams.  In fact, it follows a long tradition of airship futurism, in which airships have been used to illustrate the promise of a brighter tomorrow. But it is not a real project.

In cooperation with its client, Samsung, the firm produced a lavish CGI video with depictions of the ship’s modern interiors, which include passenger apartments complete with kitchens and cooking ranges (always a good idea on a hydrogen airship).

Unfortunately a few media outlets now have egg on their face for passing this along as a real project, without first checking the facts with aeronautical engineers or aerospace consultants.

Even the tiniest bit of journalistic skepticism would have raised some questions:

docking-station

  • The airship is shaped like a giant wall, the worst possible aerodynamic design, as opposed to a more streamlined form; it would require tremendous amounts of energy to overcome wind resistance for forward motion, assuming it could fly against headwinds at all.
  • The video focuses mainly on the beautifully-designed interiors, but interior design has never made an aircraft fly and the focus on lounges, penthouses, and other features unrelated to flight should have been another question mark for journalists.  (The Battlestar Galactica has cool interiors, too, but that doesn’t mean it can fly.)
  • The ship is supposed to operate from a modernistic docking station, but since the aircraft is shaped like a giant sail virtually any gust of wind would drive the ship into the station’s pincer-like claws, shredding the envelope and causing a disaster of Hindenburg-like proportions.
  • Reporters should also have noticed that the floating diamond has no visible means of propulsion or directional control: it has no propellers, thrusters, engines, or visible control surfaces.  But instead of raising questions about the design multiple news stories have claimed the airship will carry passengers from London to New York in 37 hours, at speeds up to 150 km/h, even faster than the ill-fated (but at least streamlined) Hindenburg.
  • And then, of course, there’s the hydrogen.

The Seymourpowell publicity campaign was brilliant, but the incident serves as a warning to journalists who are tempted to rely on a press release about a technical subject without seeking independent verification of the facts.

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33 Comments on "Hydrogen Airship Fantasy"

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Design Lover

Thanks for this post. I’m totally into design, and follow eductation for it here in Arnhem (Holland). Keep up the good work! I’ll keep following posts on this blog.

Cheers from Holland

James Bond
Hi folks, The situation in Google search for airship is getting worse, if you look at page one there is only Airship Ventures (Who are friends of Google owners) on page 1, to represent actual airship companies with a real airship. Apart from high profile information sites there seem to be more spam, scam and virtual world only airship company sites than real ones. Seymour Powell is a joke in comparison with the main offenders who are busy trying to find investors to fleece with their vitual world or flying toy airship companies. Regards JB (LTA comedy http://www.hybridblimp.net )
Timothy M

Someone really needs to edit the wikipedia page for it, otherwise many people could be caught out – whoever wrote it up neglected to mention any of this, or just didn’t know. Unfortunately I can’t do it as I have no experience editing wikipedia pages. So someone out there, fix those facts.

Jerin

Turtle Airships, Skycat, Cargolifter, Aereon-26, how many times must we fail before we ACTUALLY succeed in building a noteworthy rigid airship? I pray to GOD that the Sunship and Aeroscraft ML-866 pan out because both have a pre-existing companies backing them instead of hot air, pardon the pun. Not to mention they aren’t as big as the SS United States(Hi dynalifter), at 120 and 210 feet, respectively. Cross your fingers, everyone! And don’t forget your tickets!

Michael Hopp

Beautiful idea, poor design. I’d seen this myself a while back, and the first thing that I thought was “How terribly un-aerodynamic.”

The second thing I thought was “Hydrogen?! That can’t be right…”

Yet again, great idea but poor concept. Just like that Soviet design that had virtually no room for gas cells…

Christian Vogt

Bist Du der Michael von Cl ???

Cary Cupka
Add to your list of “gullible” media outlets non other than the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Their April 2010 issue of Sport Pilot carried a news clip titled “Airship promises green luxury airship travel” on page 16 in the Aeroinnovations section highlighting “cutting edge developments.” I reckon they might as well have said “Airship promises heaven on earth.” I could jump off here into a little “harmless” cynicism of my own, but I’ll spare your readers the venting. Thanks for helping me come back from my little flight of fancy. Now I have to go around recovering my integrity with… Read more »
Gary

A wonderful exercise in creativity. It’s always nice to dream a little.

Dallas S

But it has given us all an opportunity to stretch our minds, hasn’t it? Remember what they said about heavier than air aviation before it was proven…
Be careful with your words; use the best, most digestible words to slate anything,,, you may have to eat them later.

Denis

your guys are so negative and narrow minded!

Matt O

Yeah we sure are narrow minded. Apologies are going out starting now. It became clear to me after I watched the YouTube video that this Airship will be Skippered by none other than Harry Potter, and the propulsion and control system is the always green PFM (Pure Friggin’ Magic) System.

I wish to order my ticket on this new Airship’s inaugural flight, but I demand that the destination be the Planet of Pandora! See how open-minded I am?

Hugh Ashton

The magic phrase in Japan, where I live, is “Eco”. To be fair, many Japanese are seriously concerned about certain aspects of the environment (not all, by any means!), but the over-use of “Eco” on everything from cat food to airships (I exaggerate for effect) does indeed have a mind-numbing influence on consumers here as well.

Hans Paul Stroehle, Zeppelin Pilot
Hans Paul Stroehle, Zeppelin Pilot
It is not possible to get permission from any authority to create such a commercial passenger aircraft with the lifting gas of hydrogen. I am frustrated about the fact that such a utopian DESIGN study gets that much attention from apparently serious press, when obviously ZERO research has been done by the journalists on that. A simple contact to any of the most famous airship companies, such as ZEPPELIN, The Lightship Group, AMS, The Goodyear Airship Corporation would have been enough to find out that this kind of thing can’t be more serious than a simple design joke. By simply… Read more »
Dan (Airships.net)

Thanks for your comment, Paul. It is always a pleasure to have you visit the blog.

Just by way of introduction, Paul is an instructor pilot in the Zeppelin NT, and he is one of only a handful of pilots in the world licensed to fly a Zeppelin. Among his other achievements, Paul and Steve Fossett co-piloted the Zeppelin NT which broke the world speed record for airships in 2004.

James Bond
Hi folks, The Zeppelin NT is an interesting airship to fly and I thought the year I spent flying one does add to a CV. BUT you have to be realistic that after I assisted DZR to sell the no 2 NT to the NEC in Japan, where the advertising budgets are very high and passengers will pay very high ticket prices, the NEC, a very experienced airship operator in Japan, went bust recently for 15 million dollars, the biggest one airship operator failure in history. Only the military could fund the development of such an expensive type of airship,… Read more »
Moongrim

Calling Dr. Pangloss! Your ship is ready!

Alan

This video has been released a little too early—April the 1st would have been most appropriate!

Kellen

yeah its shaped in the upward position..
tampons and vibrators. HAHA. someone was on something when they thought of this!

Dallas S

Sure it’s an untenable idea for all practical purposes and every silver lining has it’s cloud, but there are some stunning interior design ideas for anyone thinking of upgrading their home, office, workplace, bar etc. Thanks SeymourPowell, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Hans Paul Stroehle, Zeppelin Pilot
Hans Paul Stroehle, Zeppelin Pilot

Great as a design study, but not a serious airship project that might ever happen.

Lombard Street

Just like AlGore, this childish fantasy is “green” because the willing BigMedia dupes say so. The “journalists” should ask where the hydrogen, aluminum, plastic, etc. will come from and how much pollution the construction and operation will emit. Clue: the production of hydrogen releases massive emissions and and the other stuff is worse. Leftists believe in every kind of free lunch . . . that comes out of your pocket.

Hugh Ashton
As the writer of a novel involving a fictional Zeppelin, I have to say that my airship is a lot more airworthy than this beautiful piece of computer graphics. Obviously designed by someone who believes that function and form are unconnected, and has very little idea of how things actually work, this so-called “airship” has no visible means of propulsion. The proposal talks vaguely about “fuel cells” and “solar panels” in an attempt to make the project appear “green” but goes over details with a broad brush (except for the stateroom interiors, which presumably were more to the design firm’s… Read more »
Tael

I read recently that anything greater than a few cubic feet of hydrogen is considered a bomb…

James Bond

Very true!!

Thomas Goodey
If the designers had honestly said that this flying hotel was to be held up in the air by one type of magic and pushed through the air by another sort of magic, that would have been perfectly acceptable (given the McGuffin), and it would have been a nice design exercise and worthy of respect. But to pretend that the thing can actually be made within the constraints of current materials and physics is just…. abysmal, beneath contempt, words fail me. That Samsung has become involved is deeply to their discredit, and that CNN seems to take it all seriously… Read more »
Rick Zitarosa
While a gas of “necessity” for early Lighter-Than-Air operations, hydrogen was gradually replaced by non-flammable helium as the latter gas became available in pratical quantities beginning in the 1920’s. In addition to losses of airships in combat conditions due to hydrogen fire/explosion during the First World War there were several spectacular accidents in the 1920’s and 1930’s which highlighted the danger of the use of this gas (the HINDENBURG being only one of many hydrogen-related airship accidents, albeit the most famous.) The United States Navy, which pioneered the large-scale use of helium in its airships beginning in the 1920’s continued… Read more »
Marc de Piolenc

The issue here is not the use of hydrogen as a lifting gas – that is not beyond the realm of possibility, PROVIDED that adequate precautions are taken. Unfortunately, everything else about this scheme is, and its uncritical propagation by a news organization whose first instinct should be to check it thoroughly is a travesty of journalism. At the very least, somebody who knows the first thing about lighter-than-air flight should have seen the alleged “technical plan,” but this is clearly not the case or it would have gone no further.

Dan Nachbar

CNN recently fired its entire science team including their
on air guy Miles O’Brien. This sort of “news” is the result.

James Bond

Good stuff,
I will go back to watching their news today! Much better than the BBC who banned me from comments or blogs for including a web site link. I had to change my e mail address and switch IP as a result. Not posting to them again.
Regards JB

Erik Andersson

Isn’t there laws against the use of hydrogen as lifting gas?

Dan Nachbar

Yes, the FAA airship airworthiness rules explicitly
prohibit the use of hydrogen as a lifting gas.

Vitaly Voloshin

Hi!

Could you, please, give me the number of the airworthiness regulation, where it is clearly stated that hydrogen is prohibited on airships?

I am working on the airship project (different from the one, described in the article) and try to prove to coordinators that hydrogen is prohibited, but they do not believe me without actual document.

Please, for the sake of the safety of the future airships, give me any clue of in what instruction can I find it?

Thank you very much in advance.

Patrick Russell
As a basic design exercise (not an airship-design exercise, but as just a general one) it’s an interesting concept. It actually looks to me like something that would have been neat to see as a set in, for instance, a Star Wars movie. (And, in fact, the interiors remind me a lot of Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back.) But as a viable, real-world LTA concept? Not even close. As you point out, Dan, there are no visible propellers or thrusters, and no control surfaces – unless we’re to believe that the concave sides are themselves the control surfaces… Read more »
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