Seymourpowell Aircruise: Hoax, Con, or Merely Cynical?

As you can imagine, there has been discussion in the Lighter-than-Air community about Seymourpowell’s new “Aircruise” concept, which was previously described on this blog.

Much of that discussion has involved ridicule of their unrealistic design (which seems to defy the laws of aerodynamics) and of their suggestion to inflate a passenger aircraft with hydrogen.

Unfortunately, some of that discussion has also included suggestions that the Seymourpowell project is a “con.”  Some people have even compared Seymourpowell [warning: Flash-heavy site] to Turtle Airships; I think that particular comparison is absurd.

Let me offer my personal opinion, based solely on public information and my own intuition:  While I have never met or even spoken with anyone at Seymourpowell, I cannot imagine that their project was intended as any sort of financial fraud.

aircruise-dockThe only possible “con” about Aircruise, as far as I can tell, was Seymourpowell’s attempt to get publicity for themselves and their client by implying that a purely conceptual project was actually a real engineering possibility.

Seymourpowell probably knew that many people fall into an unthinking trance of “oohs” and “ahhs” when you call something green, sustainable, or eco-friendly, or when you show them awe-inspiring pictures of futuristic visions.  And Seymourpowell probably guessed they could use this phenomenon to show off their impressive CGI skills and creative abilities and attract publicity for the firm and its client.

Cynical, perhaps, but far from evil.

At worst, Seymourpowell took advantage of the public’s weakness for any “eco-friendly” and luxurious alternative to long flights in tiny airline seats, being charged for blankets, pillows, and toilet-access by snarling flight attendants who will have you arrested if you fail to show sufficiently obsequious deference, while clogging our atmosphere with poisonous carbon emissions.  But I think the only thing Seymourpowell was trying to con is a few moments of our time and mental attention.  At worst, you could call it a hoax rather than a con, and even hoax may be too strong a word; it was really just cynical.

Turtle Airships Fund Solicitation

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I think there is a huge moral difference between Seymourpowell and “Turtle Airships.”  While their airships may be equally impractical, Turtle Airships used their imaginary dirigible to obtain money from the public.  Turtle promised free rides in an unrealistic airship to entice unsophisticated members of the public to send them money for an e-Book, and they apparently tried to raise investment capital in India, China, Dubai, and elsewhere.  (In fairness to Turtle, they seem to have toned down their online “marketing” recently, or at least they are no longer selling their e-Book, which is currently available for free.)

And there is a huge gulf between the small-time e-Book scam of Turtle Airships, whose credentials and background are left rather murky on their various websites, and the conceptual design project of Seymourpowell, who may not be aircraft engineers, but who are serious members of the industrial design profession.

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Neither the Aircruise nor the Turtle Airship will ever fly (at least, not in anything close to their proposed forms), and the mainstream media should have been a lot more suspicious of Seymourpowell’s flammable-pie-in-the-sky; the real story here is about bad journalism, not about Seymourpowell.  It is the journalists who should be criticized, for abandoning their ethical responsibility to act as fact-checkers and filters rather than mere conduits for press releases.  Seymourpowell seem to be just clever and creative (if somewhat cynical) self-promoters.  They were willing to (harmlessly) mislead the public in return for a few minutes of fame, but that’s not so unusual.  The real story is the journalists who let them get away with it.

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1 Comment on "Seymourpowell Aircruise: Hoax, Con, or Merely Cynical?"

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Richard Bermingham
Dear Sirs: I am designing a solar powered electric prop propelled helium/hot air or Rozier Eco-tourism semi-rigid dirigible that will be able to land anywhere without a ground crew. The craft will carry about fifty or less passengers in absolute luxury to places like the Serengeti, Patagonia, The Mediterranean, Europe and the Amazon Basin, America. There is a possibility that it could play a part in astronomy. There will be a lot of carbon fiber in it but it is basically an old fashioned LTA with a slightly aerodynamic envelope. I sometimes think of it as floating architecture. In France,… Read more »
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