There are some pieces of technology that refuse to go away completely, no matter how old they are. Walk into most any office supply store and you can buy a fountain pen. There are some people who swear by using a typewriter to write on rather than a computer, and you risk your life pulling out a Nook or Kindle around some book aficionados. Some of these things are still around for their “retro” appeal, but there are some that are around for more practical reasons. For example, there are many musicians who swear that amplifiers that use vacuum tubes produce a superior sound to those using solid state devices. One thing that hasn't quite gone away is the airship, more commonly known as the blimp.


To be precise, a blimp is type of airship, and airships are a form of aerostat. Aerostats are aircraft that stay in the air due to the greater buoyancy of a gas, such as helium or hydrogen, stored in a bag, balloon, or envelope. In the same way that a boat floats on water, these craft “float” in the air. One of the more famous examples is, of course, the Goodyear blimp. Interestingly, the newest Goodyear airships aren't blimps, but dirigibles made by Zeppelin. The difference between a blimp and a dirigible is that a blimp is a limp balloon, while a dirigible has an internal framework.


What's neat is how the basic technology is being looked at today. Airships have great promise when it comes to delivering large cargoes to remote locations, or disaster zones which can't support conventional aircraft. One downside of lighter than air craft, especially in a disaster zone, is their very buoyancy. It can take a large ground crew to hold an airship down when it comes in for a landing, which can also prove quite hazardous. Imagine holding onto a rope attached to a blimp when a gust of wind knocks down some of your fellows, and the ship surges back up into the air, taking you along with it!


Worldwide Aeros Corporation has a new approach to this problem with their Aeroscraft line of airships, and it's the same technique that submarines use to dive and surface. When an Aeroscraft wants to ascend, helium is released from tanks into its gas bags. When it was to descend, the helium is pumped back into the tanks, and normal air takes its place in the gas bags, decreasing buoyancy and making the ship “heavier than air.” They also have turbofan engines to assist in ascent and descent, but it's this compressing and releasing helium that I think is the most interesting part of the design. They've produced a half scale example which is being used for testing. I'll be watching to see where things go in the future.