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Author Topic: Airships: They don't make them like they used to  (Read 2188 times)
J. Wilhelm
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« on: October 27, 2013, 02:52:46 am »

Ladies and gentlemen:

It looks like the most modern efforts at reviving the era of the airship have failed miserably, at least on this side of the Atlantic. I believe some if not all of the projects mentioned in this article have already been touched in this forum; US Army's LEMV and US Air Force's Blue Devil as examples.  It's enough to have the old Admiral have a fit.  Have we forgotten how to design and build a proper airship?


http://news.yahoo.com/us-militarys-airship-programs-lose-altitude-184954075.html


-J. Wilhelm
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #1 on: October 27, 2013, 07:24:40 am »

Since ~ 1960 there have also been several private endevours, ranging from the ill-fated

to the present Aeroscraft http://aeroscraft.com/aeroscraft/4575666071
none of which seem to have become a commercial success.

Here is a bit of web-babble on the toipic - I am particularly fond of the the "Manned Cloud" as it looks remarkably like a sky whale....

yhs
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #2 on: October 27, 2013, 08:32:12 am »

Isn't the Aeroscraft the one which had a hangar collapse on it?

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/oct/08/local/la-me-1008-airship-20131008
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« Reply #3 on: October 27, 2013, 11:47:25 am »

Sorely disappointing.  It's hardly rocket science.  I note from the first article that one of the problems with the military airship was 'it could only stay in the air for four to five days'.  Yes, disappointing in that they were aiming for three week flights, but far better than most aeroplanes and helicopters can manage. 
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« Reply #4 on: October 27, 2013, 06:51:37 pm »

Sorely disappointing.  It's hardly rocket science.  I note from the first article that one of the problems with the military airship was 'it could only stay in the air for four to five days'.  Yes, disappointing in that they were aiming for three week flights, but far better than most aeroplanes and helicopters can manage.  

Being an aerospace engineer myself, but noting I'm trash-talking rather than speaking from experience, I'm disappointed in the manner of failure:  The fins are too heavy?  In some cases the airship couldn't even get off the ground.  Say what?  In this age of composite materials???

*mumbles to himself - "maybe these companies are reaping the "benefits" from years of poorly picked engineering candidates at the hands of human resources scum personnel common to major industry nowadays"
« Last Edit: October 27, 2013, 06:54:36 pm by J. Wilhelm » Logged
Arabella Periscope
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« Reply #5 on: October 27, 2013, 11:42:56 pm »

Now, Admiral, dear, don't get bitter.  Design a better mousetrap --er, airship, and they will come!  Or something.  Why not fix the design flaws and put your self-evidently practical and economical Orca plans (except the secret of the aerodynamics that only you hold the patent to for auction) up on the Internet.  Then all those who have put billions into these flawed airships will say, "Of course!"  or "Eureka!" and the skies will be filled with silent, beautiful, floating aircraft and you will have your place in history and never have to worry about anything again.  Prove them wrong!  Be splendid!
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« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2013, 12:08:18 am »

Fins too heavy sounds like a possible failure of both materials selection and trusswork design.  I have a blended fin-body method I like.  As for long endurance, the airship needs a better method than dropping ballast and venting lift gas.  Thrust vectoring helps.  I like the idea of using a condensible lift gas, like ammonia, to adjust buoyancy as needed.
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2013, 01:48:56 am »

Yes, it always seems that design with composites is never as straightforward as one would want.  Metals are heavier but more predictable in design applications with a low safety margin.  Reminds me of the problems with the X-33 and their composite fuel tanks continuously delaminating.  The X-33 was a single stage to orbit vehicle prototype built by Lockheed Martin.  They had a truss made of composite strips around the tanks, and they had a welded aerospike (basically a supersonic nozzle turned "inside out), which kept falling apart during testing.  They changed the tanks to aluminium (if I remember) and the craft became so heavy that they were pondering adding a booster rocket - which basically obviated the whole purpose of the design.  So many problems were encountered simultaneously the development project was ended (and this was only a 1/3 scale prototype to be developed)

Now, Admiral, dear, don't get bitter.  Design a better mousetrap --er, airship, and they will come!  Or something.  Why not fix the design flaws and put your self-evidently practical and economical Orca plans (except the secret of the aerodynamics that only you hold the patent to for auction) up on the Internet.  Then all those who have put billions into these flawed airships will say, "Of course!"  or "Eureka!" and the skies will be filled with silent, beautiful, floating aircraft and you will have your place in history and never have to worry about anything again.  Prove them wrong!  Be splendid!

Indeed dear Arabella, but, well to be honest, I'll have to read up more on exactly what the problem is (assuming they would share such information), before I can voice my opinion on how to improve it.  Oft it is that change from old to newer technologies causes all those "growing pains" such as the Boeing 787 is experiencing at the moment.

Engineers tend to get in trouble when they try to implement too many new technologies in one package.  With the X-33 they were trying to fold flight testing and failure testing into a single step!!  In a ridiculously short development time frame.  That is having too much confidence in themselves.
« Last Edit: October 29, 2013, 01:23:31 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
Prof Marvel
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« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2013, 07:22:05 am »

Engineers tend to get in trouble when they try to implement too many new technologies in one package.  With the X-33 they were trying to fold flight testing and failure testing into a single step!!  In a ridiculously short development time frame.  That is having too much confidence in themselves.

Thou and I are from a different era.
Fast/ Cheap / Good ===  pick any two.

perhaps the current crop of "project managers" have been overly influenced by current rapid-prototyping BS and current state of (so called) software design? I find that far too much software is being rolled out and declared "complete and successful" only to fail under real-world conditions and actual load. 

Unfortunately in the hard cruel physical world it is ever-so-difficult to defy the laws of physics and physical properties of materials  Grin

And failures are much harder to cover up and explain away.

yhs
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2013, 05:26:30 pm »

Engineers tend to get in trouble when they try to implement too many new technologies in one package.  With the X-33 they were trying to fold flight testing and failure testing into a single step!!  In a ridiculously short development time frame.  That is having too much confidence in themselves.

Thou and I are from a different era.
Fast/ Cheap / Good ===  pick any two.

perhaps the current crop of "project managers" have been overly influenced by current rapid-prototyping BS and current state of (so called) software design? I find that far too much software is being rolled out and declared "complete and successful" only to fail under real-world conditions and actual load. 

Unfortunately in the hard cruel physical world it is ever-so-difficult to defy the laws of physics and physical properties of materials  Grin

And failures are much harder to cover up and explain away.

yhs
prof marvel

I can't help feel that they need to go back to basics.  They can fall back on "primitive" yet powereful structural design software like NASTRAN.  It's time-tested and infallible (it was used to design the Apollo spacecraft / Saturn V rockets) and stick to aluminium first.  All engineers learn this (or at least they still did one decade ago).  There is no way you can go wrong that way.  Incrementally use more sophisticated software.  Build an aeroelastic model around it using software like IDEAS, like I did in one of my final design projects.  Then and only then can you move into more sophisticated tweaking.   But this would violate their "rapid prototyping."

Go back to school I say!  Perhaps this is overkill, but I'd even suggest having a crop of engineers (they can afford it) dedicated to developing airships.  Over an extended period of time, maybe 5 - 10 years have them successfully design an airship - using conventional means with conventional materials.  Just to have the engineers train themselves and look into the issues of such design.  When they've mastered traditional construction, they can move on with the newer materials.
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James Harrison
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« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2013, 08:21:35 pm »

They seem to be giving up prematurely.  Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin had no fewer than four (yes, four) failures before he perfected even the most rudimentary dirigible.  Then, when he had perfected it, that prototype suffered an engine failure on a test flight and ditched in a field.  Whilst awaiting replacement engine parts, a storm came up and blew the whole thing into a tree, where it burst into flames.  Did he give up?  No.   

The first airship in the Royal Navy, HMS Mayfly, proved too heavy and then broke in two whilst being launched.  Did the Navy give up? No. 

The history of airship development is a long and interesting story of accident following setback following delay.  We should not be giving up just because 'the fins are too heavy' or 'it won't stay up as long as we want it to'.  Nothing gets done if we give up at the first hint of difficulty. 
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« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2013, 09:32:44 pm »

Quote
perhapsrhaps the current crop of "project managers" have been overly influenced by current rapid-prototyping BS and current state of (so called) software design? I find that far too much software is being rolled out and declared "complete and successful" only to fail under real-world conditions and actual load.  

Software, software, software. Pardon me for being a child of pre-computer aided drafting, but it seems to me we could eliminate a large number of design problems by throwing the computers and calculators out of the window and going back to pencils, t-squares and slide rules. At the very least we wouldn't have to deal with some embedded glitch that keeps popping up because some lazy nidjit keeps treating faulty code as if it were sacred, legally-intrinsic boilerplate.

Pardon my ancient, outdated terminology.

« Last Edit: November 16, 2013, 03:46:21 am by MWBailey » Logged

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« Reply #12 on: October 29, 2013, 01:19:21 am »

The Airship is seen as old technology, replaced by powered box-kites, err, airplanes.

During WWII, blimps were used by the US Navy to patrol the US coast, with great success.  The same designs would be more than sufficient to do surveillance and/or be a mother-ship for drones. 

Sadly, since Hindenburg, the US media has been vigorous about reporting Airship failures and negligent about reporting successes. 

There are uses for airships that are not suitable for Helicopters or airplanes. 

I was one of hundreds to suggest cargo airships be used in the summer over the "ice road trucker" routes. 

Sigh.
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« Reply #13 on: November 16, 2013, 03:41:26 am »

I spent three days by the Bodensee in June.. kept spacing out and seeing great dirigibles cruise by in the distance. Teared when I boarded the Hindenburg mock-up in Friedrichschafen. The exhilaration built every minute of the train ride, and surged when I first glimpsed the great lake. It didn't matter a jot that I would be lucky even to see an NT. I was in the land of the zeppelin, and it was magic to me.

Engineers and enthusiasts will keep trying, I think; airships will live on. Clearly there is a magic to them, and it seems everyone on these forums are already doing their part to keep the sparks going in the public consciousness. As wistful enthusiasts we have all been vested with that power and that responsibility. Cool

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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #14 on: November 16, 2013, 04:05:59 am »

To me this looks like an ideal undergraduate design project.  The type of failure modes that are being described herein, are the typical problems that student engineers find in their final design class just prior to graduation.

It is customary to have "generations" of students re-visit the problem every year, documenting the case studies over and over.

The problem with composite-based rigid airships is that the structures behave very differently when pushed to their ultimate loads, particularly in the speed at which a material fails (composites break intermediately upon reaching their maximum loading, whereas metals yield slightly prior to catastrophic failure.   Common initial design practice ("sizing") involves using existing charts developed empirically through years of experience  (weight to overall size ratios, of a fuselage for example) . But these charts are nearly useless because all were developed in a period when aluminium was king. The composite's stiffness properties and load capacities, versus the size of the aircraft will be different, so the  historical  charts will not apply.  The manufacture methods and structural joint methods will be very different.  In essence, engineers are re-inventing the wheel, when designing a composite structure.

I reminds me of an aircraft design manual by Raymer, a time honoured book used by generations of undergraduate students, which starts with a very ominous disclaimer in the preface, warning the serious engineer not to use the manual, but rather more modern data for actual design projects!!  Grin

Truth be told the development of composite based rigid airships requires the re-training of engineers so they can build experience (I'm assuming all are the very young type, working in such projects).
« Last Edit: November 16, 2013, 07:36:40 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #15 on: November 16, 2013, 10:05:03 am »

Over-weight, under-durance airships.. is this a case of hydrogenphobia?  A helium airship can't replenish the lift gas in-flight and has overall lower lift efficiency.
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #16 on: November 17, 2013, 02:38:14 am »

Some random "negativethoughts" have occurred to me -
From a standpoint of practicality, isn't the airship a "fair-weather craft only" craft?

Once surface winds start to pick up the ship is increasingly difficult to manage, nicht wahr?
I believe that has been one of the problems when trying to use them for heavy lifting or in lieu of construction cranes.

Not to mention the size of the hanger, which I think is a requirement for foul weather, whereas they can just tie an airplane down if necessary .

just thinking out loud...

yhs
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« Reply #17 on: November 17, 2013, 02:48:42 am »

Once surface winds start to pick up the ship is increasingly difficult to manage, nicht wahr?
I believe that has been one of the problems when trying to use them for heavy lifting or in lieu of construction cranes.
Wind is also a problem for heavy lifts, and large cranes in general, so I don't think that point makes much difference.
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« Reply #18 on: November 17, 2013, 04:32:14 am »

Airships with canopies of doped canvas were as vulnerable to weather as airplanes made of doped canvas.

The airship made with a stress aluminium skin proved pretty robust. 

I would like to see an airship with helium gas in sealed bags and hydrogen in separate bags to use as ballast.  If safety is the optimum, helium and steam would work, neither is flammable or corrosive.  Hydrogen has the best lift efficiency.

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« Reply #19 on: November 17, 2013, 03:48:36 pm »

Hmm, so if HAV bought the LEMV does that mean it's now in the UK I wonder. They actually seem pretty adept at building airships, so may well not be the end of the story there.
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« Reply #20 on: November 17, 2013, 09:31:36 pm »

One idea that might work would be to create a foam where the 'bubbles' are made from a light gas, Think 'Aero bar' with helium. A few years back a British inventor used this idea to develop a cheaper rocket (he bubbled oxygen through a mix of epoxy and a hydrocarbon) but had to stop his experiments as the authorities decided it was an expolosive.

So it should be possible to make an epoxy / helium foam with quite large bubbles that would float. This would overcome the problem of gas leakage reducing the time it could remain airborne.
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J. Wilhelm
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« Reply #21 on: November 17, 2013, 09:51:14 pm »

But is gas leakage the problem here at all?
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Argus Fairbrass
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« Reply #22 on: February 28, 2014, 08:03:47 pm »

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-26372277

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« Reply #23 on: February 28, 2014, 10:27:37 pm »

Engineers tend to get in trouble when they try to implement too many new technologies in one package.  With the X-33 they were trying to fold flight testing and failure testing into a single step!!  In a ridiculously short development time frame.  That is having too much confidence in themselves.

Thou and I are from a different era.
Fast/ Cheap / Good ===  pick any two.

Or as I learnt it:
your project can be
  • on time
  • to budget
  • to spec.
Choose any two.

Engineers are often bad at managing people. HR people are often ignorant about engineering. How can you hope to get the two groups of people to work together? By putting an Officer Corps in charge of both groups and MAKING THEM WORK TOGETHER.
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« Reply #24 on: February 28, 2014, 11:23:45 pm »

The semi-rigid Zeppelin NT airships are quite good. We had one in Silicon Valley for several years. They had few operational problems, and the vectored-thrust props and control system made them much more controllable than earlier designs.

Their CEO was at the Clockwork Alchemy steampunk convention and gave a talk. The business of providing air tours for $400 didn't pay after the 2008 crash, and when the price of helium more than doubled, the operating costs became too large. Even after a series of embarrassingly ugly ads on the thing, the business still wasn't profitable. So the airship was dismantled and shipped back to the manufacturer, Zeppelin Luftschiffbau in Germany in 2012.

Zeppelin Luftschiffbau is building three new NT-type airships for Goodyear. The first one should be flying around the US this spring. Goodyear is replacing all their blimps with NT-type airships. So we'll be seeing more of these craft.
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