Rhys Darby

Comedian Rhys Darby on life in New Zealand

Rhys Darby: Giant American airship no laughing matter

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Technical know-how's come a long way since the Hindenburg.

During a landing procedure back in the day one officer would handle the engines using his judgment to slow, stop or back up.
During a landing procedure back in the day one officer would handle the engines using his judgment to slow, stop or back up.

Air travel is about to take another giant leap of faith. Watch out everyone, an American company is bringing back the Zeppelin. What ever happened to the old adage "learn from your mistakes", eh? Well, perhaps that's exactly what this company called Aeros have done. I'm sure they've heard about the whole Hindenburg disaster back in '37. That was a fairly long time ago, of course, and technological know-how has come a long way since then.

This new Aeros craft which they've decided to call the Aeroscraft is being described by some as "the beginning of a vertical global transportation solution that could last the next 100 years". It has the range and cargo capabilities of a large transport plane with the added bonus of being able to land and take off vertically. Even the old Zeppelins like the Hindenburg couldn't quite do that. They required landing facilities and runways because it took a few crew members and a complex ballast system to control the buoyancy.

During a landing procedure back in the day one officer would handle the engines using his judgment to slow, stop or back up while a second officer, also using the art of "guesstimation", would control the ballast, dropping ballast as necessary or valving the hydrogen to adjust. The Aeroscraft ML866, to give it its full name, is able to control its buoyancy and therefore rate of descent, through compressing its own helium. When the helium is compressed it becomes heavier than air, enabling the craft to sink. Likewise if the gas is released the beast will rise ... and rise again.

Let's face it, she is a beast, and a beautiful beast at that. It's gargantuan, measuring about 800ft (243m) long (the same as the Hindenburg) and able to lift 66 tonnes, at a third of the fuel consumption of traditional vehicles. Bearing all this in mind it's difficult not to show a little worry, you know, with the risks involved in something so huge and gassy.

At least helium is much safer than hydrogen. You kind of figure that out when you see its over-use at children's birthday parties. The Hindenburg was originally designed for helium but it was too difficult to obtain and too expensive at the time. People don't often mention that fact though. We tend to dwell on the terror. I guess that's what happens when there's terror.

So will the Aeroscraft be the new future of flight or will she suffer a similar fate? I think this time it's gonna be all right. Although I did just have an image in my head of it deflating from a leak and an entire town breathing in the helium with hilarious consequences. Imagine everyone in the vicinity talking like chipmunks, including the reporters on the scene: "While the ship was docked a slow leak enveloped the town in gas overnight. There's been no reports of injury, just copious amounts of laughter. Back to you at the studio, Dave."

- NZ Herald

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