The Good Green Blimp

You bike to work, sort your glass, and BYO grocery bag. But environmentally speaking, just one airplane trip can wipe out an entire year’s worth of conscious living.

Planes belch climate-changing gases like carbon dioxide at an alarming rate. One round-trip flight from New York City to Denver releases nearly a thousand pounds of carbon dioxide. And while the recession has taken a bite out of air travel, it remains the second-most-popular transportation mode in the United States. Add the footprint of air cargo, and the environmental costs of our mile-high habits negate even the most ambitious carbon-cutting agenda.

Engineers are finding hope for greener skies in an unlikely place: the past. To most of us, the notion of an airship seems as antiquated as bow ties and bowler hats. The U.S. military sees it differently. The same brain trust that brought us the interstate highway and the Internet is now bent on building a better airship, reports IEEE Spectrum (Oct. 2010).

Airships (think: the Goodyear blimp) have been around since the 1800s, and today’s versions work on the same basic principle as their predecessors. Rather than using a combustion engine to get off the ground, airships use bags filled with gases like helium that are lighter than air and thus cause the ship to float. The energy savings are obvious.

The new breed of blimp has undergone some significant tweaks. “Unlike their dirigible cousins of past centuries, these new vehicles are being designed to lift heavy payloads, remain aloft for weeks or even months at a time, and fly without pilots — all while expending far less energy than a conventional airplane,” IEEE Spectrum explains.

Several projects are under development, including a $400 million program to place in the stratosphere an unmanned missile-detecting airship that is powered by solar and fuel cells and designed to remain in place for a decade. Even more promising are hybrid versions that use helium to provide some of the lift along with wings or helicopter-style rotors.

So when can you book a flight? It might be a while. All the projects featured in Spectrum are meant for military or cargo purposes, and most of them are still in the research and development phase.

This post was originally published by the UTNE Reader.

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Photo courtesy of Editor via flickr
Written by UTNE Reader bloggers


Mikaila H.
Mikaila H6 years ago

Hehe - my sister would love this!

Jami Winn
Jami Winn6 years ago

i would take the blimp but i'm afraid of heights so i dough i'll be flying in this lifetime or the next

Gene Sengstake
Gene Sengstake6 years ago

How many people/Americans would you imagine are aware or even in the zone of thinking that "just one airplane trip can wipe out an entire year's worth of conscious living"??? Of course there are variables - but I have a feeling that "conscious living" usually comes up on the short end of things no matter what you're comparing it with - - -

Peg R.
Randolph M6 years ago

But environmentally speaking, just one airplane trip can wipe out an entire year's worth of conscious living. Well someone better inform the Prez, Michelle and all of their cronies. The miles that they are racking up will wipe out millions of years worth of conscious living!

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS6 years ago

@ Robert Tedders

If you reread the article, you will see that modern airships do use helium instead of hydrogen.

ruth a.
ruth a6 years ago

Sounds a bit slow to me...

ana p.
ana p6 years ago


Robert Tedders
Robert T6 years ago

I would fly in a blimp - as long as they increase the top speed somehow and fill the God damn thing with helium instead of hydrogen. Why'd you think the Hindenburg went up in flames, people?! It was full of H2!!

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

No thank you. And besides I'd like to think we would look for new opportunities rather than looking backwards. That just doesn't seem like progress to me.

Deborah King
Deborah King6 years ago

It would be fun as a sightseeing novelty, but as Christopher Fowler points out, totally impractical. Blimps fly along at about 30 mph--not exactly going to replace aircraft used as transportation.

Christopher--I used to live under the flight path for the Houston-based Goodyear blimp America. Their base was only about 1 mile away. I remember hearing it one time at about 3 or 4 AM. It had been at a big football game in Dallas the previous afternoon, and was making one approach after another in very bad weather-300' ceiling and freezing rain. After about 4 attempts they succeeded. It was scary enough for me to hear them--I can only imagine what THEY were going through!