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Modern Airships – Part 2

Peter Lobner, Updated 9 September 2021

1. Introduction

Modern Airships is a three-part document that contains an overview of modern airship technology in Part 1 and links in Parts 1, 2 and 3 to more than 170 individual articles on historic and advanced airship designs.  This is Part 2.  Here are the links to the other two parts:

You’ll find a consolidated Table of Contents for all three parts at the following link.  This should help you navigate the large volume of material in the three documents.

Modern Airships – Part 2 begins with a summary graphic table identifying the airships addressed in this part, and concludes by providing links to 64 individual articles on those airships. A downloadable copy of Part 2 is available here:

If you have any comments or wish to identify errors in these documents, please send me an e-mail to:  PL31416@cox.net.

I hope you’ll find the Modern Airships series to be informative, useful, and different from any other single document on this subject.

Best regards,

Peter Lobner

 September 2021

2. Specific airships in Part 2

The airships reviewed in Modern Airships – Part 2 are summarized in the following set of graphic tables that are organized into the categories listed below: 

  • Conventional, rigid and semi-rigid airships
  • Conventional, non-rigid airships (blimps)
  • Semi-buoyant hybrid airships
  • Semi-buoyant hybrid aircraft
  • Hybrid thermal (Rozier) airships
  • Thermal (hot air) airships
  • Variable buoyancy, fixed volume airships
  • Variable buoyancy, variable volume airships
  • Variable buoyancy propelled airships
  • Stratospheric airships
  • Electro-kinetically (EK) propelled airships
  • Small LTA drones

Within each category, each page of the table is titled with the name of the category and is numbered (P2.x), where P2 = Modern Airships – Part 2 and x = the sequential number of the page in that category.  For example, “Stratospheric airships (P2.2)” is the page title for the second page in the “Stratospheric airships” category in Part 2.  There also are stratospheric airships addressed in Modern Airships – Parts 1 and 3.

Links to the individual Part 2 articles on these airships are provided in Section 3.  Some individual articles cover more than one particular airship.

Among the airships included in the above tables, more than 35 have flown.

Several airships that have not yet flown have well-established designs and their manufacturers seem to be poised to start building their full-scale prototype(s) and engaging aviation regulatory authorities in the long process leading to a type certificate for their production airships.  Several manufacturers have received orders that are conditional on having a type certificate.  Almost all are limited by a lack of funding to get from Point A (today) to Point B (having a type certificate).

The most promising new heavy-lift airship manufacturers identified in Part 2 are:

  • Flying Whales (France): The firm appears to have solid funding from diverse sources in France, China, Canada and Morocco, which should be adequate to fund the construction and flight testing of a prototype LCA60T airship.  Full-scale production facilities are planned in France, China and Canada and commercial airship operating infrastructure is being planned. In 2019, the LCA60T prototype maiden flight was expected to take place in 2021.  That date has slipped to 2024.
  • Varialift (UK):  The factory in France and the ARH-PT prototype are under construction, but the schedule for completing the prototype has slipped, perhaps by three years to 2022, primarily because of tenuous funding. Without a stronger funding stream, the future schedule is unpredictable.
  • Euro Airship (France): The firm claims that production-ready drawings exist for their Corsair and the larger DGPAtt.  When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • BASI (Canada): The firm has a well developed design in the MB-30T and a fixed-base operating infrastructure design that seems to be well suited for their primary market in the Arctic. When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • Millennium Airship (USA & Canada): The firm has well developed designs for their SF20T and SF50T SkyFreighters, has identified its industrial team for manufacturing, and has a business arrangement with SkyFreighter Canada, Ltd., which would become a future operator of SkyFreighter airships in Canada.  In addition, a development plan defines the work needed to build and certify a prototype and a larger production airship. When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • Aerosmena (AIDBA, Russia): The firm offers the latest designs for heavy-lift hybrid thermal (Rozier) “aeroplatforms,” which use two lift gases: helium and heated air.  The A20 will be the prototype for the entire family of Aerosmena aeroplatform. When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • Atlas LTA Advanced Technology (Israel): After acquiring the Russian firm Augur RosAeroSystems in 2018, Atlas is continuing to develop the ATLANT variable buoyancy, fixed volume heavy lift airship.  They also are developing a new family of non-rigid manned and unmanned blimps.  However, the development plans and schedules have not yet been made public.

These heavy-lift airships will be competing in the worldwide airship market with the leading candidates identified in Modern Airships – Part 1, which could enter the market in the same time frame if they get adequate funding:

  • Lockheed Martin (USA): LMH-1 hybrid airship
  • Hybrid Air Vehicles (UK): Airlander 10 hybrid airship
  • Aeros (USA): Aeroscraft ML866 / Aeroscraft Gen 2 variable buoyancy / fixed volume airship
  • Voliris (France): V932 NATAC & SeaBird semi-buoyant, inflated wing airships

For decades, there have been many ambitious projects that intended to operate an airship as a pseudo-satellite, carrying a heavy payload while maintaining a geo-stationary position in the stratosphere on a long-duration mission (days, weeks, to a year or more).  None were successful.  This led NASA in 2014 to plan the 20-20-20 airship challenge: 20 km altitude, 20 hour flight, 20 kg payload.  The challenge never occurred, but it highlighted the difficulty of developing an airship as a persistent pseudo-satellite.  The most promising new stratospheric airship manufacturers identified in Part 2 are:

  • Sceye Inc. (USA):  This small firm is developing and, since 2017, has been flight testing mid-size, multi-mission stratospheric airships. The firm also is building a new headquarters and manufacturing facility in New Mexico. Plans for stratospheric communications system flight tests in 2021 have been filed with the Federal Communications Commission. 
  • Thales Alenia Space (France): The firm is developing the multi-mission Stratobus.  Their latest round of funding from France’s defense procurement agency calls for a full-scale, autonomous Stratobus demonstrator airship to fly by the end of 2023, five years later than another demonstrator that was ordered in the original 2016 Stratobus contract, but not built.

China remains an outlier after the 2015 flight of the Yuanmeng stratospheric airship developed by         Beijing Aerospace Technology Co. & BeiHang.  The current status of the Chinese stratospheric airship development program is not described in public documents.

Among the many smaller airships identified in Part 2, the following manufacturers could have their airships flying in the early-to-mid 2020s if adequate funding becomes available.

  • Dirisolar (France): The firm has a well developed design for their five passenger DS 1500, which is intended initially for local air tourism, but can be configured for other missions.  When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • A-NSE (France):  The firm offers a range of aerostat and small airships, several with a novel tri-lobe, variable volume hull design.  Such aerostats are operational now, and a tri-lobe airship could be flying in the early 2020s.
  • Egan Airships (USA):  The PLIMP Model J drone has already flown and the Model J plane / blimp hybrid is the likely candidate for FAA type certification. When funding becomes available, it seems that they’re ready to go.
  • Solar Ship (Canada): The firm’s 24-meter Caracal semi-buoyant, inflated wing airship has already flown successfully.  However, that basic design did not scale up successfully. Hence, the larger Wolverine has been redesigned as a significantly different semi-buoyant aircraft.  Solar Ship has not described their current development and certification schedules.

There seems to be a proliferation of small LTA drone blimps and other small LTA drone vehicles.  Some were developed initially for military surveillance applications, but all are configurable and could be deployed in a range of interesting applications. 

The 2020s will be an exciting time for the airship industry.  We’ll finally get to see if the availability of several different heavy-lift airships with commercial type certificates will be enough to open a new era in airship transportation. Aviation regulatory agencies need to help reduce investment risk by reducing regulatory uncertainty and putting in place an adequate regulatory framework for the wide variety of advanced airships being developed.  Customers with business cases for airship applications need to step up, place firm orders, and then begin the pioneering task of employing their airships and building a worldwide airship transportation network with associated ground infrastructure.  This will require consistent investment over the next decade or more before a basic worldwide airship transportation network is in place to support the significant use of commercial airships in cargo and passenger transportation and other applications. Perhaps then we’ll start seeing the benefits of airships as a lower environmental impact mode of transportation and a realistic alternative to fixed-wing aircraft, seaborne cargo vessels and heavy, long-haul trucks.

3. Links to the individual articles

The following links will take you to 64 individual articles that address all of the airships identified in the preceding graphic table.

Conventional, rigid and semi-rigid airships:

Conventional, non-rigid airships (blimps):

Hybrid (semi-buoyant) airships:

Hybrid thermal (Rozier) airships:

Thermal (hot air) airships:

Variable buoyancy, fixed volume airships:

Variable buoyancy, variable volume airships:

Variable buoyancy propulsion airships:

Stratospheric airships:

Semi-buoyant plane / airship hybrids:

Electro-kinetically (EK) propelled airships:

Small LTA drones: