You might ask what this has to do with wind turbines and you would have a point, However we also talk about practical applications and the Airlander, the latest in a range of UK Airship design, has practical applications. Not without a few problems though. Reliant on helium, one of the most abundant gases in the Universe, it’s supply is almost entirely controlled(80%) by the US government from a facility in Amarillo, Texas. The first to isolate this substance was Scottish chemical scientist William Ramsey who produced it from cleveite – a radioactive mineral in 1895. Problem is that US facility will soon be running out! Manufacture now takes place in Algeria, Qatar and Russia but still only produces a fraction of US output. However, on the positive side, helium (He No.2 in the periodic tables) is also a bi-product of fusion reactors. So if we crack the fusion technology we will have copious supplies of Helium. As it is an inert harmless gas the only problem with leaks is the population talking like Donald Duck!
We have seen airships come and go and the problems always over-shone the benefits. Airships need large ground crews and massive hangers, they are very weather dependent and they are slow. The Airlander overcomes the main obstacle of ground crew but not the other two. Suggestions of use instead of Police Helicopters have one main drawback. At 100mph top speed, they won’t be much use for car pursuits. For long distance travel the low speed has a major concern as a headwind could cut that in half.
Now consider ‘travel’. In our parents youth, travel was an experience. Now it is TGV, HS2, motorways and air travel to process the passenger from departure to arrival in the fastest possible time. Only to be halted by Security checks. But like ‘slow food’, we could look to a future of ‘slow motion’. What better way to traverse the Great Glen, the Loire Valley(Imagine just dropping in to one of those beautiful Chateau for lunch), the Great Rift Valley in Kenya, The Grand Canyon than at a speed and pace that travel can again become an experience! Is the Airlander the modern Orient Express? Of course it can be used for aid flights, for pipeline maintenance or for un-manned military surveillance but I would like to think that modern technology and design could first and foremost add something to our quality of life. I have had the pleasure of a trip in the Goodyear Blimp and would describe it as a most pleasant experience. One felt all that was missing was an aspiderspra, a three piece band and champagne cocktails. Oh, and the Tuxedo of course.
So what has that to do with wind farms. Wind mills were done away with when the steam engine was born. Airships when the jet arrived(aided by a couple of terrible tragedies). Wind turbines grew out of a misplaced pursuit of a green dream. The Airlander is promoted partly as a green agenda. Let’s get practical and use technologies for the benefit of all, not the creation of wealth for a few.