Boeing recently announced the development of the Skyhook JHL-40, a 92m-long helicopter-cum-zeppelin hybrid. Although this may sound like something straight from the world of Philip Pullman, it could in fact be the future of long-distance cargo transit. Being capable of transporting up to 40-tonnes over a range of up to 200 miles, it could be the 18-wheeler of a green future, opening up remote locations and removing the need for fleets of fuel-hungry trucks.
The zeppelin never recovered from high-profile crashes such as the Hindenberg disaster in 1936. However, airships have remained in use over the last 60 years in a variety of civilian and military roles. And, as craft like the Skyhook show, there is a new breed being developed which will allow air cargo transit to become greener than it currently is and to challenge road haulage as the most economical way to shift heavy loads a long way.
But this is not all. Modern manufacturing techniques offer the chance to resurrect safe passenger travel, so there’s no reason as well why airships can’t once again become the stylish and sedate way to travel that they once were. In the 1930s they were the height of luxury and with a little rebranding, they could be again.
The current vogue in society is to slow life down and enjoy the pleasures the world has to offer, and people are willing to pay for this. Imagine the deluxe airship – first-class cabins with the finest furnishings and the latest in electronic devices, cuisine provided by aerial Gordon Ramsays, Transatlantic club nights with the best DJs from two continents. Could this offering of two days of pure sybaritic bliss lock down the luxury market for the London-New York route?
All it needs is a man brave and innovative enough to take on the challenge. Surely someone like Richard Branson, who helped revolutionise airplane travel in the 1980s and who is looking to democratise space, could be prevailed upon to institute a new era of airborne luxury?
And finally a totally different type of Zeppelin;