• Tech Tech

This gigantic, helium-powered 'airship' isn't your everyday blimp — here's why it might be the future of air travel

The world's helium reserves should last for another century.

Helium Powered Airship

Photo Credit: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Airships, except when they're used for tire company ads, seem like vestiges of the past nowadays. But Hybrid Air Vehicles wants to change that with its new Airlander aircraft, which promises to be faster than a ship and easier to fuel than an airplane. 

Hybrid Air Vehicles, a UK-based company, has set out with a lofty goal to "Rethink the Skies." To reach these aspirations, the team had to think green, finding that modern airships are uniquely equipped to lower harmful pollution created by most other aircraft. 

"We feel we can get to zero emissions faster than any other form of aviation," Nick Allman, the company's chief operating officer, told New Scientist.

The Airlander 10 aircraft, which sort of looks like two giant white footballs with propellors attached, is a surprisingly versatile vehicle. Hybrid Air Vehicles expects the Airlander to carry passengers, cargo, and military equipment starting in 2026. 

Its flexible space can be quickly adjusted to different configurations and will be able to carry 100 passengers or around 11 tons of weight. The Airlander 10 will be able to stay aloft for five days at a time in the right conditions, can fly up to 80 miles per hour, and has a maximum range of 4,600 miles when empty. 

The airship's slow, quiet nature makes it perfect for luxury travel as well, Hybrid Air Vehicles claims. An interview with New Scientist reveals that a luxury configuration of the Airlander 10 may have 16 cabins, a bar, and an onboard restaurant. 

Around 40% of the Airlander's lift comes from aerodynamics because the body of the aircraft acts like a wing in the wind. The rest of that lifting power comes from helium, a non-reactive gas that's lighter than air, and four engines that run on jet fuel (for now, at least). 

The world's helium reserves should last for another century, according to NBC, although there have been several supply shortages in the last 20 years. 

Because much of the ship's lift is provided by helium, Airlander 10 reportedly produces 75% less carbon pollution than a similarly capable plane. Hybrid Air Vehicles plans to replace its standard engines with electric ones by 2030, which would make Airlander 10 a zero-emission aircraft. 

The company also has plans for Airlander 50 and Airlander 200, which will be able to lift 50 and 200 metric tonnes (about 55 and 220 U.S. tons), respectively.  

Join our free newsletter for weekly updates on the coolest innovations improving our lives and saving our planet.

Cool Divider