A new era for zeppelin travel?

Do you remember reading about the Hindenburg disaster in history class? You know, that giant blimp that burst into flames in New Jersey in 1936 1937, killing all most of the passengers onboard? For the fledgling blimp tourism industry of the 1930’s, that was pretty much the end of the line.

However, according to recent news, the blimp is experiencing a resurgence as a trendy new vehicle for the upscale tourism market. Jean-Marie Massaud, a French designer and architect, has announced plans for a new 690-foot long dirigible with attached luxury hotel (obviously) called the “Manned Cloud.” According to recent reports several airlines including Air France and Emirates have expressed interest in funding the project. Believe it or not, Jean-Marie Massaud isn’t the first to propose such an idea – a tour company based in Germany has been taking passengers on blimp aerial tours for several years. Just imagine the views as you gently float among the clouds, gazing down at the spectactular scenery below…

So is the once-mighty dirigible industry poised for a comeback? Don’t book that non-refundable blimp ticket on Kayak just yet. Though traveling by blimp will surely be of interest to some (moneyed) travelers, it’s likely to remain a largely niche transportation mode for several reasons. Aside from the fact blimps top out at ground speeds around 100 MPH, they’re also quite susceptible to bad weather. Can you imagine being in a blimp during a thunderstorm? I hate turbulence on airplanes as it is. Not to mention these floating aircraft can only take on small numbers of passengers and need very large landing strips to touch down.

Oh well, so much for reopening that blimp dock on New York’s Empire State Building. But keep watching the skies – a blimp trip could very well be in your future.

Big in Japan: Cruise over Tokyo in a Zeppelin

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word Zeppelin?

a) That killer guitar solo from Stairway to Heaven
b) An image of the Hindenburg in flames
c) A delicious fried donut (you’re actually thinking of a zeppole)
d) A first-class way to travel the skies

Although you’d be forgiven for thinking of any of the above, the correct answer (at least for the purposes of this blog post) is in fact d.

(Then again, I could really use a zeppole right about now, and I do loves me some Led Zeppelin.)

In a recent press release, the Nippon Airship Corporation announced that they will begin offering cruises over Tokyo in their fleet of German-manufactured Zeppelin NT (Neue Technologie, German for new technology) airships.

A 90-minute cruise over the world’s largest megalopolis will set you back the bargain price of US$1,500 or approximately 173,000 yen (give or take a few thousand).

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Zeppelin NT is filled with helium, not hydrogen. And besides, safety is of paramount concern in Japan, so you can erase any images of the Hindenburg in flames from your twisted little mind.

For all of you aviation fans out there who want the nitty-gritty details on the Zeppelin NT, keep on reading.

The Zeppelin NT has been manufactured since the 1990s by the German company Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT) in Friedrichshafen. However, ZLT is in fact the direct successor of the companies founded by Ferdinand von Zeppelin, which constructed and operated the Zeppelin airships of the early 20th century.

Unlike the behemoth Zeppelins that once took to the skies, modern Zeppelin NT airships are only 75 m long, and have a total volume of 8,225 m³. They are also exclusively inflated with helium, which is a non-reactive noble gas.

Unlike hydrogen, which is needless to say extremely flammable, the only danger in using helium is the possibility of a squeaky voice, and perhaps a mild head rush.

The Zeppelin NT is also classified as a semi-rigid airship, which is completely different in design from the original Zeppelins.

Instead of employing a rigid skeleton and a non-rigid blimp, the Zeppelin NT uses an internal triangular truss of graphite-reinforced plastic as well as three longitudinal aluminum girders and aramid cords.

Although the Zeppelin NT only weighs about 2,200 pounds (1,000 kg), it can transport a payload that is double its weight, and carry up to twelve passengers and two crew members.

The Zeppelin NT has a maximum range of approximately 560 miles (900 kilometers). It can also rise to an altitude of 8,500 ft (2,600m) and reach speeds of 78 mph (135 km/h).

Although I don’t think I have the cash to take an aerial tour of Tokyo, I think you’ll agree with me in saying that the Zeppelin NT is definitely a first-class way to travel the skies, especially if you cue up some Houses of the Holy on your IPod.

** Special thanks to Justin Glow, the main man behind scenes here at Gadling, who tipped me off to this random bit of news. If I ever hit it big in the writing world, I’ll spot you the US$1,500 so we can cruise over Tokyo in style **