The return of the Zeppelin: not just a flight of fancy

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A low-cost, low-carbon airship makes sound economic sense says Michael Stewart.

One of the most intriguing predictions in the usual end-of-year rush was that we could soon be taking holidays thousands of feet in the air. By 2030, claimed a report for Thomson Holidays, giant, eco-powered airships, containing entire resorts, will be floating through the skies. It seems fantastical, but you don't need to look 20 years into the future to see the airship making a comeback. In fact, these long-neglected craft are already undergoing a renaissance that could transform the way we travel.

The concept of lighter-than-air flight is not, of course, a new one. What stalled its development is something known in the business as "the H-Factor" – "H" in this case standing for "Hindenberg". Even though there had been dozens of airship disasters before, the devastating image of a transatlantic Zeppelin engulfed in a fireball at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in May 1936 shattered public confidence and spelt doom for the golden era of the airship. Programmes worldwide were axed and, with war imminent, the funding poured into heavier-than-air craft. The great airships were consigned to the scrapheap: Goering had all the remaining German Zeppelins salvaged for their Duralumin; the scrap from the R-100, the leading British airship, was sold for £600....

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