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News item: Solar Blimp Could Fly from NYC to Paris; Rests on Land or Water

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11 comments, last: Apr-16-2011   Add a comment   Contributor:  TheTeam (Jul-28-2009)
Optimism: 3 Categories: Economic/Financial, Renewable Energy Sources

Turtle Airship's visualization of their rigid lighter-than-air craftA Spanish company called Turtle Airships is working on plans to build a luxurious solar-powered blimp which can take passengers from New York to Paris.

Perhaps the only thing cooler than being powered by lightweight photovoltaic cells, this airship is also designed to rest on land or water.

The first blimp prototype will be propelled in two nontraditional ways. The outside of the ship will be covered with Cadmium-Indium-Germanium (CIG) photovoltaic cells, picked for their their light weight. The cells should generate enough power to move the blimp at around 40 mph in average conditions, or at around 70 horsepower. Meanwhile, a diesel drivetrain will generate the rest of the power, and ideally the designers will look to an adapted hybrid electric model for that. And because blimps fly at low altitudes, they don't have to deal with problems that plague diesel engines at elevations over 30,000 ft.

The only thing currently keeping this visionary project from flying is funding. But Turtle Airships hopes that will change after the completion of a genuine prototype that will demonstrate the project's viability to funders. "Our goal in flying this remote control model is to get some video of it onto the Web and hopefully attract some financing that will enable us to move on from there to a genuine, manned, demonstration model of a Turtle Airship," said one spokesperson.

The folks at Turtle Airships don't like calling their aircraft a 'blimp': "It is a rigid shelled, amphibious, solar powered, all weather, FAST aircraft that is lifted by helium, but it is not a blimp."

Even so: it's a blimp. [note: not accurate, since a "blimp" by definition gets its shape from gas pressure, not from a framework as this design does  -ed.]

Though that doesn't take anything away from the ingenuity of its design. Their idea is certainly not one short on vision. And who wouldn't want to take a transatlantic ride on a flying luxury cruise ship powered by sunshine?

Nasty memories of the Hindenburg aside [note: the Hindenburg caught fire because it was painted with the equivalent of rocket fuel to "cure" the skin  -ed.], it may not be long before passengers are flying comfortably from New York to Paris – and beyond – aboard Turtle Airships.

See original news item:, Jul-28-2009  
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Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Apr-16-2011)   Web site
I believe it would take a lot of helium to get the company off the ground! But I agree that replacing trucks would be a great benefit, if the economics justifies it. If fuel prices continue to rise, the economic benefit may become apparent. There is a good article on their blog. The question remains whether they can build a successful first prototype, fly around the world, and then raise massive funding.
Comment by: Sandra Hudson (Sandra Hudson) (Apr-16-2011)   Web site

Using airships like this for passenger travel would be an interesting novelty to garner attention for the project, but if they can get the company off the ground I think it could be more profitable to use them as an alternative to trucks for shipping goods.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Sep-5-2009)   Web site

Carrying forward what you are saying, WH, the ultimate goal of sustainable living, then, is to free each person from being driven by unconscious, uncontrolled desires. If we are internally happy and therefore able to make wise choices not driven by boredom or fear, we will naturally control population and consumption, and will develop measures of conservation and efficiency that in summ will keep the planet stable. Currently the unknown forces of unconsciousness push society towards the edge, and will do so until there is an awakening.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Sep-4-2009)   Web site

I think in a decade or two only the rich elite will regularly travel distances in excess of 500 miles, if we haven't risen up and overthrown them by then. As in the 1950s, it will be possible for ordinary people to travel vast distances, but the cost - in time or money - will mean we rarely will. For many an Atlantic crossing on a sail-assisted ferry will be something to do once in a lifetime; travel across the United States may be possible by fuel-efficient rail, but only if that country invests in rail now while its society still functions.

In 2029 it will seem obscene to squander scarce oil for unnecessary travel when it could be used for fertiliser; obscene to grow food as fuel when it could be used to feed the starving. We will, by necessity, live close to the resources we require. Even now, few of us need to travel even 100 miles from home in order to survive and thrive.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Sep-1-2009)   Web site

If people can come up with some kind of algae-based biofuel and the airships are more efficient using such fuel, then that could be seen as a move in the right direction.

As some have mentioned, traveling shorter distances at 40 mph in comfort could be a money-making business. I would rather be flown from New York to destinations that are, say, 500 miles away, than drive for 8 hours. It might also cost the same amount more or less to be flown if they are running on solar energy and floating. Rail travel is also a competitor, but there will likely be destinations not connected by rail. Many other applications come to mind, once the cost and availability of jet fuel becomes a major problem.
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Aug-31-2009)   Web site

Interesting indeed - and good question, David. I understand that with cars the optimum speed in terms of fuel efficiency is around 55mph, maybe less. After that, wind resistance increases quickly and with it fuel efficiency. (For this reason the Carter administration instituted a 55mph speed limit back in the 1970s when oil was in short supply.)

Do the same physical laws apply to airships?

Unfortunately, powering a vehicle using biodiesel does not make the vehicle green.
Comment by:  PT (David Alexander) (Aug-31-2009)   Web site

Interesting information; I am sorry the original story from another source missed the additional facts about TWO forms of propulsion.

I am wondering how the total use of fuel compares with a jet. Is it more efficient because the weight is held up by the inner gas? On the other hand, there is more wind resistance, so that could lose some efficiency. How well have you calculated the fuel benefits (or loss) by crossing the ocean in your airship compared with a modern jet?
Comment by: DarrellCampbell (Darrell Campbell) (Aug-31-2009)   Web site

(cont.) it is generally missed, but the Turtle Airship uses (TWO) methods of propulsion.

One is the solar power; and while the airship has a huge expanse for a large cell array, the power is still only enough to move it at slow speeds. (the "40mph" often quoted refers to this).

The second means of propulsion is the use of bio-diesel fueled JET engines...which gives the Turtle Airships the ability to fly at much higher speeds, between 150-250 mph. The great dirigibles of the 1930's were routinely flying at about 80mph on only about 5,000hp......we believe we can simply, easily, double that. So, flying at 160mph.....the 3,600 mile distance between New York and Paris would be a 22 hour flight.

Of course, that would increase a bit, as the airships would slow down, or stop in mid-air, to give passengers time to see things below.....cities and countrysides, and over the ocean....whales, ships, coastlines, icebergs, etc....
Comment by: DarrellCampbell (Darrell Campbell) (Aug-31-2009)   Web site

Darrell Campbell here, CEO of Turtle Airships.

A flight between New York and Paris will only take one full 24 hour day. The airships are very much like "flying cruise ships"; passengers enjoy private staterooms;not airplane-like seating.
We welcome all conversations/questions about our airships!
Comment by:  Wavehunter (William Coffin) (Jul-31-2009)   Web site

Fine article - and helpful comments by your editorial team. (Another difference between the Hindenburg and modern airships is, of course, that the former was filled with flammable hydrogen while the latter use non-flammable helium.)

It's good to see so much interest in airships recently. There's the solar powered prototype built by French students that is set to cross the English Channel some time soon. And there's the whale-shaped flying hotel, designed to do 100mph and ideal for safaris.

City Worker is right that for speed it cannot match a jumbo jet. But when the price of aviation fuel skyrockets, as it likely will, these may become the affordable option: and 200mph is still faster than a ferry.

Hopefully they'll find a niche even before that. As the economy slows, perhaps our pace of life might be allowed to slow with it. A few days on one of these airships en route to my destination sounds heavenly to me, but not from New York to Paris - far too much boring ocean to be crossed. Dublin to Dubrovnik, taking in all the best sights; or Cairo to Cape Town; or Montreal to Miami. That'd be the ticket!
Comment by: City Worker (Jul-29-2009)   

I don't think this Turtle Aircraft thing is going to catch on for long flights, like transatlantic flights, unless the price of fuel skyrockets, and the price of air flights become prohibitive. It might be nice for tiny flights if the cost to ride it isn't that high. And people who want to be environmentally friendly and want to try something new might like it a bit. But, a 747 cruises at 570 miles per hour. This "Turtle" thing travels at 40 miles per hour. Who would want to be stuck in a relatively little thing for more than ten times the amount of time they would be on an aircraft? It appears to not be large enough to have a fraction of the conveniences of a cruiseliner, and it wouldn't be making stops at ports like cruise liners do. So, the positive features the slow cruise liner wouldn't be found in this solar blimp.It seems like a nice thing to take a little ride in, though.

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