LuffShips Limited (LSL) is a UK business, founded to exploit the gift that nature provides us with for buoyancy from the atmosphere – enabling flotation in the air. This natural effect was first used by people 1000s of years ago for small floating lanterns in the sky – a delight to behold that continues today.
Atmospheric buoyancy is a difficult concept for people to understand because the effect on us is so small (hardly noticeable, generally ignored) and doesn’t need power to function. It just occurs!
However, it’s clear that it works/can be used and in water the effect is obvious, applied in the same way – Archimedes’ principle. Flotation aids (e.g. life vests) often are used to help people float in water.
Well, that’s what aerostats do to help people float in the atmosphere. They are just necessarily very big, exceptionally light (much lighter-than-air) soft (like pillows) flotation aids for the purpose.
We wish to enable the benefits of atmospheric flotation in compatible ways, minimising harm to the environment – believing aircraft generally should be that way. After all, our atmosphere is a precious thing that also supports life. Harmonious ways to follow that are sustainable thus are needed.
We also believe that air-currents are a natural way for conveyance that should be used as the main method for air-transport (proven possible by Piccard and Jones) instead of just discharging huge quantities of exhaust products from thirsty power plants pushing through the air every day (as aeroplanes do) gobbling up finite oil resources – leaving problems for generations to come.
We would like to enable flotation and natural conveyance methods that harness the atmosphere.
We also believe that more efficient low-energy methods for locomotion should be used and that the energy needed to power things should be from replenishable sources (e.g. solar).
Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) Aircraft History
Historians tell us that people first took to the air in 1783 – the Montgolfier brothers leading the show with their hot-air aerostat closely followed by Prof. Charles and Robert in a much smaller hydrogen filled balloon.
Both methods still are popular today and considered to be ways for environmentally friendly flight.
Whilst hot-air is useful, adopted by most balloon businesses, we are mainly interested in less common but more efficient LTA-gas filled aerostat methods; believed to be the better way for long endurance aircraft.
Our goal is to provide products and services for niche-markets concerning fabric-structures and LTA aircraft with new/better capability than exists today.
Airships are a main objective.
They are dirigible balloons, which first began to appear in the later half of the 1800s. Even so, airships didn’t attain the merit of being dirigible until Santos Dumont with his No. 6 won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize on 19 Oct 1901 for controlled flight on a particular figure 8 course, which rounded the Eiffel Tower.
Following principles established much earlier by Jean Baptiste Meusnier (1784), who proposed an elongated aerostat form to reduce aerodynamic drag (thus making it easier to ply the sky) the achievement was significant. It enabled airships for transportation and other useful purposes, which followed. The heyday for them thus was kicked-off and the gold-rush began.
Nobody looked back or asked themselves, “Is it the right way for airships to follow?”
Count Zeppelin already was ahead of the game, planning rigid-structure aerial-leviathans to help conquer the world. What happened? Well, by 1940 it was game-over for Zeppelins and the like, leaving just smaller types based on non-rigid aerostat (elongated balloon) principles.
The reasons the giant airships were abandoned include:
- Vulnerability as war aircraft – big targets that are slow and ponderous.
- Inability to compete with aeroplanes – fast and agile.
- Slow and costly to produce – the British were building them for WW1 use but didn’t manage to get them into service until it was over.
- Difficult to manage at ground level – needing many crew, special arrangements and rather large hangars, all costing dearly!
- Fragility – easy to break (many incidents) but not easy to repair.
- When their gas-cells were filled with hydrogen, a recipe for disaster – “Oh, the humanity!”
On the other hand, more forgiving smaller non-rigid types were found to be effective and reliable in both world wars shepherding ship convoys against submarine attacks. They also found some uses for commercial purposes (like Goodyear’s promotional airships fleet).
However, it largely was game-over for them as well by 1960, mainly due to powerful USA groups who wanted aeroplanes instead; claiming that they could fulfil all of the duties needed. The know-how from experience thus was lost as people who previously worked in the industry died.
The Return of Airships
When airships reappeared in the 1970/80s it then was with people who had interest and perhaps knowledge from history books but, and except for balloon flight, little actual know-how from experience of airships. The rebirth also was in an age with new materials and systems (helping somewhat) but then with severe established aircraft regulations to contend with (impeding progress).
What followed was a short lived revival lasting 40 or so years for mainly traditional non-rigid airships without overcoming the foibles that caused them to be phased out before.
The new people gained insight about the issues to solve and the possibilities for niche-markets to serve, where airships are the only viable option, but some attempted too much too quickly, wasting money invested (causing distrust). Small multi-rotor drones then became popular, taking the limelight and many airship market sectors.
Today the industry is back on its heels (evident from the near zero number of manned airships in service) needing better ways to follow, where more of the same is unlikely to succeed. We believe it needs new steady ways to break the cycle and overcome the shortcomings! We thus still believe that airships with their natural long endurance/range capability offering “a direct, swift and easy floatage from any one point to every other on the face of the globe” (Sir George Cayley, when writing about Aerial Navigation before airships had flown) are needed due to being the only viable way for some purposes, which we plan to enable, such as:
- Aerial-cranes for loads more than helicopters will ever manage
- Heavy-lift transporters in regions that otherwise are poorly served (if at all) by other methods
- Aerial-platforms that remain reliably aloft for exceptionally long periods
- Aerial-cruisers for people to enjoy affordable environmentally friendly air travel
- Cost effective LTA-rovers (manned &/or unmanned) for patrol anywhere
From working to develop modern airships through the 1980s it was found that they inherited the foibles of traditional airships stemming from the elongated aerostat form originally adopted, causing them to be unidirectional.
This form must always face the airflow direction to minimise broadside load effects, which is far from convenient when needing to hold heading or for ground operations. Most airship incidents occur at their ground bases due to bad behaviour in turbulent weather!
Airship Technology Since 1980
Following several years producing and operating airships Roger Munk, the first person in recent times to develop them commercially, found that there was a need for more reliable ways to hold them still when moored (to ease maintenance) and operate them with ground equipment to overcome their inherited poor-weather behaviour.
He also faced unwarranted criticism concerning airships’ need for load-exchange (difficult during poor weather) to counter-balance buoyancy as payloads or heavy items are picked-up/put-down.
He thus recognised need for change and, from seeing models flying that were able to develop more aerodynamic lift over their aerostats than conventional forms plus consideration of hover-craft skirts that could work in reverse (like limpets), thought he had solutions, then introducing what were called hybrid airships.
Unfortunately, what’s evident from the various versions promoted since he died is that:
- They increase complexity – more things to solve (manufacture, stability, control, ground-handling) costing a lot more.
- The technology is immature – likely to take a long time before their limitations are understood.
- They’re being marketed for unsuitable purposes – not ideal for aerial-crane duties, as they must face the wind, still suffer from broadside load effects difficult to manage, and need aerodynamic lift to remain airborne (not effective without airspeed – when hovering).
- Information about them is misleading – although with short take-off and landing ability, when operating heavy and due to size, they will need a good clear flat area to do so safely.
- They need development of unavailable infrastructure and mechanical handling methods.
- They have high power needs – not easy for environmentalists to accept.
Perhaps some day the issues will be solved. However, judging from their starting position (as more complex variants of traditional airships) short-term success is unlikely!
To enable airships that overcome the shortcomings of unidirectional types and provide the capability for the services needed more easily, LSL went back to basics for an alternative way to make balloons dirigible with reduced air resistance without losing or compromising their inherent omni-directional capability so much.
We found that, instead of elongating them, by instead squashing them an alternative discus (lenticular) form with reduced aerodynamic resistance results.
This also has further benefits including:
- Better efficiency as a gas container – enabling lower overall linear size
- Greater ability to naturally develop aerodynamic lift (the reason for so called hybrids)
- Uniformity of form (cake slices) reducing parts count and the number of different parts; thus reducing the burden of design/analysis and manufacture – so costing less
- Better ability to spread added loads evenly – reducing structural issues
- Can be fixed when moored and hold any heading desired during flight
- Scales easily and can be used for additional purposes, such as floating roofs
- Easy to arrange as both a free balloon and airship, switching routinely between these modes during flight to suit circumstances, enabling balloon pilots to easily become airship pilots
In the parallel aeroplane industry there came a time when some people started looking for alternative aircraft that could ascend/descend vertically with a payload, hold station and heading at any height above a ground point plus rotate or move sideways with ease, resulting in the introduction of rotorcraft (helicopters), which today are successful aircraft fulfilling many duties that aeroplanes don’t suit.
They’re successful because of their omni-directional capability!
The Future of Airships
We believe that airships also can be successful this way using discus-form aerostats, but for services that extend the capability of helicopters for bigger/heavier payloads with significantly longer endurance/range.
It involves parallel development of Cycloidal-Propellers able to provide rapid-response vectored thrust in any 360 degree radial direction and perhaps rotors facilitating heavy-lift. While the technology already exists for these, cycloidal-propellers haven’t been commercialised yet.
However, we believe they’re the right way for airships (of all types) and an easier way (less costly) to follow than vectoring screw propellers; which actually aren’t an industry standard, as many people mistakenly believe (none available as a certified system off-the-shelf), needing special development for each aircraft – then performing inadequately, unable for rapid response needs!
Also needed are ways for six-degree-of-freedom (6DOF) control in automated ways. Multi-rotor drones achieve this today in clearly reliable ways. We think the technology isn’t difficult to adapt for airship purposes – enabling them to enter the ‘industry 4’ world.
LSL is working with numerous industry specialists, suppliers and collaborators interested to furnish the fabric-structure and LTA-aircraft products/services possible.
We believe that it’s transformative technology (rather than disruptive) overcoming low endurance & payload capability plus safety aspects of regular drones, and solves the poor behaviour and high costs of traditional airships.
We think there’s a good chance for success that will enable the airship industry generally.
If you share our beliefs and want the benefits that result, why not register interest and talk with us to learn more?