A comeback for airships?
© H2 Clipper
January 2022

A comeback for airships?

By Volker Paulun
While airships keep appearing on the visionary horizon from time to time none of them has so far managed the leap into the real world of mobility. Now a new project is making another attempt: the H2 Clipper relying on hydrogen technology.

Airships hauling heavy cargo … doesn’t that ring a bell? Yes, it does, because around the turn of the millennium a German company called CargoLifter was planning to transform the transportation sector with an airship for heavy loads. But CargoLifter went bust even before the first dirigible was airborne. Its huge hangar (360 meters / 1,180 feet long, 210 meters / 630 feet wide and 107 meters / 350 feet tall) was repurposed into a tropical water park. Similar airship projects got stuck as early as in the initial idea or planning stages.

Now H2 Clipper, a company from California, is venturing another attempt. More recent 21st century technological advances in the areas of materials, engineering practices and computers are to achieve the project’s breakthrough, according to statements released by the company. The research and concept design phases for the H2 Clipper, it says, have been completed.

Focus on hydrogen

As the name suggests, the idea is centered on the advantages of hydrogen. The H2 Clipper is not only supposed to be powered by a fuel cell using green hydrogen but might also be able to assume a key role in delivering green hydrogen – around ten times faster than a ship thanks to a cruising speed of up to 280 km/h (175 mph). Due to its use of hydrogen, the H2 Clipper scores with its carbon-free propulsion compared to ships, aircraft and trucks – an advantage that, for instance, didn’t pan out yet with the Cargolifter.

The stated maximum range of the air freighter is 9,650 kilometers (6,000 miles). In its cargo area of over 7,530 cubic meters (265,000 cubic feet), it can carry a payload of up to 150 metric tons (340,000 pounds) (eight to ten times more than a conventional cargo jet). Amounting to a quarter of classic air cargo, the shipping costs of 0.177 to 0.247 U.S. dollars per ton-mile, however, are above those of truck (0.12), rail (0.04) and maritime (0.01) transportation.

Time will tell whether or not these key performance data and other general conditions will suffice to lift the idea of an airship up into the sky again.

Airship ferry service
A comeback for airships?© Hybrid Air Vehicles

Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), a UK company, is planning to produce “Airlander 10” passenger airships by 2025. Initially, five routes are to be served by these flying high-speed ferries: Barcelona–Palma de Mallorca (4.5 hours of travel time), Oslo–Stockholm (6.5), Liverpool–Belfast (5.5) and Seattle–Vancouver (4). Ocean Sky Cruises, a Swedish luxury travel company, is planning to use “Airlander 10” for airship cruises across the North Pole. 100 people are said to find comfortable on-board accommodation with splendid views. HAV offers three alternative propulsion systems: a traditional internal combustion (IC) engine, a hybrid system and an all-electric version. Compared to aircraft, even the IC engine is supposed to emit 75 percent less CO2.

A comeback for airships?
Travel with stunning views: the cabin of the “Airlander”© Hybrid Air Vehicles