A-T Technology Death Pool, Airborne Awesomosity

Too Late

With our celebration of often defunct technology comes the sadness from the death of this technology. Fortunately, most of it is far enough removed, by time or space, that we can easily bury that pain. In many ways, we may not even realize it was ever there as our mind seeks to protect us. Sometimes, though, a wound we never thought we had is re-opened.

I would happily pay a premium to travel via a nicely-equipped luxury dirigible. How friggin’ awesome would that be?

Those words were spoken 6 days ago by our fearless leader. A premium, he said. And until today, he had his chance.

Airship Ventures operates one of two Zeppelins in service today. The Zeppelin NT, known to Northern California skywatchers as Zeppelin Eureka, and it’s twin produced by ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH are direct descendants of the giant luxury airships that carried passengers across the globe until the late 1930s. You may have heard of one of those, Hindenburg and its ignominious end.

The Zeppelin Eureka uses helium, much like the intention of its pre-war forefathers. Obviously safer, it is also more rare. Apparently, we are experiencing a global helium shortage as schoolchildren continue to inhale the gas so they can sound like Donald Duck. This wanton waste of the precious gas has driven up helium prices. That coupled with a lack of ticket sales is forcing Airship Ventures to close its doors unless they get an investor in the next week or so.

I share Deartháir’s love of the Zeppelin as a mode of transport. There is something elegant about floating through space, the drone of engines behind you, and a cabin that rivals the grand parlours of a bygone era. Until now, that love was unrequited. Now that I know I could have taken a scenic tour of Northern California in this historic fashion I can’t but feel pain.

I wonder why they don’t just use hydrogen or, in a maniacal subplot, dig a well into the National Helium Reserve in Texas and steal it Dr. Evil style.

[Ed. A special thanks to reader and frequent commenter Batshitbox for the tip about the doomed airship. Doomed technology tips are appreciated. Send them to us at tips at atomictoasters dot com.]

[Image Credit: Frederic Larson, The Chronicle / SF]

  • jeepjeff

    Helium makes Niobium-Titanium wire better.

  • 3 weeks ago a bunch of us Lemons racers and Hoons got together for a "Comfort-Food" bbq, beer and good company. As we sat there munching on roast pig, candied bacon and scotch-eggs the sun slowly set in the west… I looked over – and above the Santa Cruz mountains, framed by a beautiful sunset flew the Eureka, a giant in the sky, a miniature of distance.

    "Zeppelin!!' I cried out, pointing towards the great white airship, as everyone turned around and stopped to see it.

    I'd seen it around the bay area on numerous occasions, flying around impossibly large against the sky. But never looking quite so beautiful.

    I'm glad we did not know we were witnessing history in the making, and instead just able to enjoy the moment. Good friends, good food, and a giant dirigible in the sky.

    I did not catch a photo of the Zeppelin, but we did get pics of the food!

    <img src="https://sphotos-a.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-prn1/22391_10152235652130483_730761376_n.jpg&quot; width="600">

    • I trust the bacon also ceased to exist in that form by the time you were done eating?

      • Indeed. In fact I took a bunch of it home.

        Snarling. And screaming "GET AWAY!!!"

  • Hate to be the bearer of bad tidings. I found out because an e-mail went around the Exploratorium about it, following up on a "Science In The City" episode we made last August. I thought I had a fun job, evidently some of our staff are paid to run around in airships!

    [youtube TZr5XTCSM9M http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZr5XTCSM9M youtube]

  • RahRahRecords

    Now every time I see a helium filled balloon announcing a yard sale or someone's birthday party I will silently curse them under my breath. I've always that if I ever won a huge lottery and had fuck you money I would buy a zeppelin and use it as a mobile aerial party house. That dream is now ruined.

    Side note: Professional record cutters (not me, I'm very much an amateur) are worried too as helium is used to cool the the cutting heads on the lathes.

  • CaptianNemo2001

    Forget Helium. Hydrogen is perfectly safe. The Hindenburg fluke was a design issue. Hydrogen is so safe that Airships plying the skys above London in the First World War survived anti-aircraft artillery shells bursting INSIDE the gas envelops without bursting it into flames. This is because there was no oxygen inside the envelops and thus because there was no oxygen it could not burst into a flaming ball of doom… I got books on this as well covering first hand accounts of Germans on the receiving end of AA shells.

  • jeepjeff

    100% with you on this one. The problem with the Hindenberg was they made the cover out of Thermite. There have been tests, up to and including igniting a surviving piece of the cover, and the material used isn't terribly hard to set on fire with electricity. Which is what happened, the damn thing got hit by a lightning bolt. Also, that you can even see the fire in the video footage means that what you're seeing burn isn't hydrogen. The outside was highly flammable. Alright, I'm repeating myself.

    (I'm actually really torn up about the loss of Airship Ventures. I had a thought of "someday" booking a flight, since they were in my back yard. I guess not… So instead, I make stupid jokes about article tags and superconducting alloys.)

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Powdered Aluminum (IE dope) on fabric on a structure made from Duralumin (which contains 4.4% copper, 1.5% magnesium, 0.6% manganese and 93.5% aluminium), which is not the best heat resistant material but is rather strong, and add in a ready source of energy should you get a few sparks going (Hydrogen) and you now have a giant floating candle. of doom.

  • skitter