21 January 2009, 00:00

RUSSIAN DIRIGIBLE-BUILDING MARKET GETTING SECOND WIND

We are going to speak of something that’s been fairly infrequently used or even mentioned, — the airships, or zeppelins, or dirigible balloons, or just dirigibles; — obviously for the fact that freight air traffic in all countries is dominated by planes and helicopters. Yet the dirigibles’ potential is far from depleted.

We are going to speak of something that’s been fairly infrequently used or even mentioned, — the airships, or zeppelins, or dirigible balloons, or just dirigibles; — obviously for the fact that freight air traffic in all countries is dominated by planes and helicopters. Yet the dirigibles’ potential is far from depleted. The use in construction projects of state-of-the-art dirigible balloons, and also an awareness of the airships’ strong points makes the balloons quite promising in terms of various cargo transportations. Russia will certainly stand to gain by building and extensively using the dirigibles.



First, a bit of history. You may know that the first third of the 20th century was a period of dramatic progress in aircraft-building, specifically the building of dirigibles. But a number of major air crashes involving dirigibles prompted those in charge of decision-making to draw the conclusion in the late 1930s that airships were devoid of new vistas. Yet, those who stuck to the idea of flying dirigibles and putting them to practical use, the devotees, would keep lifting off airships. In recent years there’s been quite a surge of interest in the dirigible, an aircraft that favourably differs from other types of aircraft in a number of ways.



Modern-day dirigibles have been rid of quite a few drawbacks, inherent in their predecessors of more than seventy years ago. The building of modern-day dirigibles involves the use of a hull of polymers and composite materials, which makes the aircraft both light and strong at a time. Aeronauts have long since forgone the use of the explosive hydrogen, so what gas they use to fill the hull is non-reactive helium. The balloonists of the past clearly had no modern-day aero- navigation and computerized control gear at their disposal, the gear that makes the flight safe.



The dirigibles need neither roads nor airports. The construction of mooring stations for dirigibles is dozens of times cheaper than that of airports. One can discharge cargo from the airship wherever one may need. Therefore, if seen as a transport vehicle, the dirigible is most promising in terms of cargo delivery to hard-to-reach places, like those in the North of Russia’s Arctic Circle, Siberia and the Russian Far East.



Unlike other types of aircraft, dirigible balloons do not cause noise, pollution or atmospheric contamination. Now that aviation kerosene prices have grown and keep growing further, and 154 countries have ratified the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas discharges, Russians feel they should give a second thought to the use of airships. The dirigibles are again emerging on the air transport market where the use of planes or helicopters is either ineffective or too expensive.



Dirigibles could be used in timber logging, stevedoring, and erecting power transmission line supports, in mounting the equipment of and assembling oil platforms, as well as prospecting for minerals and for many other purposes. But more importantly, the potential customers have signalled their interest in using the dirigible. The customers are those engaged in developing oil and gas deposits in the hard-of-access regions in the north of mainland Russia and on the continental shelf. Russia’s major market players, such as Norilsky Nickel, Sibneft and Alrosa, have already raised the issue of using dirigibles as part of their production process.



Demand is known to promote both R&D and production, with Germany, the UK and the US most energetically engaged in developing their dirigibles and zeppelins. Russia, too, has signalled it is quite competitive in terms of dirigible-building. This country has developed and is using a variety of patrol airships. Russians have designed and built the DPD-5000 dirigible, which is 127 metres long and can carry a payload of more than 15 metric tonnes. What’s more, Russians are through with developing a cargo-carrying dirigible of the latest generation. So, the ice has been broken, as the saying goes.

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