Professor Sir David King, former UK scientific adviser addressed the World Forum on Enterprise and Environment in Oxford earlier this month. Professor King said that helium-filled blimps are a practical means* of transporting high value perishable goods such as fresh fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.
Several major air and transit companies, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing and CargoLifter AG, (see photograph above) have designs in progress. The Guardian reported that U.K. government funding has been allocated for development, or rather, re-development, of this 70-year old technology with the intent of adaptation for use in modern contexts. King indicated that implementation could lead to widespread usage of blimps for freight transport as soon as 2020. While that seems rather optimistic, it is conceivable for specialized commercial purposes such as transport of greenhouse flowers from The Netherlands to North America.
A few matters for investigation:
- What will power the blimp motors? Blimps are not like hot-air balloons, and most motors need fossil fuels for power.
- Blimp infrastructure for landing, take-off and traffic control, would require significant investment. There are functioning blimps, presumably for advertising purposes, in regular use today. The Goodyear Blimp needs to take off and land somewhere, so some bases must exist. There was a large blimp hangar in Lakehurst, New Jersey, and another in Sunnyvale, California which may still be serviceable.
- Blimp pilots. Again, there are individuals flying blimps now. However, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would need to set up a variety of new guidelines and training programs.
*Helium is the safe alternative to the flammable hydrogen associated with the Hindenburg disaster in the years before World War II.