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The return of the airship: under the bonnet of the world’s longest aircraft

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The world’s longest aircraft has been unveiled – a unique, helium-filled hybrid airship that, it’s designers say, can offer environmentally friendly and sustainable flight. Its development signals a return to vogue for an often forgotten mode of travel, completing a story almost 100 years in the making.

The first of the two 700-foot-long (210m) hangars of RAF Cardington, in Bedfordshire, was constructed in 1915 to enable the development of airships for the war effort.

Two aircraft were built, the R31 and the R32, designed to protect British fleets from marauding German U-boats. The first, R31, was finally declared ready on November 6 1918, five days before the end of the war.    

In 1925, when the British government decided to resurrect the airship programme, it ordered Cardington to be revived for the development of a new airship, the R101.

The hangar was extended to 812 feet (248m) and a second was erected beside it, reassembled from a dismantled hangar taken from Norfolk.

When built, the R101 was the largest flying aircraft in the world, not surpassed until the Hindenburg took to the skies seven years later. Tragically, the R101 shared the same fate as its more infamous successor.

On October 5 1930, the R101 crashed in France, killing 48 people. It was the end of Britain’s airship programme.

Just shy of one century after Cardington’s construction, the now privately owned site is home to the Airlander, a project of the designer and manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV).

Once again, Cardington is playing a crucial part in efforts to revolutionise the future of transport. Unveiled on Thursday in the only hangar big enough to accommodate it, the £60m Airlander, a 302ft (92m) long behemoth, is about 60ft (18m) longer than the world’s biggest airliners, the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8.

What makes the craft so special is that it not only generates lift from the gas it stores, but also from its unique design. An aerodynamic shape means that the craft gains lift from forward motion, in the same way as an aeroplane wing.

It is also worth pointing out at this stage that the helium-filled balloon is far safer than its volatile hydrogen-filled predecessors. Originally designed for the US military, the Airliner is almost impervious even to small arms fire.

Aviation enthusiast and shareholder of HAV, Bruce Dickinson, perhaps better known as the lead singer of Iron Maiden, may not be far off the mark when he describes the Airlander as “a game changer”.

Speaking to the BBC, Dickinson said how the Airlander is 70% greener than a cargo plane. It requires only two crewmembers, can be landed by remote control, and doesn’t need a runway (or even solid ground; it can land on water). It can carry 50 tonnes of cargo, and deposit it anywhere in the world, in places with no road, rail or sea infrastructure.

While it is easy to see what the US military saw in such capabilities, the humanitarian applications of such technology are also obvious.

Among those seeing the potential is the British government, which has provided a £2.5m grant to HAV. “Here is a British SME that has the potential to lead the world in its field”, commented business secretary Vince Cable.

HAV is of course not the only firm in this field. The US manufacturer Worldwide Aeros Corp is also working on a hybrid, dubbed the Aeroscraft, that it hopes could represent the future of freight transportation.

Other projects, such as Seymourpowell’s conceptual Aircruise, reimagine the airship in slightly different ways. Essentially a flying hotel, the Aircruise is a giant, vertical airship lifted by hydrogen and powered by solar energy.

While these projects are still some way from completion – the Airlander’s inaugural passenger flight is penned in for 2016 – it seems certain that the dawn of a new generation of airships isn’t far off. With the safety issues that come with being suspended in the sky by a ball of flammable gas taken out of the equation, there seems to be little stopping it.

There is an urgent need for sustainable air transport. To fly by commercial jet is currently to inflict the gravest damage upon the climate that an average human being can do. There is no sign that the aviation industry is set to dramatically and urgently clean up its act, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that by 2050, aviation could generate anywhere between 5% and 15% of all manmade emissions.

Though the technology cannot hope to replace the convenience and immediacy of commercial passenger aviation any time soon, be it as a bit-part player or an inspiration, the return of the airship may prove timely.

“The airship has always been with us”, Bruce Dickinson added. “It’s just been waiting for the technology to catch up.”

Further reading:

Is it contradictory to fly somewhere for a ‘sustainable’ holiday?

WWF: government aviation framework looks to ‘wish away’ climate change impact

On this day in 1952: first jet airline makes maiden flight

The Guide to Sustainable Transport 2014

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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