The Second Age of Zeppelins and Airships


Andrew Bielecki

Eighty years ago, the Hindenburg disaster signaled the death of an age: that of zeppelins and airships. In 2021, the a second age of skyships may begin. Designed by Flying Whales, a newly-designed airship is set to fly over the industrial town of Jingmen in central China. In a partnership with state-owned China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., Ltd. (CAIGA), a new line or airships is being developed.

Mass production of such airships could begin as early as 2022, and may result in dozens of ships. These airships are also being designed to be twice the length of a Boeing Co. 747. Their main objective is not the transport of people, but of goods, resources, and other such materials. They would also be a low-carbon alternative to standard planes.

In China, many regions of the nation are remote and lack adequate infrastructure, so airships would provide these regions with an easier way of obtaining goods and materials they require. Thus, the Chinese government has expressed great interest in funding the development of these airships.

Unlike the blimps and zeppelins of the past, these airships run on hybrid-electric power instead of hydrogen, and are a potentially cheaper, low-carbon alternative to other means of transport such as planes and ferries. The airships are capable of carrying up to 60 tons of cargo, and as a result, Flying Whales has received up to $250 million in funding from CAIGA. CAIGA itself also owes a quarter of the firm itself.

However, airships are slower than airplanes and helicopters, but much faster than cargo ships. Their great size also leaves them more exposed to various wind and adverse weather conditions, which would greatly increase maintenance costs. Helium, the gas on which they would run, is much safer than hydrogen, but also incredibly expensive. Regardless of these issues, CAIGA and Flying Whales are willing to experiment with their usage in the Chinese inlands.