Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

As far as i know Zeppelins were abandoned because they were not safe, back in time. Is it still the case in 2011 though? In my opinion it is more economical to operate a Zeppelin than a plane and they are more stable as there is less acceleration so the interior has tables and chairs etc.

share|cite|improve this question
Opinions notwithstanding, travel by Zeppelin or Blimp is VERY inefficient. Compared to modern passenger jets, the fuel use per person for travel by Zeppelin would be immense. The drag is coefficient is high, the available lift is very limited, and the propulsion systems are not particularly fuel efficient. – Colin K Mar 15 '11 at 3:04
Yeah but you could charge a lot more for luxury accomodation and 6 week cruises over land, not to mention the money you could make from the onboard casino. – Jitter Nov 16 '13 at 8:48
There are three things that make zeppelins different from balloons: 1. They can adjust altitude using Ballonets, 2. they can steer using a fin and 3. they have a steel skeleton. (Note that blimps only have (1) and (2), but not (3)). Google Loons, which is Google's attempt to bring high-speed internet to remote areas, got (1), but not (2) and (3). (Which makes them half blimp, half balloon.) Feasibility has not been proven yet but the general idea seems promising. – Domi Apr 3 '15 at 10:32

The problem is we are running out of helium. Liquid helium is used in the MRI and other applications. It is also profligately wasted on party balloons. So the prospect for helium lofted dirigibles is not good. Also the US in the 1930s built some helium lofted dirigibles, which were destroyed by storms. So they are not entirely safe, as they are pretty vulnerable to weather.

share|cite|improve this answer
Helium is also unreasonably hard to contain in a light-walled vessel. Fabric containment with trivial leak rates for "ordinary" gasses oozes helium. – dmckee Mar 14 '11 at 14:23
That is true. The major lofting application is with balloons that reach near space. To be honest if you wanted to loft something to near space for a long period of time hydrogen is the better choice. The safety issues of course exist, where near ground the H_2 is explosive. However, the atom is a whole lot bigger than He and could keep something in the stratosphere for a much longer time. – Lawrence B. Crowell Mar 15 '11 at 13:58
Hydrogen is quite safe to use. It's the explosive material the skin was made of that was a problem that can be fixed. – Jitter Nov 16 '13 at 8:54

They are safe now that they use helium.

There exist zeppelins for special occasions. During the Olympics in Athens in 2004 there was a Zeppelin hovering for the news cover. There existed some by GoodYear for advertisement purposes some years ago.

They are not used for transport because of economic choices. I think time is the important factor in plane travel, and they cannot compete there. There are tourism uses.

share|cite|improve this answer
of course, time is important. what i thought was perhaps they could have been employed instead of trains (not TGV, shinkansen or alike), as i think it could have been cheaper to maintain. apparently this is not the case, if it was they already would. – sterz Mar 14 '11 at 13:43
The problem with airships is the departure and arrival / takeoff and landing, which trains tend to be rather good at. They are perhaps useful for things like airborne surveillance and sensor/antennae platforms that you want to stay airborne for very long periods. – Martin Beckett Mar 15 '11 at 21:19

There was a German company CargoLifter that wanted to build commercial zeppelins to transport heavy weight goods. However the company got insolvent. In the german Wikipedia article it is mentioned that Boeing is working on some transportation craft similar to a zeppelin.

share|cite|improve this answer

There's a company in my home town that's trying to revive the idea for local cargo transport. Seems to me that there's a lot of technical challenges and very little to gain by doing so. It'll be interesting to see how it ends up going for them...

share|cite|improve this answer

In my opinion it is more economical to operate a Zeppelin than a plane

Why would it be more economical? Why would the energy required to propel a large unaerodynamic balloon a certain distance be less than that required to propel an equivalent cargo in an aeroplane?

As far as i know Zeppelins were abandoned because they were not safe, back in time.

I'm pretty sure they were also abandoned because they're slow and uneconomical.

share|cite|improve this answer
Certainly for low speed flight, especially where time in the air is important, the energy require is pretty minimal. So the question for travel where the metric is energy expended per tom mile. The cross section of a zepplin is large, but low speed is also feasible. I suspect the lower speed limit would be determined by typical wind speeds, i.e. if its airspeed is comparable to the wind speed, it essentially becomes a balloon, and just goes where the wind takes it. – Omega Centauri Mar 15 '11 at 17:31
"the energy require is pretty minimal" - I don't think so. Either take off or landing is going to require a lot of energy to overcome the balloon's bouyancy. – delete Mar 16 '11 at 0:06
@Master Of Disaster: isn't taking off and landing done by pumping in/out of air from the balloon? is pumping that much energy consuming? – sterz Mar 16 '11 at 14:36

If I think about the scaling of the aerodynamic drag at a fixed speed with size. A heavier than air airfoil scales linearly with mass, because of the need to generate lift. A Zepplin's area should scale as the 2/3rds power of its size. So for a large enough Zeppline, it should be more efficient.

I am agreed, about the high vulnerability to weather events.

share|cite|improve this answer

protected by Qmechanic Nov 16 '13 at 9:14

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.