NO ONE has taken the dirigible seriously for decades -- except the military during World War II and, more recently, the television companies during big-time, outdoor sports events. But dirigibles may now be on their way back.
The Goodyear Aerospace Co., according to a recent report in The New York Times, has spent $7 million in the last seven years on airship design and marketing studies. It is now looking for customers for two versions of the blimps it sends around the country regularly on public-relations missions.
One of those versions is pretty conventional. About half the size of the airships that hover over football stadiums, it is designed to be a maritime surveillance craft that stays on patrol for 48 hours while serving as a platform for visual and radar operations. The Coast Guard is said to be interested.
The other version is the one that catches the fancy. More than 450 feet long, with helicopter blades to help it up and down and propellers to move it forward and backward, this blimp is designated to move freight. Goodyear thinks it can lift 75 tons and carry them up to 300 miles at 75 mph. Heavy-duty helicopters, with which it would compete, handle about 16 tons and have quite limited range. Goodyear is said to be talking about building one of these blimps to haul tar sand out of inaccessible areas of Canada.
And why not?Mankind dreamed of harnessing the balloon long before Orville and Wilbur Wright put their plane into the air at Kitty Hawk. And the zeppelins, until disaster struck, seemed to have a great future. Now, with helium instead of hydrogen inside the airbags and with the price of oil increasing the operating costs of airplanes and helicopters, maybe the day of the dirigible has come at last. If it has, who knows what will come next? Maybe the ox cart.