Don’t get me wrong: I’ve long been more than passing fond of heavy machinery and Victoriana, but I’m getting pretty bored of steampunk as an aesthetic – it’s just too damned ubiquitous right now, a fashionable marketing veneer. New wine in old bottles, you know.
And few things sing out “steampunk!” quite so loud as the humble dirigible, of course – but there’s nothing to say that airships have to be a retro trope. So I suggest we reclaim the dirigible for near-future science fiction: witness this concept drawing from Australian aeronautics outfit Skylifter, which drags the dirigible bobbing and floating into the 21st Century… complete with 150 tonnes of cargo hanging beneath it [via SlashDot].
Designed to carry entire buildings to remote locations, folks. Entire buildings. And in case you were wondering about the flying saucer shape, that’s practical:
Rather than use either a spherical or a cigar-shaped aerostat, as the gas-filled envelope of a lighter-than-air craft is known, Skylifter has developed a discus-shaped one. This means that like a traditional, round ballon—and unlike the elongated dirigible blimps that have hitherto been used as serious modes of commercial transport—the craft is “directionless”. In other words, it is oblivious of where the wind happens to be blowing from, which simplifies load-handling in places where the wind is fickle. At the same time, being flatter than a sphere, the aerostat acts less like a sail than a traditional balloon does, making it easier to steer. The flying-saucer shape also acts as a parachute, affording greater control during descent.
Clever stuff. However, don’t hold your breath for stately fleets of disc-shaped dirigibles delivering shipping-container tower-blocks or solar-panel arrays to an urban void near you any time soon… Skylifter have a scale version working, but it’s only three meters across and capable of lifting a single kilogram. 🙁