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Old 05-11-2018, 12:30 AM   #1
PTTG
 
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Default Why Dirigibles?

We all know the most basic form of alternate history is one where dirigibles are a mainstream form of transportation in the modern day. It seems like you can hardly go back in time and flip off a dinosaur without coming back to atomic-powered lighter-than-air ships that explode at the drop of a hat.

In this somewhat tongue-in-cheek thread, what are some possible justifications for worlds that happen to use some form of lighter-than-air mass transportation, both ordinary and extraordinary?

Here's one:

Eisenhower ends up not participating in the US Army's Transcontinental Motor Convoy; as a result, his later experiences in Germany don't inspire the same interest in a national highway system, and so it is never proposed on a national level.

The NHS is largely funded by fuel taxes, so lacking that gasoline prices are somewhat lower. This isn't all that well appreciated by citizens, however, as shipping expenses are substantially higher.

Railways handle shipping to major cities, but for minor outposts all the way up to fairly large towns that just happen to be off the railroad network, air freight is the standard. Traveling long distance by car is an adventure!
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Old 05-11-2018, 03:37 AM   #2
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

I think in order to make dirigibles long-term practical, you need to account for a few factors:

First, a reason for the US to not hog all the helium as they did in OTL, thus shifting more foreign dirigibles from flammable hydrogen to non-flammable helium, and hence preventing the Hindenburg Tragedy.

Next, a reason to make slower transport preferable than faster airplanes, particularly if you start to consider jet airliners that can cross North America in 4-5 hours as opposed to the several days the dirigibles require. This may simply be a preference for a more sedate pace, one not spurned by a need to rapidly fight wars across an ocean. Which probably means a different outcome of WWI so that the fascists don't have national resentment to turn to in their rises to power.



But I think the main reason we see dirigibles is twofold: long times for hovering aloft, and the Rule of Cool.
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Old 05-11-2018, 04:19 AM   #3
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

Avoiding some of the major hydrogen airship disasters might help - if it was the R100 that was everyone's poster child airship and not the R101 and the Hindenburg there might be more of them about.
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Old 05-11-2018, 05:01 AM   #4
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phantasm View Post
I think in order to make dirigibles long-term practical, you need to account for a few factors:

First, a reason for the US to not hog all the helium as they did in OTL, thus shifting more foreign dirigibles from flammable hydrogen to non-flammable helium, and hence preventing the Hindenburg Tragedy.
Alternately, a major source of helium outside of US-controlled regions. In my setting, I assumed France found a massive (larger than OTL) deposit in Algeria back in the '20s far larger than the USA deposits (OTL a deposit was discovered there in the '90s). Having an early alternate source of helium would remove the USA's reason for wanting to take a protectionist/monopolist stance on this new substance.

fwiw, a large reserve has recently been discovered in Tanzania (https://www.newscientist.com/article...nners-running/)

Quote:
Next, a reason to make slower transport preferable than faster airplanes, particularly if you start to consider jet airliners that can cross North America in 4-5 hours as opposed to the several days the dirigibles require. This may simply be a preference for a more sedate pace, one not spurned by a need to rapidly fight wars across an ocean. Which probably means a different outcome of WWI so that the fascists don't have national resentment to turn to in their rises to power.
My setting has an alternate WW2. I chose to have for my setting accidents and delays in the development of heavier-than-air flight, culminating with research than ultimately never chose to investigate jet engines until the late '80s. As a result, modern (late '80s) has better-than-OTL-dirigibles for most passenger traffic, with the military using propwing aircraft (equivalent to late '50s / early '60s), and jet aircraft occupying the same conceptual space that stealth aircraft did back in the OTL '80s (i.e., top secret; officially don't exist).

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But I think the main reason we see dirigibles is twofold: long times for hovering aloft, and the Rule of Cool.
This.
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Old 05-11-2018, 06:08 AM   #5
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

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Originally Posted by Ashtagon View Post
fwiw, a large reserve has recently been discovered in Tanzania
That would conveniently put the helium in German East Africa, handy for a zeppelin armada.
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Old 05-11-2018, 06:51 AM   #6
AlexanderHowl
 
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

Dirigibles are cool, but they are impractical. The experience of the US with dirigibles showed that they just could not deal effectively with wind sheers. Even so, you seem to get a group trying to resurrect them every decade or so.
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Old 05-11-2018, 08:08 AM   #7
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

What about money, esp. by government subsidies?

Airships require a lot of infrastructure - mooring masts, huge hangars, helium or hydrogen refineries and tanks etc -, that also needs a lot of workers.
So, when the mooring mast magnates and the gasbag patcher union team up and start whining to the politicians, sweet government money is shoved over to the industry.

Add a few spectacular plane crashes - overblown by the mooring mast magnate friendly press - will kill the interest of the public in this dangerous deathtraps.
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Old 05-11-2018, 10:55 AM   #8
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phantasm View Post

First, a reason for the US to not hog all the helium as they did in OTL, thus shifting more foreign dirigibles from flammable hydrogen to non-flammable helium, and hence preventing the Hindenburg Tragedy.
The helium thing is largely irrelevant. It's really only Hindenburg that has a major role (at the very least as an accelerant) for hydrogen. I think the R.101 only burned after it crashed into the ground.

For the rest of the peacetime dirigible accidents it was weather breaking the superstructure rather than fire. Fire may have been a bigger thing for wartime Zeppelins but those do not actually seem to be studied much.

So what needs to change? I nominate subtle aspects of the laws of physics. Remove clear air turbulence and make weather easier to predict by damping "butterfly's wing"/ chaotic effects.

I think Gernsback might actually have those changes in place. Less non-linear dynamics might make economics more predictable as well making their scientifically planned economy work better also.
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Old 05-11-2018, 06:37 PM   #9
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Phantasm View Post
I think in order to make dirigibles long-term practical, you need to account for a few factors:

First, a reason for the US to not hog all the helium as they did in OTL, thus shifting more foreign dirigibles from flammable hydrogen to non-flammable helium, and hence preventing the Hindenburg Tragedy.
A large source of helium discovered in Europe.

Quote:
Next, a reason to make slower transport preferable than faster airplanes, particularly if you start to consider jet airliners that can cross North America in 4-5 hours as opposed to the several days the dirigibles require.
Wrong perspective. In 1935 there were no fast intercontinental passenenger airplanes.

Dirigibles need to be better than cruise ships and trains, not airliners.

If airships had stayed in fashion they would have developed and improved just like any other transportation method. The airships of 2018 would be as different from the Hindenberg as the A380 is from a Ju-52.

Quote:
But I think the main reason we see dirigibles is twofold: long times for hovering aloft, and the Rule of Cool.
Even after high speed, long range passenger aircraft are developed airships still beat trains for comfort and ships for speed... and both ships and trains exist today despite aircraft.

Airships would be even better for cargo... cheaper than trains overall, and faster than ships.

Quote:
For the rest of the peacetime dirigible accidents it was weather breaking the superstructure rather than fire
Early discovery of aluminum, titanium, Kevlar and Nomex.

Last edited by tanksoldier; 05-11-2018 at 06:48 PM.
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Old 05-11-2018, 09:07 PM   #10
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Default Re: Why Dirigibles?

While extremely unlikely at TL 6 there is the option of having vacuum filled lift bags. At higher tech levels altering the size and shape of the lift bags could add some options.
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