How CargoLifter's Airship Will Work

The CL 160 Structure
CargoLifter's fundamental parts
CargoLifter's fundamental parts
Photo courtesy CargoLifter AG

It seems only appropriate that a company located just a few miles south of Berlin would be responsible for breathing new life into the airship. After all, it was German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who first flew a dirigible in 1900, which is how airships came to be called "zeppelins." CargoLifter's CL 160 airship design harkens back to the time of those early zeppelins; but the company has incorporated some exciting new technology.

The overall size of the CL 160 is overwhelming. Nearly three football fields in length, it can easily swallow four of Goodyear's largest blimps. The airship is 853 feet (260 meters) long and has a maximum diameter of 213 feet (65 m). While the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, which is flammable, the CL 160 will hold more than 19 million cubic feet (550,000 cubic meters) of non-inflammable helium gas. Here are the basic components of the CL 160:

  • Envelope - The envelope, which is the skin of the airship, holds the helium gas. Waterproofed cotton or jute, a strong fiber used to make burlap, was used for the envelopes of early 20th century airships. The material was pulled taut over an aluminum frame. The CL 160's frameless, semi-rigid envelope is made of a proprietary airtight, multi-layered film that resembles a rubberized fabric. The material is about one-sixteenth of an inch thick. This advanced material will reduce the amount of helium lost during flight to almost zero. Photo courtesy CargoLifter AG Nose cone
  • Nose Cone - The nose cone is fitted to the front end of the envelope to provide a better aerodynamic shape. It has a diameter of 85 feet (26 m) and is attached to the envelope by nose slats. The nose cone is a complex subsystem on the airship. It provides a connection for the landing mast when the airship is on the ground. Thrusters integrated on the nose cone will allow for side-to-side movement. It also contains rope winches, a monitoring camera, control gears and a communication system for ship-to-ground communication.
  • Keel - The keel, made of aluminum, runs the entire underside of the ship. Its function is to transfer, absorb and distribute the payload and all of the installations that are responsible for lifting cargo. Many of the airship's other components are connected to the keel, including the nose cone, two engine wings, the lower side tail unit, loading crane equipment, crew space, four main engines, 12 maneuvering engines and the electrical and mechanical systems. The keel is about 820 feet (250 m) long, 49 feet (15 m) wide and 33 feet (10 m) high.
  • Tail Unit - The tail unit's function is to maintain stability and maneuverability, making sure the ship stays on course. It is comprised of four steering fins, each of which contain a rudder. The tail unit is 243 feet (74 m) wide, and each fin is 138 feet (42 m) long and 72 feet (22 m) high.
  • Engines - The CL 160 will be propelled by 16 turbine engines. The CL 160 will be able to travel at an average cruising speed of 56 mph (90 km/h), and can cross about 6,200 miles (10,000 km) before refueling its engines.

CargoLifter hopes to have its first airship finished by 2002, with a multi-ship fleet circling the globe two years later. The company plans to build about four airships per year beginning in 2004. The ships will be manufactured in Brand, Germany. In October, the company announced that it will build a second plant in New Bern, N.C., which will be completed by 2005.

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