(No apology for the Bill & Ted reference)
I was visiting one of my employer’s London offices last week when I looked out the window and exclaimed, “Look! It’s an airship!”
Once I’d calmed down, one of my colleagues confirmed that it was indeed the Goodyear Blimp, which had been flying over the Thames for the previous few days.
I was terribly excited, because although I’d never seen an airship in real life beforehand, they are top of my list of Anachronistic Technologies That Should Make a Comeback.
(I should point out here how the name blimp came about. There is story that it’s from the military name “Balloon Type B – Limp. This is nonsense. It actually came from the noise the inflated gas-bag made when someone tapped it with their finger. Really.)
My first airship-related memory is from when I was 5 – a neighbour of our ours who was a salesman for Goodyear gave my brother and I two inflatable model blimps.
But enthusiasm really took off (pun intended) many years later when I came across Douglas Botting’s book, “Dr Eckener’s Dream Machine” – a history of the Graf Zeppelin and its round the world flight. (This was the first commercial round the world flight – ironically I discovered the book in Heathrow Airport).
The book’s evocation of the doomed hopes and aspirations of a technology that time had passed by caught my imagination. As I’ve said before, I’m amazed that anything the size of the Graf Zeppelin – could float in the air, never mind fly.
The other striking thing is the grace of airships – unlike helicopters or planes, they’re practically silent and they seem to manoeuver as if they were a creature of the deep, rather than a man-made flying machine.
As learned more about airships, the more impressed I became – particular favourites are the R34, the first aircraft to fly east to west across the Atlantic, and the USS Akron and USS Macon, flying aircraft carriers of the 1930’s. (Is there anything cooler than flying aircraft carriers?)
Today, airships are sidelined – not just because of the Hindenburg and other prominent disasters, but because planes and helicopters are better at any roles that don’t involve just floating in place.
But, practicalities aside, I would love to see a revival of airships – I think that it’s significant that almost all alternative histories published follow Hite’s Law, where everyone uses zeppelins.