While flying cars are becoming a closer reality, it appears an airship may be on the horizon, as well.
Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, is reportedly working on a secretive, massive airship inside NASA’s Ames Research Center in California — a building Google’s Planetary Ventures took over in 2015.
According to four sources who wish to remain unnamed, Brin has long been captivated by airships. Before acquiring the facility, Brin would visit Ames and gawk at pictures of the USS Macon, a giant airship built by the U.S. Navy that Ames housed in the 1930s.
In Hanger 2 of Ames, sources now say engineers have constructed a metal skeleton of Brin’s airship that is so large it fills up much of the giant hangar.
Sources did not say if this project, which isn’t a Google project, is a hobby for Brin or something he hopes to turn into a business. In an email, Brin wrote, “Sorry, I don’t have anything to say about this topic right now.”
The leader of Brin’s pet project isn’t saying much either. Alan Weston, the former director of programs at Ames, declined a request for comment but did describe plans for an airship back in 2013.
In a radio interview, Weston said an airship could be used to haul cargo in a more fuel-efficient way than planes and trucks, as well as land cargo directly at its intended location.
“New airship technologies have the promise to reduce the cost of moving things per ton-mile by up to an order of magnitude. It depends on the size of the airship. A larger airship can reduce costs a lot more than a smaller ship, but there’s design of a class of vehicles that can lift up to 500 tons that could be actually more fuel-efficient than even a truck.”
He also described a helium-based prototype that breathed, stating, “And so, the way that works is that the helium in the main envelope is taken and stored in bags inside the airship at a slightly higher pressure.”
“As you do that, air is taken in from the outside into essentially, like, lungs that are attached in the side of the vehicle. So, the analogy of breathing is a good one. And the overall lift of the vehicle is equal to the weight of the air that is being displaced by the helium. And, as you change that, you can control the amount of buoyancy that the vehicle has.”
Weston has a history of being part of unusual ventures. In the 1970s, he was a key member of the Dangerous Sports Club, whose members were credited with inventing the modern form of bungee jumping. He also tried to hang-glide his way down from a hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro and joined the Air Force as part of the Star Wars missile defense system, which aimed to wipe out incoming Russian missiles in the air with weapons fired from space.
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