Published December 1974 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd Do Airships Have a Future in the ]et Age? Is the airship about to make a comeback? Increasingly, talk is heard that it just might. The high cost of aviation fuel and jet aircraft, the spread of noise and atmospheric pollution, and the enormous investment in money and space required to build airports all have spurred interest in the idea. Those of us old enough to remember the "blimps" probably think of them in terms of the tragedies more than a generation ago that destroyed the U.S. dirigible Akron II and the German zeppelin Hindenburg in the early 1930's. The Akron crashed in a storm off the Jersey coast; and the Hindenburg, lifted by flammable hydrogen, burned as it was being moored at Lakehurst, N.J. The disasters, with the loss of more than a hundred lives of passengers and crew, helped seal the doom of lighter-than-air transportation. About all that remains today to remind us of the airship age is the Goodyear blimp. But safe inert helium can be used for lifting; and the possibility of the application of space-age technology to improve construction and motive power has prompted both governmental and commercial studies of a possible revived use of lighter-than-air craft. The mania for speed-for getting there fast- had much to do with the acceptance and growth of air travel. Everything from business to pleasure has been expedited by swift airplanes. But congested airports farther and farther from cities can make time saving on some flights more imagined than real. And Amtrak is evidence that many travelers like the convenience of downtown stations, together with the comfort that trains can potentially provide-to say nothing of the scenery. Airships could do much the same. They need no 10,000-foot runways-only a mooring mast and an elevator. They could be made operational virtually anywhere there are people or freight to be moved. With their great carrying capacity, they could transport passengers in spacious comfort by day or night, together with bulky cargo. They probably could be built virtually free of noise and pollution. And, traveling at a respectable hundred miles or more an hour, they could stay close enough to the ground for those aboard to enjoy the sights below. The possibilities of the rebirth of the airship, I think, make the studies challengingly worthwhile.