>I don't know whether Simon thought about the recreational sphere of
>or whether he was thinking primarily of the jets. I hope he forgot about
>people in every city for whom flight is something you do not for transport,
>but for the sheer enjoyment of it.
This is the sort of thing I was suggesting we should be giving serious
attention to as a component of the carfree city, but how unfortunate that
the news story about the prototype for a gigantic airship the length of four
Jumbo jets due to be unveiled tomorrow is described as "capable of carrying
880 cars from London to New York in three days"!
Wednesday June 28
It is also suggested that this "giant airship could end famine". The 100mph
craft, SkyCat 1000, designed by British engineers, will use hovercraft
technology to enable it to land anywhere, even on water, without the need
for a ground crew. In the days of the Graf Zeppelin more than 200 people
were needed on the ground to bring it down. Now Aircraft Technologies Group
is launching SkyCat's 50ft baby, SkyKitten, at Cardington in Bedfordshire,
the home of the ill-fated R101 airship which crashed in France in 1928 with
the loss of 40 lives.
Its designer says "SkyCat 1000 is basically a heavy lift platform that can
be used for a whole stack of purposes. It is a transport system that's
between slow-but-cheap shipping and fast-but-expensive jet aircraft.
"The fact it can land on any terrain of water or marsh makes it particularly
flexible. In aid situations, with a 1,000-tonne payload, you could literally
stop a famine in one go. That's a pretty powerful change in transport
logistics. It has the same operating costs in tonne-miles as a lorry but
when you take into account the logistic costs it's a lot cheaper.
"It would also make an enormous difference in mounting the expeditionary
warfare which is so difficult these days. Some lunatic does something in
some far-flung part of the globe and, as was demonstrated in Kosovo, the
West cannot get in a sufficiently large ground force quickly enough to stop
the threat. What troublemakers know is that the West has extremely slow
response times. This kind of technology enables you to fly in a balanced
force that can stop an outbreak in its tracks."
By the middle of next year ATG expects to have a 269ft, 15-tonne pay-load
machine flying, which could be used for taking 100 people on low-level
sightseeing trips or for carrying a huge TV advertising screen. The year
after that will see the production of a 200-tonne payload aircraft, carrying
twice the load of a Jumbo jet, and two years after that the SkyCat 1000. The
C5, the largest military transport plane currently used by the US military,
can carry one tank. The SkyCat 1000 would be able to carry 16. It would be
capable of crossing the Atlantic twice without refuelling at a speed four
times faster than the world's biggest cruise ship. It is so vast it could
not fit into Wembley Stadium. In fact, by volume, it could contain Wembley
Stadium. Although ATG is initially focusing on the potential for cargo
transportation, the company says that once the technology is up and running,
it could be used for a whole range of purposes. Other possible military uses
include naval minesweeping or as an airborne radar platform. SkyCat 1000 is
particularly suitable for the latter role as it could remain "on station"
for days rather than hours as is the case with aircraft. It size means that,
unlike existing airborne radar platforms, it can accommodate the large
antennae needed to detect small, "stealthy" targets such as cruise missiles.
Around 450 passengers could travel in the SkyCat 1000 in comfort or 100
passengers in the kind of spacious elegance offered by an ocean liner. There
could be silver-service meals, lounges, possibly a piano bar and state rooms
for a comfortable night's sleep. When conditions are right, the captain
could descend to 600ft and cut the engines so that travellers could stroll
on an outer promenade deck in complete silence.