The advance of transportation technology depends on science and economics. During the 1930s, airships and airplanes competed head-to-head for the Atlantic passenger market. When World War 2 broke out, everything changed. Over the next five years, the combined combatants built over half of a million military airplanes. By the end of the war, four-engine, high-altitude bombers and jet engines were developed. Further investment in airplane technology was stimulated by the Cold War. All this public investment was adapted to civilian passenger jet airplanes. By 1980, dedicated jet airplanes were in use as cargo carriers. Despite the growth of the cargojet market over the past three decades, rising fuel costs and environmental concerns are changing the economics of airships and airplanes again. Investment in large cargo airships is returning. Much of the technology developed for fixed-wing aircraft can be applied to cargo airships. New materials, better engines, control systems and engineering eliminate the need for large ground crews and improve airship reliability and safety. However, two fundamental design issues have yet to be resolved: structural integrity and buoyancy control. A worldwide competition is underway on three continents to develop the dominant design for a cargo airship. This paper examines the alternative design approaches and presents the status of the international competition.
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