Inflating a modern airship

Don't get too excited, it's not ready for tourist crossings of the Atlantic. Instead, the Bullet 580 will be carrying NASA research payloads. At least at first. Made with a Kevlar balloon filled with helium, the world's biggest airship is maneuverable and can be controlled by a pilot, as well as by remote control. There doesn't seem to be any physical reason why it couldn't carry passengers.

All the action in this 2-minute video took 6 hours in real life. Sped up, it looks like a gaggle of humans caring for some monster grub.


  1. It was only after the baloon was fully inflated that they realized it wouldn’t fit through the door to get it out.

  2. The speed of the video also makes this gargantuan object seem small and insignificant, almost like a cheap pool toy.

    I’d love to see it take off (presumably through the roof?).

  3. When they figure out how to do this and involve a whale, I am so there.

    And if that makes no sense, you need to read Leviaithan.

  4. That was entertaining for some reason….

    Q: Why didn’t it float up to the ceiling?
    A: For this test, it wasn’t filled with helium, but with air-popped popcorn.

  5. 235 feet long? Pfft. Hindenburg was over 800! and before anyone says it, it was human error not its sheer awesome massiveness that caused that crash.

  6. How is it the biggest in the world? Do they mean by volume? The Zeppelin NT is 246 ft long, and the Hindenburg was over 800 ft long, versus this airship’s 235 ft length.

  7. PopSci says this will carry 15,000 to 20,000 pounds of payload — of course, a passenger cabin and propulsion would reduce that, but maybe they can work something out to carry more passengers than the Airship Ventures sightseeing zeppelin in the SF Bay Area.

  8. Long story short, this will never carry passengers because it appears to be a single cell. This is not exactly a good plan if you want to, say, not die, should an envelope failure happen.

  9. Chrs–Pretty much every airship built in the last 60 years is a single cell, unless you count the small air filled balonets used to adjust trim and maintain pressure. I suspect that Zeppelins wouldn’t have enough lift to stay up if one of the cells was emptied of lifting gas. The main reason for multiple cells in rigid airships is to maintain stability in a LTA vehicle that is long and thin.

    Picture if you will trying to keep a long, thin tray mostly full of water balanced. Once you let one end dip slightly, the water would flow down and make that end heavier. It’s called the free surface effect, and it’s what sunk the MS Estonia. The same thing is true in a Zeppelin, but in reverse. Any change in pitch, and the lifting gas tends to flow to the higher end of the ship. So, the airsip is divided into a number of cells which limits the degree to which the lifting gas can flow fore and aft.

    1. They inflate them with air in an enclosed structure so they can find and patch leaks in the envelope. They also run an overpressure to make sure there are no critical flaws in the bag that will fail before it reaches it’s pressure-limit. This video was basically a time-lapse of this process. At one point you see a fork lift life a man up to patch a hole. At the end you see the ship get stretched as it’s inflated to the max.

  10. If lighter than air craft interest you then I highly recommend Nevil Shute’s book “Slide Rule: The Autobiography of an Engineer” Before he was a popular writer he was an aircraft designer and was part of the team that designed and flew the R-100 lighter than air craft. Imagine climbing out onto the skin to fix a leak while in flight over the Atlantic. This is a true page turner.
    Shute is remembered by some for his atomic war novel “On The Beach” which became a movie.

  11. AirPilo: Probably to prevent a gust of wind blowing it away.

    Is anyone else thinking that it’s missing a clip of Adam Savage saying “And we’ve used up all the helium in the bay area.”

  12. I thought that what we saw here was just the envelop for the helium and not the outer cell.
    I thought that this would have been awesome as a tilt shift time lapse.

  13. OMG!!! Im living in Fringe Alt.Universe!!! where’s my shape shifting man servant and amber clad containment system?

  14. Hi folks,
    Inflating a big airship is the easy part, but demonstrating it really can reach 20,000ft with a useful payload and have enough power to stay on station on a breezy day will prove much more interesting. The basic shape of this airship does not look like the more aerodynamis Skyship series. The worlds biggest blimp to fly so far was the Sentinel 1000. If you want to see more on modern airships try or if you just want a helium sniffing laugh try the worlds only lighter than air comedy site.
    Regards JB ( )

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