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Hot air airship made by Gefa-Flug

A thermal airship is an airship that generates its lift via the difference in density due to a temperature differential between the gas inside its envelope and the ambient air. (This is in contrast to using a gas that is lighter than air at ambient temperature, such as helium.) Currently all thermal airships use hot air, as used in a hot air balloon, as their lifting gas. However, an airship that uses steam would also qualify as a thermal airship.[1]

Advantages and disadvantages[edit]

Thermal airships have the advantage of being much less expensive than helium-based airships. They are also routinely deflated after each flight and can be readily packed for storage and/or transport.

Hot air craft produce much less uplift per unit volume than helium- or hydrogen-filled craft (about 30% depending on air conditions). This necessitates lighter construction, with fewer controls and hence more difficulty in manoeuvring. This leads to:

  • lower airspeeds
  • difficulty in handling on the ground if the ground wind is above 5 knots
  • difficulty in steering, particularly at low airspeeds
  • lack of elevator (pitch) control, causing the airship to pitch up or down in response to changes in the throttle setting (a motion called 'porpoising').

In recent years, the steering of these ships has improved somewhat. The most successful approach has been to use higher pressure in the tail fin structures than in the rest of the envelope, or to use an internal structure (see below).


Skyacht Personal Blimp - another type of thermal airship

The first public flight of a hot air airship was made by Don Cameron (UK) in a Cameron D-96 at the Icicle Meet in January 1973. The aircraft reportedly took 3 years to develop.

Envelope structures[edit]

Most thermal airships are non-rigid. Some are pressurized. In some cases, the pressurized air is taken from a duct located behind the propeller. In other cases, the pressurized air comes from a separate fan.

In 2006, a new type of envelope employing a tensile membrane structure was developed by Skyacht Aircraft. This design uses an unpressurized envelope and an internal structure that uses ribs made of aluminium to keep the envelope in shape. When not in use, the structure folds up in a manner similar to an umbrella. The structure also permits the mounting of a steerable engine/propeller on the tail of the aircraft. The tail-mounted propeller provides for vectored thrust steering, allowing tight turns.[2]


Like hot air balloons, thermal airships are first inflated partially with cold (ambient temperature) air. Once the envelopes are sufficiently full, a propane burner is ignited and the inflation is completed using heated air.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Steam Balloon JBFA Article
  2. ^ Youtube video of Skyacht

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thermal_airship — Please support Wikipedia.
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3 news items

Fri, 11 Apr 2014 07:26:15 -0700

Greenpeace also flew its thermal airship over the Bay Bridge and Silicon Valley areas with messages urging Twitter and other tech companies to follow the lead of Apple and other companies that it says are building a green internet. Similar protests ...

Data Center Knowledge

Data Center Knowledge
Thu, 03 Apr 2014 11:00:00 -0700

The Greenpeace thermal airship bore several messages – one praising Facebook and Google for their use of renewable energy, and one challenging four other tech companies that it cited for their continued use of coal-derived power. The “Who's Next to Go ...
Thu, 03 Apr 2014 18:41:15 -0700

COM 条评论. 继日前对19家科技企业能源消耗进行评级之后绿色和平组织进一步进行了绿色健康能源的宣传工作,组织了一架名为“thermal airship”的135英尺长的齐柏林飞艇在当地时间今天早上穿过硅谷,向当地的工作者和 ...

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