An interpretation of Jules Verne’s heavier-than-air airship from 1886:
It is possible, in the real world not fiction, to land a plane on an airship. From an airship buff website:
The United States Navy airships U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5) were designed for long-range scouting in support of fleet operations. Often referred to as flying aircraft carriers, each of the helium-inflated airships carried F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes which could be launched and recovered in flight, greatly extending the range over which the Akron and Macon could scout the open ocean for enemy vessels.
Why am I telling you this fun fact about cutting-edge aviation technology in 1932?
On the beach the other day, I came across an article in the regional newspaper Sur about a small Malaga company called Mesurex that makes software for in-flight refuelling. Catching the drogue at the end of the boom is still a severe test of pilot skill, but it’s becoming automated and easier. Which leads them to suggest that civilian airliners could also be refuelled in flight. Allowing nonstop flights from say London to Auckland, saving as lot of fuel. Their main customer is Airbus Military, so I assume they know what they are doing, and the proposal is technically credible.
So I fell to musing about refuelling electric airplanes. They work. Airbus have flown, and plan to sell, a two-seater basic trainer. It’s not a flimsy tour de force like Solar Impulse, but a normal plane with batteries running an electric fan for propulsion. They are working on a commuter plane. The problem, as with electric cars, is range.
If you can refuel planes in flight with kerosene, you can do it with electricity. The cable has to take a massive current for a fast charging rate. This could be a difficulty so let’s assume it away, like Leonardo, to get to the bit he would have liked.
This is where I had my beach brainwave – before the tinto de verano, not after. Continue Reading…