With the introduction of rigid airships featuring hybrid propulsion, the era of airships, which saw a decline after the 1937 Hindenburg Disaster, is poised for a revival, aiming to decarbonize aerial travel across various applications, including freight, humanitarian missions, & tourism. Developed by the French company Euro Airship, among the forefront of this revival is the Solar Airship One, with plans for its inaugural flight set for 2026. A combination of a decade’s work & collaboration, the Airship, with over 100 engineers from Capgemini in the preproduction stage, is designed to be a demonstrator for future models of varying sizes & purposes, both military & civilian.
Innovative Features and Advantages
Euro Airship is confident that the Solar Airship One will play a pivotal role in the future of human flight by offering a hybrid solar-hydrogen propulsion system, despite the absence of public images of the actual demonstrator. Along with other features, this innovative propulsion system allows the Airship to boast significant advantages such as massive volume, zero emissions, no reliance on fossil fuels, reduced noise, & minimal ground infrastructure, making it a “jewel of technology, energy efficiency, & safety”, according to Euro Airship. The whale-shaped Solar Airship One, measuring 151 meters in length & encapsulating a helium volume of 50,000 cubic meters, is covered in 4,800 square meters of solar film, enabling it to harness solar energy by day & utilize hydrogen propulsion by night. The energy harvested during the day is stored in fuel cells, which is then used for water electrolysis to produce hydrogen.
Technological Advancements and Landing Mechanism
The Airship, featuring 15 gas envelopes managed separately by AI, is equipped to instantly respond to & anticipate meteorological events, counteracting helium inertia. Allowing the Airship to operate without restrictions on routes or altitudes, the structure of the Airship is reinforced with a double-layered envelope to mitigate pressure & temperature differences during travel. It employs a classic water ballast system & a developing compressed-air-based system, requiring only a single rotating platform on any water surface, for landing.
Historic Journey and Public Engagement
Solar Airship One is set to embark on a historic non-stop flight around the globe in 2026, covering more than 40,000 km over 20 or 30 days, maintaining an average altitude of 6,000 meters & traversing 25 countries. Closely following the Equator, the journey of the Airship will be piloted by 3 aviation pioneers: Bertrand Piccard, Michel Tognini, & Dorine Bourneton, who will maintain communication with local authorities, universities, & international groups throughout the flight. Bourneton stated, “The goal is to educate, to catalyze the young generation, for us it is very important because of the climate change & natural disasters coming”, emphasizing the need for green mobility. The plan of Euro Airship is to document the entire journey on social media & produce a subsequent documentary, allowing the public to virtually accompany the flight.
Environmental Impact and Market Introduction
The Solar Airship One (SAO) is projected to achieve an 80% reduction in fuel consumption & CO2 emissions compared to conventional aircraft, with applications ranging from military operations to eco-responsible tourism. The SAO’s construction is scheduled to commence in 2024, with assembly following in 2025. Euro Airship, upon completion of the demonstration flight, aims to obtain certification to introduce several models of the rigid Airship to the market, including a version without solar panels with a range of 1,000 km.
Collaborations and Industry Participation
The development of eco-friendly airships is also being explored by other companies, such as Sergey Brin’s LTA & the UK’s Hybrid Air Vehicles. The SAO, with its solar film & hydrogen fuel cells, has the theoretical capability to achieve perpetual flight. Support from various partners including Capgemini, Groupe La Poste, & Orange, has been garnered, as they are contributing their expertise in engineering, logistics, & digital technology respectively. Corinne Jouanny of Capgemini revealed, “For the past three years, our engineers & researchers have been working closely with Euro Airship on the design of this innovative Airship.” The collaboration with Capgemini involves the creation of a “digital twin” of the Airship & Safran is contributing to the development of the electric motors.
Vision for the Future and Anticipation
The airship’s utility in ecotourism & military surveillance is envisioned by Euro Airship, with the ability to operate at 6,000 meters altitude & remain airborne for extended periods. Eliminating the need for heavy machinery, the Airship can land on a “sheet of water” using a rotating platform. The SAO will be piloted by 3 individuals, including Michel Tognini, a former ESA astronaut, Bertrand Piccard, an aviation pioneer, & Dorine Bourneton, the first disabled female aerobatic pilot. The importance of being attentive to the needs & expectations of future generations was emphasized by Bourneton, who survived a plane crash at 16. With a volume of 50,000 m3 & 15 individually controlled gas envelopes for enhanced control in windy conditions, the Airship is designed to be almost silent. The SAO is being marketed as 100% electric, with the ability to run on Sun & hydrogen power, thereby producing zero carbon emissions. Comparable in size to the Blackpool Tower, the Airship will fly over countries including Mexico, India, & the US during its 2026 trip. Euro Airship asserts that “all great dreams have been considered impossible before they are fulfilled”, highlighting the ambitious nature of the project.
Addressing Global Challenges and Open Collaborations
The SAO Project is a response to the pressing need for sustainable mobility solutions in the face of global warming, excessive fossil fuel consumption, & rising CO2 emissions. Euro Airship specializes in the design, manufacturing, & sale of sustainable rigid airships, with a focus on addressing industrial applications & societal challenges. Until the end of 2023, the company is open to strategic collaborations with like-minded partners. The SAO is a significant step towards achieving a harmonious coexistence between mobility & environmental sustainability. The launch of SAO by Euro Airship marks a pivotal moment in the aeronautical industry, showcasing the potential for green, clean, & limitless air travel. The SAO project symbolizes a collective effort to redefine air transport & embrace eco-friendly innovations, as the world anticipates the 2026 launch.