UPDATE: See the comments. Dan from AirShips.net tells us the story is not true.
It appears that Samsung Corporation and London architectural design firm SeymourPowell are developing a floating hotel concept based on 19th century technology: hydrogen-filled airships.
Before you start yelling out “Remember the Hindenburg!”, keep in mind that we’ve developed almost 80 years’ worth of safety technology since 1937 when the Hindenburg went up in flames, bringing down a luxury airliner industry in its wake. We only have a glimpse of what that kind of travel might have been like in movies such as “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”.
Hayao Miyazaki is noted for his imaginative “Castle in the Sky” animated movie from 1986 (originally titled “Tenkū no Shiro Rapyuta”). In the movie’s opening credits the audience sees the world was once dominated by an airfaring civilization whose last city, Laputa (in the English version), is still floating around somewhat aimlessly after having been abandoned for 700 years.
Prior to that time about all we had to work with was Don McLean’s “Castles in the Sky” and similar pop songs from the mid-20th century. But as the video below shows, commercial interests are catching up with a blend of 19th century ideas and 21st century technology. In a few years luxury hotels may be floating across the oceans, offering wealthy and business-class travelers opportunities for quiet, private travel in a high altitude form.
But floating hotels is, in my opinion, thinking rather small. This style of luxury travel could, in fact, appeal to international traveling billionaires (or super-billionaires) who could buy or build their own fleets of floating mansions. These literal castles in the sky would be safe from piracy (until someone converts an older airship into an attack vessel).
Elite companies could offer networks of docking stations where the skyborne hotels, mansions, scientific labs, and hi-tech/top secret commercial development complexes could touch down in relative privacy and security for resupplying, repairs, refueling (of hydrogen tanks), safety inspections, upgrades, etc.
Think of specialized airports where 4-10 of these floating behemoths could set down far away from traditional airports. A whole new industry is waiting to be built. And once the billionaires have proven the safety and efficiency of these types of operations the merely wealthy would be the next in line to develop atmospheric condominiums, shopping malls, and entertainment experiences.
In fact, I can imagine a number of elevated physical activities that could be conducted around these modern airships from hang gliding to skydiving to sky surfing (where you trail along behind the floating ship and dance on the wind currents).
And then there are obvious military and intelligence applications, too. Small transports could maintain rapid response teams drawn from special forces, ready to put down anywhere within a 1,000 mile radius. Intelligence organizations could maintain skyborne operations for surveillance, transfer of assets, and particularly sensitive activities and research.
Using light-weight, non-static materials, these new aerodynamically designed airships could be used to relieve overcrowding in countries that are land-poor. They might even be able to raise some of their own specialty foods (herbs, small fruits like high-altitude growing huckleberries, etc.).
A whole new rash of regulations and legal principles would have to be developed and/or adapted from previously existing bodies of law. Would what happens in the sky stay in the sky or would people be held accountable in some way? (There have been incidences of crimes being committed on luxury sealiners where no one was prosecuted once the ships docked again.)
These kinds of technologies might help us further develop methods for colonizing Venus and maybe a gas giant like Jupiter or Saturn. We would need viable Star Trek-like magnetic shielding to protect these floating biospheres — perhaps even for the early models used here on Earth.
Nonetheless, the human imagination is boundless and it seems like there is a real will to take to the skies once more. Perhaps this time it will be a longer-lasting experience than the last one, which left us with a few Goodyear blimps floating around sports events and stadiums.
SeymourPowell has a Wesbite (but it takes a LONG time to load and render).
CNN carried an article about the proposed AirCruise here.