Numerous flaws doomed Cargolifter, added Costin. Like the Hindenburg, guy wires had to steady the ship while cargo was offloaded; though it never landed, the aircraft needed considerable facilities on the ground to deliver goods. "Operationally, Cargolifter went totally against what we in the hybrid airship business are trying to do – that is, alleviate the need for airship infrastructure wherever the cargo is to be offloaded," he said.
While sanguine about airship's ultimate prospects, University of Manitoba's Prentice cautioned that a fair amount of growing lies ahead of the industry. But that growth could rearrange international trade. "Canada is not buying tomatoes from Cuba now, but with an airship, they could fly right over the U.S. directly into Canada," he added.
"We may always carry freight in the bellies of passenger jets," Prentice said. "But in a fully mature hybrid market, airships should replace the rest of the fixed-wing cargo fleet."
Bruce Dorminey is a science journalist and author of "Distant Wanderers: The Search for Planets beyond the Solar System." DailyClimate.org is a nonprofit news service that covers climate change.
This article originally appeared at The Daily Climate, the climate change news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.