A Short History of Airships in the Arctic

A Short History of Airships in the Arctic

A Short History of Airships in the Arctic

History provides proof that airships can operate in cold weather
By Dr. Barry E. Prentice, January 5th, 2013

•The American airship pioneer Walter Wellman flew a dirigible inside the Arctic Circle as early as 1907. Wellman made two more attempts to explore the Arctic by airship in 1909 and 1910.

•In 1926, the Norge was the first aircraft to fly over the North Pole. The Norge was designed by Umberto Nobile in Italy. It had a pressurized envelope that was reinforced by metal frames at the nose and tail. Technically, it was classified as a semi-rigid airship because of the flexible tubular metal keel. This was covered by fabric and used as storage and crew space. Three engine gondolas and the separate control cabin were attached to the bottom of the keel. Nobile made a second attempt in 1928 in a slightly larger sister ship, the Italia, which crashed at 81°N. The causes of the crash are disputed, but freezing gas valves, ice accumulation, pilot error and gas cell failure are all identified as possible or contributing factors.

•The LZ127 Graf Zeppelin is the largest airship ever to fly above the Arctic Circle (66°N). Although this flight took place during the summer, from July 24 to July 31, 1931, the five-stage flight covered 13,310 kilometers.

•The US Navy flew a ZPG-2 airship north of the Arctic Circle in 1958. The route was directed via Churchill, Manitoba and the most northern settlement reached was Resolute Bay, NWT. It took approximately 24 hours for this leg of the flight. Short flights out of Resolute Bay were abandoned because the landing strip was too soft and melting.

•The latest example of an airship that operated in the high north is the ABC blimp that provided coverage at the 1994 Winter Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway (61.1° N). A Russian airship, Rosaerosystems AU-30, was acquired in 2008 by a French group to undertake a Polar expedition. Unfortunately, this airship suffered damage in France during preparation for the mission, and was not flown to the Arctic.

ISO Polar is assisting research to test flight operations, materials and maintenance procedures for airships to fly in Canadian weather conditions. ISO Polar is prepared to assist other airship developers that wish to undertake such tests at our Winnipeg facility.

Barry Prentice is a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba.

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