Airship Manifesto by Nathan Smith

Airship Manifesto by Nathan Smith

Six thousand years man went on legs and wheels
To two dimensions movement was confined
Man strolled through shady woods and verdant fields
While every ridge or hilltop made him blind

To what’s beyond. For greater strength or speed
Men tamed and bred the strong ox and swift horse.
In haste, they galloped hard on well-trained steeds,
And yoked teams when they needed maximum force.

Some brave men ventured on water in boats
Skillfully crafted vessels they could steer
Lightweight stuff and/or bowed shapes made them float
These sailors had many hazards to fear

A leak or storm could sink them to their deaths
They might get lost and never find the shore
But ships at sea could laugh at land-based threats
For no army could chase them in a war

Ships helped unite the Phaorohs’ famous realm
Up and down the Nile carrying trade
Then with seafaring merchants at her helm
Phoenicians the first maritime state made

And Hellas ventured oft upon the sea
First, in legends, to lay old Troy waste
Then from cities self-governing and free
To spread trade and knowledge, and a new taste

For reasoning and bold critical thought
That ventured forth like ships upon the sea
And might, as it were, land in any port,
Pursue any and every inquiry.

From Athens to Venice to Holland and Britain
The great maritime nations set the pace
In them great wealth was made, great books were written,
The very leaders of the human race.

Yet still in two dimensions roved the ships
And water’s heaviness constrained their pace
Though all the while, birds broke gravity’s grip
And roved free through three-dimensional space

The riddle of flight tantalized men’s minds
And beckoned them to invent great machines
It fell to two brothers at Kitty Hawk to find
The secret to achieving age-old dreams

Fast-moving air bore airplanes’ wings aloft
And they flew over towns and woods and fields
At rumors of this wonder, many scoffed
Till Wilbur Wright once and for all revealed

To skeptical crowds at Le Mans in France
That he’d made himself master of the skies
Able to rise and turn in perilous dance
Then land, and stop, and get out, still alive

Runways became planes’ gateways to the air
They needed them to get up speed enough
Once up, they could go almost anywhere
But landing with no runway could be rough

From runway to runway, the fast planes flew
Devouring the miles at record pace
But could not linger for a pretty view
Nor stop to reconnoitre a new place

Nor offer a comfortable place to sleep
Constrained by strict aerodynamic needs
To be designed with narrow tubelike shapes
So that the air will yield to the great speeds

Required to make the lift to stay aloft
They’re prisoners of their need to go fast
They guzzle fuel at a prodigious cost
And must soon land because their fuel won’t last.

Now aviation’s a great industry
A trillion passenger miles per year are flown
Travel finds no barrier in a sea
As vast distances are swiftly overcome

Planes connect great cities the world round
But too expensively for normal freight
In airports they must take off and touch down
And view the wild from 35,000 feet

But there’s a slower, grander way to fly
Free of the costly tyranny of speed
Like sailing ships that sail through the sky
Free also of the inconvenient need

For runways everywhere you stop or start
Airships were the first machines to fly
And in history they played a minor part
For decades, the great zeppelins ploughed the sky

So huge and light they rode air like an ocean
It carried them without the need for force
Airships achieved the first steered, airborne motion
And first explored the utmost polar North

A million miles the Graf Zeppelin roamed
First airborne vessel to go round the world
With comforts and luxuries like a home
And people slept, walked, dined and danced on board

Zeppelin made the first airline to America
As practical as paper, guns, or steam
Another of science’s mundane miracles
Yet this one vanished and became a dream

By now, most of mankind’s long since forgot
While some of us regret and wonder why
The simplest explanation’s that there’s not
Good reason to maintain two ways to fly

But that doesn’t make sense, for airships can
Do many neat things that no airplane does.
For instance, think how beautifully grand
Would be an African airship sightseeing cruise!

Expansive decks, feasting, each night a dance
With live music, and lots of helpful staff
You’d float above a herd of elephants,
A pride of lions, a rhino or giraffe.

You’d spot the wildlife from high aloft
Cruise in gradually and alert the guests
As you approach, you turn the engines off
And let the ship’s momentum do the rest

Until the wildlife’s ten arms’ lengths away
And guests can stand as near as in a zoo
While they look down in wonder, the ship stays,
Just floating quietly, as airships do

Gorillas, camels, hyenas, and baboons,
Could be seen in their natural habitats.
The Serengeti, the Saharan dunes…
What vacation today could equal that?

Or try Australia, or the Amazon,
Iguacu Falls, New Guinea, the Caribbean
The list of places could go on and on
Airships are perfect for sublime sightseeing

In a completely different line: what trade they’d carry!
How many billion tons of merchandise!
Cars and trucks, and nuts and fruits and berries
Shoes and clothes, and meat and wheat and rice

Lawnmowers and dishwashers and TVs,
Fresh caught fish from fishing boats at sea
Fresh cut flowers, pet birds, live young trees
Cheese, bread, wine, mushrooms, pasta, honey

Like trucks up in the sky that cross the ocean
Specifically: like trucks in speed and cost
Airships can get more fuel efficient motion
Than planes, since lifting gas keeps them aloft.

They’d ship good cheap and fast over the seas
And soon they would affect trade growth statistics
As the geography of industries
Adapted to new options in logistics

The world’s islands would prosper mightily
From logistical inconvenience freed
For islands, as for mainlands, there would be
Shipping options of middling cost and speed

To an island with a mast or two to park it
An airship could bring fresh produce, clothes, shoes,
Then go back, and bring island goods to market
Providing jobs along with ocean views

While mariculture in the seas around them
Would benefit from airship shipping too
Delivering sea-farmed shrimp, bream, bass and salmon
To mainland cities in a day or two

For Africa, so poor and unproductive,
Airships would bring new opportunity
Landlocked countries with poor infrastructure
Could plug into the world economy

Towns without airports or well-paved roads
Could leapfrog into global supply chains
If they could muster full-airship payloads
Airships would ship and market them, like trains

That civilized the Wild West long ago.
Africa’d ship labor-intensive goods,
And job-rich export industries would grow
And furnish a hundred million livelihoods

Factories making clothes and toys and phones,
Would offer boring, low-paid jobs galore
The workers would buy small but modern homes
And go from desperately to somewhat poor.

And farmers in Malawi and Zambia
Could get meat in two days to grocery shelves
In Europe, the US and Canada
And earn much better livings for themselves

Airships would make new lifestyles possible
Away from pavement and the noise of cars
In places remote, wild and beautiful
Where you’d see the full panoply of stars

An airship would stop by each month or so
Replacing tools, restocking granaries
There’d be milk cows, ample gardens would grow,
But there’d be Amazon deliveries.

And some would have savings, while many more
Would telework by satellite internet
When work’s done, you could walk right out your door
Mount your horse, and ride to your heart’s content

I hope we’ll master roadless forestry
And clear cutting will disappear for good
Airships will lift by cable each felled tree
Into their holds, and bear the world’s wood

From wildwoods to sawmills, leaving intact
Those beautiful sylvan ecologies
While sensors on board airships gather facts
To study and support the health of trees

And airships will come in the darkest hour
To cities ruined by earthquakes and floods
And make heroic use of their great power
Of bringing anywhere huge stocks of goods

Desperate faces will look to the skies
Hoping to see the sky castles approach
Bearing loads of life-saving supplies
Like foodstuffs and fresh water, tents and coats

They’ll scan the rubble, listening for survivors,
As paramedics wait with drugs and kits
And sick are placed on stretchers by sky divers
And lifted carefully into the ships.

All the remotest places of the Earth
By airships will be made accessible,
The trackless deserts, the remotest north,
And men will drill and harvest minerals

Where mining roads would cost billions to build
Airships will bring miners, machines, food, fuel
And then return, with raw materials filled,
Like rare earth metals, talc, marble, or jewels

And all builders of structures and machines
Could mass produce and send bigger equipment
Instead of having widths of highway lanes
Limit what’s feasible for easy shipment

For instance, our housing’s still mostly site-built
Missing the gains from factory manufacture.
What cheap, feature-packed houses factories might build
When airships can deliver full-size structures!

Airships will float in, slow down, halt, measure
To fine tune their positions, park mooring cables,
Then open their floors to reveal treasures:
Factory-made smart mansions that are able

To be delivered by air to a site
Slowly they’ll be lowered into place.
What’s the advantage? I suspect they might
Have an electronic interface

So everything could be remote controlled.
And customer service called if things get broke.
Some will upgrade often, while the old
Will be sold as “pre-owned” to frugal folks.

The architectural possibilities
For technically optimized conurbations
That airship installation might unleash
Can stretch an ambitious imagination

So business leaders and entrepreneurs
In startups and established corporations
Just think what fame and profit might be yours
From implementing airship applications!

Start discussing plans and dreaming dreams
Give it at least occasional attention
Catalyze some innovative teams
And to your investors and boards, make mention

Of how you’ll use airships if they’re realized
Let airship builders know the specs you’ll want
For use cases you’ve sketched or analyzed
And ask if financing would help them launch.

Bold engineers, go roving with your minds
Down paths of mathematical imagination
Dream and sift through myriad designs,
Brainstorms, sketches, and recombinations

Score materials for strength and price,
Weight and manufacturability.
Seek fabrics that endure sun, rain and ice.
Then plan the masterful geometry:

Longerons, girders, joints and ballonets
Distributing the force of drag and gust
Use lift and ballast to stay level and light
As engines make thousands of pounds of thrust

Keep wind tunnels busy calculating drag
And test out your designs in simulations
And when the data from test flights comes back
Update all your assumptions and equations

And financiers and capitalists, prove your worth!
Now’s the time to show your quality!
What good you can do for mankind and Earth
By masterminding this technology!

Billions must be spent, and billions more,
Before great fleets of airships fill the skies
Some will change the world but be left poorer
Not finding a good way to monetize

“You can always tell the innovators.
They’re the ones with arrows in their backs.”
But honor’s due to patrons of creators
And losses offset gains and mean less tax

Meanwhile, some great fortunes will be made
And poured into charitable donations,
Foundations of dynastic splendor laid
As wealth is handed down the generations.

But never mind that! There’s a better goal
For which the kings of capitalism should labor
To make the world clean and bountiful
And men and women happier, wiser, braver,

More suited to adventure and delight
Free of material want and petty fear.
For poverty’s a burden and a blight
That it’s a pity for people to bear

So heed the call and lead the human race
Into a brighter future that’s quite near
When man roves free in three-dimensional space
By setting sail on the atmosphere.

Nathan Smith, 2021

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