White Whale of the Skies Luxury Airship Lets Tourists Enjoy the High Life

Hovering high over a jungle while sipping a cocktail -- it sounds like a dream but could soon become reality, if designer Jean-Marie Massaud has his way. His bold vision of a luxury airship hotel in the shape of a huge white whale could usher in a new era of eco-friendly tourism.


French designer Jean-Marie Massaud has a vision, one which looks like a huge white whale with flippers and flukes. The futuristic Moby Dick is actually an airship containing a luxury hotel. Guests of the "Manned Cloud," as the ambitious project is called, will be able to enjoy the world's most beautiful sights from up on high -- if the project ever gets off the ground.

Massaud Studio, the company behind the project, is promoting the futuristic vessel as an ecologically friendly way to travel. According to spokeswoman Aurélie Ullrich, landscapes will be enjoyed from above rather than being disfigured or damaged by tourist infrastructure.

Massaud's plans foresee the 20-room sightseeing hotel accommodating 40 guests and 15 employees. A restaurant, bookstore, fitness studio and bar will provide entertainment, should watching the world go by through the enormous panorama windows, or tanning on the sun deck on the top of the vessel, become boring.

The airship will have a top speed of 170 kilometers per hour, but will generally travel at 130 kilometers per hour, a more comfortable speed for sight-seeing. The vessel, which will be 210 meters long, 82 meters wide and 52 meters high, will only require re-fuelling after 5,000 kilometers and will be able to remain airborne for roughly three days.

The 41-year-old French visionary has brought a big-name partner on board -- the French aerospace research center Onera, which will develop the technology for the vehicle. Ullrich says further details will be revealed later. As of yet, there are no specific plans for the airship's propulsion and landing technologies.

According to the present design, the hotel would have to be carried by a massive gas-filled buoyancy device with a volume of 520,000 cubic meters. Ullrich says a smaller version would also be possible, should the intended size not be feasible. Investors with specific business models have yet to be found. Nevertheless, the designers are hoping to be able to launch the hotel in 2020.

Fat Cigars with Little Wings

Today, 156 years after French engineer Henri Giffard made the first powered flight in an airship, dirigibles are once again the subject of much interest, as entrepreneurs dream up ways of using the exotic vehicles for tourism. So far, airships have only been used for short tourist excursions; longer voyages haven't been considered financially viable. But the American airship company Worldwide Aeros Corporation recently announced plans to build an airship-aeroplane hybrid that could also be used for longer air cruises.

The so-called Aeroscraft has the capacity to compress helium -- the lighter-than-air gas which is used to create lift --on board, allowing it to vary the vehicle's weight at landing and take-off. In addition, it gets 30 percent of its lift during flight from its aerodynamic form.

Unlike in zeppelins, the roughly 500-cubic-meter passenger cabin will be located directly in the Aeroscraft itself. The airship, of which a small prototype is already in construction, will travel at a brisk 220 kilometers per hour. But the vessel, which resembles a fat cigar with little wings, can hardly be described as elegant. When it comes to chic design, Massaud's airship is way ahead -- even if the French company appears to consider the airship's technology to be of secondary importance.

In fact, Massaud has already received a design prize for his "Manned Cloud," from the Parisian industrial design institute APCI. According to Ullrich, Studio Massaud was awarded the APCI's 2008 "Design Observeur" prize partly because of the way the project brings together partners who would normally not have found each other: a designer, an aerospace research center and a potential investor.


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