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85 years after the Hindenburg, one Google founder plots a blimp comeback

Image of a hangar with the carbon fiber frame for Lighter Than Air Research's blimps.
LTA employees getting training at the company's Mountain View, Calif. headquarters. Image Credit: LTA Research

85 years after the crash of the world's most famous blimp -- the Hindenburg -- sounded the death knell for inflatable airships as a popular mode of travel one of the billionaire co-founders of Google is pushing for the industry's revival.

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of the world's biggest search engine company, has (nearly) single-handedly financed the development of Lighter Than Air Research. The company is building giant electric airships -- and they're just about ready to take off later this year.

The company has been ramping up production of its first aircraft and hiring hundreds of aerospace engineers and technicians at its offices in Silicon Valley and in Akron, Ohio -- the home of the Goodyear blimp.

Founded in 2014, spending on Lighter Than Air's Moffett airfield headquarters, which is leased from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has risen from $1.3 million in 2019 to over $10.9 million, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Aviation is one of the hardest industries to decarbonize and one that accounts for nearly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to an April report published in Mongabay. If the airline industry was its own country, it would be the sixth largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China, the US, India, Russia, and Japan.

That's one reason why Brin is so keen to give inflatable airships another shot. The company's first 390 foot airship, called Pathfinder 1, is slated to make its inaugural test flight over Silicon Valley later this year.

Meanwhile, the company is working on an even bigger airship at its Akron location. That blimp -- the Pathfinder 3 -- will be a nearly 600 foot aircraft that's capable of carrying up to 96 tons over 10,000 miles, according to reporting in the Financial Times. It's slated to begin test flights next year.

Lighter Than Air isn't the only company to try and launch new blimps into the market. Both the UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles and France's Flying Whales are trying to float blimps as the next big thing in luxury travel and shipping and logistics (respectively).

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