Week In Airplanes

by by Barry Elkinton & David Adler

Eligible Dirigible

Last Friday, worldwide Aeros unveiled the Aeroscraft “Dragon Dream”—the company’s latest stab at a fully functional prototype. A gobsmacked crowd of industry insiders, air veterans, and (galactic) senators looked on as the first commercially-viable dirigible airship since the Hindenburg teetered, like a baby, a few feet off the ground.

But significant advances in the field distinguish the airship from that accursed craft. Unlike a blimp, the Aeroscraft’s ultralight hull of aluminum and carbon fiber is filled with pressurized helium that makes the vehicle lighter than air. To rise, it releases air from its chambers, and to sink, it sucks in air from outside. The helium level within remains constant-in other words, unlike a giant balloon, this airship is a giant balloon with a shell. A reflective Mylar shell that bears some resemblance to Cloud Gate, the Chicago bean of distorted self-portrait fame.

The dirigible, which is 230 feet long and has already cost between $35 and $40 million to construct, could potentially revolutionize the airfreight industry. Worldwide Aeros’ commercial model should support up to 66 tons of material, more than any airplane on the market. This would allow it to deliver humanitarian aid to remote places at efficiencies previously only dreamed of, the company says. It would also make the ships particularly suited to, you know, deploying drones.

But the public has other uses in mind. (“Home of Luxury”) has a slideshow of the Aeroscraft’s potential interiors. White leather recliners watch dolphins on an HD flatscreen. A fully-stocked bar beckons from the end of an inflatable hallway. The transparent nose of the dirigible provides a panoramic view of the cityscape below, and the blurred faces of soiree attendees take in the sights as one man looks up at the camera, seated in a chair, hands clasped together, whispering, join us.

Worldwide Aeros’s website bills it as the “world’s leading lighter-than-air, FAA-certified aircraft manufacturing company.” (At press time, the names of trailing lighter-than-air FAA-certified aircraft manufacturing companies remained undisclosed.) In any case, the company has poked a hole in the fabric of an industry long dominated by stalwarts like Boeing and Airbus-here’s hoping the industry won’t poke one right back. —MD

Rabbit Conspiracy

Something’s always been a little off about the Denver International Airport. To start, there’s Mustang, the 32-foot-tall, anatomically correct blue horse with glowing red eyes that greets visitors at the airport’s entrance. Widely disliked by both the public and art critics, the sculpture’s history manages to outdo its terrifying image—during the 9,000 pound sculpture’s construction, the horse killed its creator, artist Luis Jiménez, when a piece of the sculpture collapsed on the artist in his studio.

The patricidal stallion is only one of the more conspicuously haunting features of DIA, which opened in 1995 and almost immediately became a fixture among Internet conspiracy theorists. If you believe what your read online, DIA is either a secret government end-times bunker, a haunted Indian burial ground, or a future government concentration camp hiding in plain sight. Admittedly, the airport’s runway layout vaguely resembles a swastika, and yes, the airport does feature a mysterious “New World Airport Commission” marker that contains a time capsule to be opened in 2094. For its part, however, airport management seems to find all this attention rather amusing. “Some people think there’s a conspiracy making our airport the center of a New World Order,” says the airport’s official website. “Rest assured the story is definitely a myth.”

Nonetheless, happenings at the airport continue to raise questions. This winter Denver residents have become fixated on yet another unusual DIA phenomenon—car-eating rabbits. Apparently, rabbits en masse have begun eating automotive wiring out of cars parked in DIA’s sprawling long-term lots, causing tens of thousands of dollars in damage. Hundreds of rabbits are believed to be involved. One frequent traveler, Ken Blum, says he incurred 700 dollars in rabbit-related damage over the course of two separate incidents. “When I had the trouble with the oil light coming on, the dealer told me the wires that controlled the air conditioning were chewed,” Blum told Denver’s CBS4. “My insurance didn’t cover it, the manufacturer didn’t cover it.”

As the repairs bills rack up, passengers are complaining that the airport is not doing enough to stop the rabbits, or warn travelers about the risks of parking at DIA. “I saw no signs… nothing to tell me, ‘Hey, beware,’” said Blum. The airport, however, is preaching patience, noting that rabbits have been a recurring problem in the area for decades, and that the airport employs specially trained agents to patrol the lots and remove pesky animal intruders. Of course, if the conspiracy theorists are onto something, these rabbits are the least of our DIA-related problems. Perhaps we’ll learn more in 2094.—BE

Finding Soul Plane

This week, a woman got drunk on a plane and told it like it is. “She was screaming, ‘My dad’s CIA, you guys don’t know. Arrest me if you want,’” a neighboring passenger recalled. JetBlue Flight 185 New York to San Diego had to make an emergency landing in Denver, where it met the FBI on the tarmac.

Air travel is tricky, though. The “Home Technology” section is ripped out of SkyMall, and then the toilet is so loud when it flushes, and it’s like fuuuuck, just let me watch a Jennifer Aniston movie on this little screen. Worst of all, according to the police report, the flight attendants moved a passenger next to the woman on Flight 185 because his entertainment system was faulty, even though he didn’t pay for premium seating. She became unruly.

Everyone applauded as the 42-year-old woman (anonymous, legally) was escorted off of the plane. All 136 passengers were questioned about the incident, and the plane arrived over two hours late in San Diego. Waiting, spaghetti grew cold. “It was quite an adventure,” the local news reported.

Incidents of unruly passengers rose almost 30 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to the International Air Transport Association. Part of it is that tricky air travel is getting trickier—take off your shoes, now put your hands over your head like this, now tie your shoes again; at the same time, airline fees rose 11 percent last year. Fewer flights, longer delays: it’s no wonder that 2013 has found a new genre of in-flight entertainment. Last month on a New York–bound Iceland Air flight, a man drank a whole bottle of Duty Free and started hitting his neighbors, yodeling profanities, and whispering about a plane crash. The crew duct taped him to his seat and sealed his mouth shut, leaving the last button of his shirt undone so that his belly could spill forward.

Either way, airlines are clearly not adapting fast enough to the new era of the unruly passenger. Rather than an emergency landing—and more cold spaghetti—we should encourage intoxication and harness its power. Less duct tape; more mud wrestling in the cockpit. We, for one, took Soul Plane (2004) as advice, not parody. Nine years later, we seem to have learned nothing. —DA