Steampunk Airships…Plausible?

August 26, 2012 in Editorial

The most recent Three Musketeers film is worth watching, if for no other reason than seeing a sky battle between two airships. Firing black powder cannons at each other in the sky. Boarding actions at a thousand feet. Regardless of your attitude towards steampunk or roleplaying in general, airships really are awesome.

Now we’re reasonably sure that these things don’t exist, which is a bit of a dissapointment to everyone who has fancied becoming a sky pirate captain. Which is a shame as well, as the more sky pirates there are, the happier the pastafarians will be. But just in case it turned out to be realistic, we have taken a look at the financial plausibility of building one of these things.

Assuming a crew already of highly trained mercenaries and a pilot is already at your disposal, then the cost of the ship really boils down to three things; the cannons, the ship gondola (the lower bit where the people are), and the Zeppelin part.

The cannons are considerably cheaper than you might expect, selling for around $1,000, or ten for $10,000. Essentially a cannon is just a tube of metal, but even still this is cheaper than many rifles currently for sale. And given the comparative cost of a working naval cannon and a hunting rifle, the question arises of why more Americans don’t defend their homes with a 14lb piece of ordnance. Although in fairness the answer of why not go hunting with the cannon is reasonably obvious.

The boat itself, held beneath the Zeppelin, can really be any type or make left to the imagination. Because we could find both the weight and the price of it, we’ve gone with an old fishing vessel, The Mercedes. It seems about the right size and has a vaguely seventeenth century look to it.

$5,400,000 for this beauty. Seems almost a waste to imagine it going into a furious sky battle.

Now for the really expensive bit however; the Zeppelin to lift the thing. The Mercedes weighs a mighty 430 tonnes. Which means that it will require a Zeppelin capable of lifting 430 tonnes, which is 430,ooo kg.

The wonderful folks at Airship Ventures actually do own and operate their own Zeppelins. They reliably informed us that every kg of mass requires one cubic metre of helium to lift it, as a rough guide. However, according to their website only around a quarter of this lifting potential is ‘useful’, used for cargo and so on.

Crunching some numbers, this means that the Mercedes would require around 220 of the Zeppelin NTs that Airship Ventures use to lift it. And these don’t come cheap. After shipping, maintenance and docking these Zeppelin NTs cost around $31.2 million.

Zeppelin NT. Picture courtesy of Airship Ventures

Or, for the required 220 Zeppelins, over six billion dollars. In fact, around $6,864,000,000.

So, for a fully kitted out steampunk airship? Somewhere around $6,869,410,000. It may seem steep now, but when the zombie apocalypse comes, it’ll seem incredibly cheap.

Centives would like to thank Brian Hall of Airship Ventures for providing information on Zeppelins to help us write this article.

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