Ah, to ditch the vagaries of modern air travel for a spacious solar-powered airship! We can’t do it (at least not yet), but in the future, our cargo at least might be able to ditch trucks and tankers for the air, propelled by nothing more than the sun and the prevailing winds of the Jet Stream.
The High Speed Solar Airship, or HSSA, (which comes to us by way of Inhabitat) makes use of 67.2 kW of onboard thin-film solar panels, is designed to fly high at 30,000 feet and could reach daytime speeds of 182 miles per hour on the west-to-east shipping line, thanks to the fast winds of the Jet Stream. Even on the trip back east, the 97 miles per hour average of the HSSA would still beat transport via trucks, thanks in part to its altitude: by flying above bad weather in cold, high-altitude temps, the solar panels are rendered 30% more efficient. The airship reaches its high altitudes via an envelope filled with expandable gas cells.
The inventor of the HSSA has so far only conducted limited flight testing with a 1:20 scale model–waiting, apparently, on the $5 million needed to build out the real thing, which, upon completion, will have a cargo capacity of 120,000 pounds (60 tons). Still, considering the fact that the truck shipping business is worth $222.4 billion annually, it seems almost certain that some capitalistic eco-visionary will feel compelled to produce the cash. (Ted Turner, perhaps?)