I realized I was an enviro-nerd when I was watching "Flight 666" — the documentary about Iron Maiden's legendary around-the-world flight/tour piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson — and found myself wondering about the tour's carbon footprint.
What other rock band has the option of simply procuring its own jet (Ed Force One), loading it with gear and roadies, and having their lead singer act as pilot?
You see Dickinson, along with being one of rock's great voices, is also an airline pilot, aviation nut and serial investor.
And that combination may serve him well as he prepares for the 2016 launch of the Airlander hybrid airship, the largest aircraft in the world, in which he plans to circumnavigate the globe. If all goes according to plan, the Airlander will offer significant fuel savings over conventional cargo planes — not to mention allowing point-to-point journeys that avoid the need for airports, trucking and other infrastructure.
Here's how Dickinson described the Airlander to the BBC:
"The airship has always been with us, it's just been waiting for the technology to catch up."
He wants to sell them and he'll be very good at it. As we chat in the hangar, he goes through its credentials. It is 70 percent greener than a cargo plane, he says. It doesn't need a runway, just two crew. And it can plonk 50 tonnes anywhere in the world you like, which is 50 times more than a helicopter. He wants to drum up publicity with the kind of trip Richard Branson would dream up. A non-stop flight around the world — twice.
"It seizes my imagination. I want to get in this thing and fly it pole to pole," he says. "We'll fly over the Amazon at 20ft, over some of the world's greatest cities and stream the whole thing on the internet."
Exactly what "70 percent greener" means is hard to ascertain from the interviews conducted so far — is it 70 percent more fuel efficient, or do those numbers also account for savings in terms of flying more direct routes, or avoiding the need for infrastructure? Either way, it has the potential to advance the cause of greener transportation and trade — there's just one small catch.
As the video trailer above suggests, and as noted over at Grist, one of the potential applications for this thing is accessing remote locations to make use of untapped resources. With Shell putting Arctic drilling on hold for now, it would be ironic indeed if a greener, radically more efficient aircraft made more oil exploration possible. That, for now, is out of our — and Bruce's — hands. So I'll just look forward to the prospect of Mr. Dickinson singing "Aces High" as he glides over the Amazon.
And then I'll hope this gigantic thing is used to heal, not hurt, our planet's most fragile places.
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