Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Wants To “Darken The Skies” With Airships

Google Co-Founder Sergey Brin Wants To “Darken The Skies” With Airships

Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin is preparing for space tourism. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has plans to colonize Mars. But Sergey Brin has been quietly working to bring back airships.

A recent article loaded with first-look photos in Bloomberg Business Week takes the first substantial tour of Mountain View, California’s LTA Research & Exploration, a company the Google billionaire founded in 2016 that has been quietly working to bring back the giant retro vehicles. 

“Welcome to LTA: Where we are going to darken the skies,” the company’s CEO Alan Weston, one of the world’s first bungee jumpers, reportedly says as he greets guests. (LTA stands for “lighter than air.”) 

A century ago, airships were the height (literally) of luxurious travel, and the original plans for the Empire State Building included a docking station way above the streets of Manhattan. (They tried it once, but high winds nixed that idea quickly.) Then, in 1937, the Hindenburg exploded, and that disaster, with its world-famous tragic sound bite, matched with advances in airplane technology, pretty much killed the industry. Other than the Goodyear blimp hovering over a football game, it’s fair to say most of us have never even seen an airship, let alone ridden in one. (Tourists visiting Friedrichshafen in Germany can take a 90-minute glide in a genuine Zeppelin NT for $800 at an airship museum kept afloat by descendants of inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin himself.)  

But all that changes (possibly) with LTA. The company is preparing its debut of Pathfinder 1, a prototype vehicle 120 meters long and 40 wide at its fattest, with a dozen propellors and laser sensors. Nothing this size has been built since the 1930s, and it is “a fraction” of the size of what LTA is planning for its eventual fleet. 

By comparison, the Goodyear blimps are described by Bloomberg as “big, inflated bags with a minimal gondola stuck to the underside [which] lacks a sturdy inner structure, so its engines must be attached to the gondola.” As such, this “makes conditions noisy and inelegant for the pilots and passengers.” (For the official specific differences between a blimp, dirigible, and zeppelin, all of which are airships, there is no finer source than this page dedicated to just that on 

But you probably have a question. Why the hell is Brin funding this enterprise? 

The primary answer is likely that the 49-year-old Russian born, Maryland-raised Brin is worth $105 billion and LTA has only cost him, per Bloomberg’s estimates, $250 million. The article strongly implies that the dude just thinks airships are cool, and Brin is itching to be the first one to ride in Pathfinder 1 when it is completed. 

In addition to that, though, LTA’s Weston points out that they could potentially be used to haul cargo in an environmentally friendly way, and also be quite useful in delivering aid to disaster areas. The eventual LTA models may be able to carry 200 tons, which is 10 times that of a Boeing 737. Also, many areas needing relief do not have accessible roads or a nearby runway. For an airship with hovering capabilities, this will not be a problem. 

But also, yes, they look awesome. And the idea of journeying across the Atlantic while hovering like a god for a few days will no doubt appeal to many who can afford the trip. 

With that, let’s take a look at a scene from the 1971 film Zeppelin, in which Michael York rides a zeppelin.

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