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"Science fiction is what scientists would do if they could - if they had enough grant money, enough time, and enough brains to do the wonderful things they would like to do."
- Greg Bear

Beetle  
  A hard-shelled dirigible.  

Airships had a great advantage over heavier-than-air planes; a quiet flight.

Lenore rode the gondola of a Beetle - a hard-shelled dirigible: silent, roomy, all picture window, and no faster than a galloping horse. Lenore could see more of the tossing sea than she really liked. She didn't like flying, never had and probably never would...

The Beetle touched down like a feather.

From Saturn's Race, by Larry Niven (w/S. Barnes).
Published by Tor in 2000
Additional resources -

What ever happened to dirigibles, anyway? The word "dirigible" just means "you can steer it" - a big advance on balloons that just floated around. For a long time, the Graf Zeppelin held the record for around-the-world flight (21 days). Yes, the Hindenburg disaster showed the problems of using hydrogen; but helium is a noble gas and won't catch fire. So, what happened to dirigibles?

Well, the United States Government is partly responsible. Helium is common in the universe; about 23% of the detectable mass of the universe is helium. On Earth, however, helium is rare; most of the free helium is in the exosphere, where extracting it is difficult. However, there are natural gas wells in Texas with a relatively high concentration of helium.

In the 1940's, the government became concerned about Germans attacking with non-flammable dirigible war planes. How to stop this threat? Cut off their supply of helium! So the Federal Helium Reserve was established in Amarillo, Texas in a natural underground formation with room for roughly one billion cubic feet of helium.

The Federal Helium Reserve still exists today. And although the threat of foreign lighter-than-air warship attacks never materialized, the debate over what to do with this helium reserve is hotly debated. Once it is gone, it will be very difficult to get more economically. Concerned about helium? Read more here.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Saturn's Race
  More Ideas and Technology by Larry Niven (w/S. Barnes)
  Tech news articles related to Saturn's Race
  Tech news articles related to works by Larry Niven (w/S. Barnes)

Beetle-related news articles:
  - StratoSail & Altair: Mars Robot Balloons

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