I'm trying to find a short story I read once about some people trying to put together the next step in mass transit. They're sitting around throwing around ideas at the start of the story, talking about how supersonic flight is impractical because of the disturbance the noise creates. One mentions that there is a type of wing that can be put on an aircraft and it completely negates the sound of a sonic boom. (I believe the wings were described as a ring around the structure.) Alas, the wings provide no lift; and any wing that does cannot be silenced. Too bad you can't put the wings on a blimp, one says, and then they all look at each other.

They decide to build a rocket-powered, silent, supersonic blimp.

There follows the meat of the story: A long sequence of scenes wherein they try to get funding and federal approval. Ultimately, they fail, and the story ends with them trying to put together a subterranean supersonic system that basically answers to a description of a hyperloop.

I read this in a book of sci-fi stories, I have the impression that it was 60s-era, and something in my brain is screaming "Asimov" but I don't trust that very much.

  • 2
    "Supersonic Rocket Blimp" as a concept does sound very 60's Sci Fi Jun 27, 2018 at 2:43

1 Answer 1


This is probably "The Supersonic Zeppelin" (ISFDB link) or "The Great Supersonic Zeppelin Race" (ISFDB link) by Ben Bova, first published in 2005 and 1974 respectively. It's a little confusing as to whether he actually rewrote the story, or just retitled it. The following is noted in the Table of Contents of the Baen publication of Laugh Lines:

"The Supersonic Zeppelin" (originally published as "The Great Supersonic Zeppelin Race") — published in The Far Side of Time, ed. Roger Elwood, 1974, copyright © by Ben Bova

From the forward in one of his collections:

"This story actually did begin in a laboratory cafeteria, with a pair of friendly aerodynamicists pulling my leg about building a biplane that could reach supersonic speed without creating a sonic boom. The aerodynamics is all perfectly valid, and by the time lunch was over they had almost convinced themselves that a supersonic zeppelin could actually be built. They never carried the idea any further, but if they had... Well, read on.

The technique they propose is "Busemann's Biplane" and yes, Adolf Busemann was a real aerodynamic engineer and that was his design. And indeed, they say that you'd have to wrap it as a ring around the plane and that it does not generate lift, and the protagonist suggests a lighter-than-air craft.

"No sonic boom. Instead of flat winds, like normal, you need to wrap the wings around the fuselage, make a ringwing."


"Uh-huh. And isn't it true that a Busemann biplane's wings produce no lift?"


Until, that is, I blurted out, "So why don't you fill it with helium?"

I found it when searching for science fiction book supersonic blimp.

The ending does indeed have them contemplating a supersonic subway, their project being scuttled due to

A failed balloon trip by an ecologist opposed to the zeppelin, and some unscrupulous reporters writing a story about his trip that led to a panic over cosmic rays possibly sterilizing anyone who would ride the balloon due to the altitude.

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    Did Bova rewrite his 1974 story "The Great Supersonic Zeppelin Race" or did he just change the title? Presumably there is some acknowledgment in that 2005 Analog. I have a copy of Elwood's 1974 original-stories anthology The Far Side of Time where that supersonic blimp first appeared (and yes, it ends with talk of a supersonic subway train), but unfortunately my collection of Astoundalog has nothing more recent than 2003.
    – user14111
    Jun 27, 2018 at 9:50
  • @user14111: ^_^ I thought I'd seen some reference to an earlier work, but I just could seem to locate it. I should have thought to at least check for a few keywords under his name. No idea if he rewrote or just retitled it.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jun 27, 2018 at 11:29
  • So you have. I wasn't paying attention. Sorry about that. Now, it seems reasonably clear to me, from the bit you quoted ("originally published as . . .") that the only significant change was the title. Somebody should tell the ISFDB to merge those two titles.
    – user14111
    Jun 27, 2018 at 12:30

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