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Zeppelin Airship

William McKinley

Zeppelin Airship: William McKinley was the 25th American President who served in office from March 4, 1897 to September 14, 1901 during which time the Zeppelin Airship was patented in the United States in 1899. The Wright Brothers and their "Flying Machine" would make their historic flight on December 17, 1903.

Definition and Summary of the Zeppelin Airship
Summary and definition:
The Zeppelin Airship was designed by Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838 1917), a retired German general. The Zeppelin rigid airship, also known as a dirigible balloon, was patented in Germany in 1895 and in the United States in 1899.

The Zeppelin Airship was used extensively by the German military during World War One as bombers, reconnaissance missions and propaganda purposes. Use of the Zeppelin Airship declined in 1937 when the LZ 129 Hindenburg burst into flames killing 35 people.

Zeppelin Airship History for kids: Fast Fact Sheet
Fast, fun facts about the Zeppelin Airship:

Who invented the airship? Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin

How big was the first airship? The Luftschiff Zeppelin 1 (LZ-1 ) was 420 feet long and 38.5 feet in diameter

What was the speed of airships? The later airships, including the ill-fated Hindenburg, reached a speed of 135 km/h (84mph)

How high did airships fly? Over 1000 feet

The Purpose of the Zeppelin Airship
What was the purpose of airships? They were used for air travel and in WW1 airships were used as bombers, on reconnaissance missions and for propaganda purposes.

Facts and Description of the First Zeppelin Airship for kids: The LZ-1
The first design was not a great success but the problems were resolved with subsequent improved designs. Interesting facts and description and initial problems of the first Zeppelin airship are detailed as follows:

  • The first design was called the LZ-1 (Luftschiff Zeppelin 1)

  • The German word Luftschiff derives from Luft + Schiff, literally meaning airship

  • Airships are also referred to as 'dirigibles' meaning a steerable, self-propelled aircraft. The word 'dirigible' is taken from the Latin dirigere meaning 'to direct'

  • The airship consisted of a massive, long rigid metal frame containing individual gas cells and covered by fabric

  • The first massive structure lacked rigidity due to its weak tubular frame

  • The LZ-1 was 420 feet long and 38.5 feet in diameter

  • The LZ-1 contained 399,000 cubic feet of hydrogen in 17 gas cells

  • 'Gondola' was the name given to an external compartment that was suspended from the airship balloon, designed to carry personnel, cargo and the power plant

  • Two metal 'gondolas' were suspended below the ship each gondola housed a 4-cylinder water-cooled Daimler gasoline engine producing 16-horsepower and geared to two propellers

  • A sliding weight secured to the keel afforded vertical control by raising or lowering the nose of the airship

  • Rudders were provided for horizontal control

  • The first airship was completed in the winter of 1899 and made its maiden flight in the summer on July 2, 1900

  • The LZ-1 Zeppelin airship was first flown for a short distance of 3.5 miles over a lake

  • It achieved a speed of 20 mph.

  • Various improvements were made to the design and it was replaced by the LZ-2 in 1906

    • The weak tubular girders of LZ-1 were replaced by triangular girders which dramatically improved strength and rigidity

    • Fins were added for stability and control

    • The unreliable engines were replaced

  • Various designs followed until Zeppelin was happy with the result produced by the LZ-5. 

  • A total of 21 Zeppelin airships (LZ-5 to LZ-25) were manufactured before the outbreak of World War I (1914 - 1918)

Facts about Zeppelin Airship
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Zeppelin Airship.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin (1838-1917) was born in Germany, a member of the wealthy German nobility. His early career was in the German military and following his early retirement he founded the Zeppelin Airship company.

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin served as an official observer with the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861- 1865) during which time he visited the balloon camp of Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who was the Chief Aeronaut of the Union Army Balloon Corps.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin made his first ascent in a US hot air balloon in his late twenties during the American Civil War, which ignited his initial interest and passion for aeronautics and dirigibles.

He worked on his design for ten years and in 1895 submitted his patent in Germany and then, in 1899, submitted his patent in the United States 

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was not only the innovator of the first airship, he also piloted most of the first,  prototype airships himself.

The first Zeppelin airship made its maiden flight from a floating hangar on Lake Constance, near Friedrichshafen, Germany, on July 2, 1900.

Improvements were made to the first experimental airships and state-of-the-art Zeppelins measured 150 to 160 metres (490 -520 ft) in length and were able to carry loads of around 9,000 kilograms (20,000 lb).

The state-of-the-art Zeppelins were powered by three Maybach engines of around 400 to 550 horsepower (300 to 410 kW) each, reaching speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph).

In 1908 the count founded the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin company (Airship Construction Zeppelin Ltd.)

In 1910, Zeppelins provided the first commercial air service for passengers.

Zeppelins were first flown commercially by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG), the world's first airline service.

By mid-1914, DELAG had carried over 10,000 fare-paying passengers on over 1,500 flights.

A fleet of 21 Zeppelin airships (LZ 5 to LZ 25) were manufactured before the outbreak of World War I (1914 - 1918)

The fleet of Zeppelins were used to bomb London during World War I.

The rigid Zeppelins could reach higher altitudes than the early airplanes

Bombs were thrown by hand from the rear cockpit of the airship's gondola

1,500 people were killed in Zeppelin raids on London's East End. The terror they instilled played a significant propaganda role during WW1.

Cow intestines used to make special bags called 'sausage skins' to hold the hydrogen gas used to keep airship aloft. It took more than 250,000 cows to make one airship.

The German Zeppelins proved to be too slow and too fragile to withstand bad weather. They were also found to be vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire.

40 German Zeppelins were shot down over London.

Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin died before the end of World War I, of natural causes at age 78, on March 8, 1917.

After WW1 a number of Zeppelins were distributed to the Allied countries as a part of postwar compensations by Germany

In 1918 the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin company worked with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to build Zeppelins in the United States - there association continued until the outbreak of WW2

In 1922 the US Navy started to construct airships for reconnaissance missions. The ZR-1 (meaning "Zeppelin, Rigid #1" named the USS Shenandoah was the first to be commissioned.

The 680 feet ZR-1 made its first flight on September 4, 1923 and was the first ascent of a helium inflated rigid airship in history

The names of other United States airships were the ZR-3 USS Los Angeles and the USS Akron (ZRS-4) and her sister ship the USS Macon (ZRS-5) that were launched in 1931

Blimps: In 1925 Goodyear began using blimps to advertise their brand.

Blimps: What is a Blimp? Unlike the rigid framed Zeppelins,  a blimp has no rigid internal structure; if a blimp deflates, it loses its shape.

The two most famous were the Graf Zeppelin that was completed in September 1928, and the giant Hindenburg that was first flown in 1936

The Graf Zeppelin 1: The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin passenger-carrying, hydrogen-filled, rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937 making 590 flights covering more than a million miles

The Graf inaugurated a transatlantic flight service and made 144 ocean crossings and then made a "Round-the-World" flight

The Graf's "Round-the-World" flight in 1929 officially began and ended at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey

The Graf covered 21,500 miles (34,600 km) in a world flight that was completed in 21 days.

The Hindenburg: The LZ129 Hindenburg (first Hindenburg class airship) was a passenger-carrying, civilian airship that was launched on 4 March 1936.

The Hindenburg: The LZ129 Hindenburg was intended for filling with helium gas instead of flammable hydrogen. However the United States, which had a monopoly on the world supply of helium, feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes and banned its export by law.

The Hindenburg: In 1936 the Hindenburg carried a total of 1,002 passengers on 10 scheduled round trips between Germany and the United States.

The Hindenburg Facts and Statistics:

  • Length of the Hindenburg: 803.8 feet

  • Hindenburg Powerplant: 4 Daimler-Benz 16-cylinder LOF 6 (DB 602) Diesels

  • Hindenburg First flight: March 4, 1936

  • Diameter of the Hindenburg: 135.1 feet

  • Hindenburg Speed: 84 mph (125 km/h)

  • Number of Hindenburg crew: 40

  • Hindenburg Passenger: 50 sleeping berths, 25 double-berth inside cabins

  • Passenger facilities: Dining Room, Lounge, Writing Room, Promenades and, of all things, a smoking room!

  • Hindenburg Disaster: May 6, 1937

The Hindenburg Disaster: On May 6, 1937, whilst landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the hydrogen-inflated craft burst into flames and was completely destroyed. 36 people were killed in the Hindenburg Disaster.

Hindenburg Disaster: The cause of the fire has never been established. Passengers and crew members jumped out the promenade windows to escape the burning Hindenburg airship.

The Hindenburg disaster marked the end of the use of rigid airships in commercial air transportation

The Graf Zeppelin 2: In September 1938 the LZ130 Graf Zeppelin 2 (second Hindenburg class airship) was used mainly for flight testing. It was modified for helium, but none was provided by the US. With the outbreak of WW2 it  was used in radio interception and electronic warfare. The LZ130 Graf was dismantled in 1940 upon order of Hermann Goring.

The Graf Zeppelin 2: In September 1938 the LZ130 Graf Zeppelin 2 (second Hindenburg class airship) was used mainly for flight testing. It was modified for helium, but none was provided by the US. With the outbreak of WW2 it  was used in radio interception and electronic warfare. The LZ130 Graf was dismantled in 1940 upon order of Hermann Goring.

In World War II, the United States Navy had 10 non-rigid airships

After World War II although airships are no longer used for passenger transport, they are still used for advertising purposes, sightseeing, research projects and surveillance.

US American History
1881-1913: Maturation Era
Wright Brothers
Early US Aviation

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