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 [[USS AkronEnlarge

[[USS Akron

in flight, November 2nd 1931]]

An airship is a buoyant ("lighter-than-air") aircraft that can be steered and propelled through the air. Unlike aerodynamic ("heavier-than-air") aircraft which stay aloft by moving an airfoil through the air in order to produce lift, airships stay aloft primarily by means of having a cavity (usually quite large) that is filled with a gas that is less dense than the surrounding atmosphere.

In contrast to airships, balloons are buoyant aircraft that go wherever the wind takes them.

Airships are also known as dirigibles from the French dirigeable, meaning "steerable". The term airship is sometimes informally used to mean a machine capable of atmospheric flight. Likewise, the term dirigible is sometimes used informally to refer only to rigid airships. The term dirigible was the more commonly used name for these aircraft in the early days of their history, whereas airship is the more modern term. See also blimp and Zeppelin.

Modern passenger-carrying airships are, by law, now required to be filled with non-flammable helium. Until the 1940s, many European airships were filled with hydrogen, which is flammable if mixed in air. American airships have been filled with helium since the 1920s. Some airships are filled with hot air in a fashion similar to a hot air balloon.

Table of contents
1 Types of Airships
2 History
3 Airships in Fiction
4 External links

Types of Airships

Several different kinds of [[US NavyEnlarge

Several different kinds of [[US Navy

airships, circa 1930]]



Airships were among the first aircraft to fly, with various designs flying throughout the 19th century. They were largely attempts to make relatively small balloons more steerable, and often contained features found on later airships. These early airships set many of the earliest aviation records.

In 1784 Jean-Pierre Blanchard fitted a hand-powered propeller to a balloon, the first recorded means of propulsion carried aloft. The first person to make an engine-powered flight was Henri Giffard who, in 1852, flew 27 km (17 miles)in a steam-powered airship.

Charles F. Ritchel made a public demonstration flight in 1878 of his hand-powered one man rigid airship and went on to build and sell five of his aircraft.

Paul Haenlein flew an airship with an internal combustion engine on a tether in Vienna, the first use of such an engine to power an aircraft. In 1880, Karl Wölfert and Ernst Baumgarten attempted to fly a powered airship in free flight, but crashed.

In 1883, the first electric-powered flight was made by Gaston Tissander who fit a Siemens electric motor to an airship.

The first fully controllable free-flight was made in a French Army airship, La France, by Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs in 1884. The electric-powered flight covered 8 km (5 miles) in 23 minutes.

In 1896, rigid airship created by Croatian engineer David Schwarz made its first flight at Tempelhof field near Berlin. After Schwarz's death, his wife, Melanie Schwarz, was paid 15,000 Marks by Zeppelinin for information about the airship.

In 1888, Wölfert flew a Daimler built petrol engine powered airship at Seelburg.

In 1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont, in his airship "Number 6", won the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize of 100,000 francs for flying from the Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back under thirty minutes.

The Golden Age

Construction of the [[USS ShenandoahEnlarge

Construction of the [[USS Shenandoah

, 1923]]

The beginning of the "Golden Age of Airships" was marked with the launch of the LZ1 Luftschiff Zeppelinin July of 1900 which would lead to the most successful airships of all time, the Zeppelins. These ships were named after the pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Von Zeppelin began experimenting with rigid airship designs in the 1890's leading to some patents and the and the LZ1 (1900) and the LZ2 1906. He had, by the time WW1 broke out, given them a standard and highly efficient layout: an essentially cylindrical metal-framed and fabric-covered hull, large tail fins for stability, and streamlined engine and crew pods hung beneath the hull.

The prospect of using airships as bomb carriers had been recognized in Europe well before the airships themselves were up to the task. H. G. Wells described the obliteration of entire fleets and cities by airship attack in The War in the Air (1908), and scores of less famous British writers declared in print that the airship had altered the face of world affairs forever. On March 5, 1912, Italian forces became the first to use dirigibles for a military purpose during reconnaissance west of Tripoli behind Turkish lines. It was World War I, however, that marked the airship's real debut as a weapon.

Germany believed it had found, in the zeppelin, the ideal weapon with which to bypass the British Navy and strike at Britain itself. Raids began by the end of 1914, reached a first peak in 1915, and then were discontinued until 1917. Zeppelins proved to be terrifying but inaccurate weapons. Navigation, target selection and bomb-aiming proved to be difficult under the best of conditions, and the darkness and clouds that frequently accompanied zeppelin missions reduced accuracy even further. The physical damage done by the zeppelins over the course of the war was trivial, and the deaths that they caused (though tragic) amounted to a few hundred at most. The zeppelins also proved to be vulnerable to attack by aircraft and antiaircraft guns. Several were shot down in flames by British defenders, and others crashed 'en route'.

The USS Akron over [[ManhattanEnlarge

The USS Akron over [[Manhattan

circa 1932]]

Airplanes had essentially replaced airships as bombers by the end of the war, and Germany's remaining zeppelins were scrapped or handed over to the Allied powers as spoils of war.

The British rigid program, meanwhile, had been largely a reaction to the potential threat of the German one, and was largely though not entirely based on imitations of the German ships. One such replica, one of a series of ships based on the wreckage of the L-33, was the British R-34. It landed in New York on July 6, 1919, completing the first crossing of the Atlantic by an airship and the first nonstop crossing by any aircraft. Impressed, British leaders began to contemplate a fleet of airships that would link Britain to its far-flung colonies. The success of another prize, the USS Los Angeles, encouraged the United States Navy to invest in airships of its own. Germany, meanwhile, was building the Graf Zeppelin, the first of what was intended to be a new class of passenger airships.


Initially airships met with great success and compiled an impressive safety record. The Graf Zeppelin, for example, flew over 1 million miles (including the first circumnavigation of the globe by air) without a single passenger injury. The expansion of airship fleets and the growing (sometimes excessive) self-confidence of airship pilots gradually made the limits of the type clear, however, and initial successes gave way to a series of tragic rigid airship accidents.

Rescuers scramble across the wreckage of British R-38/USN ZR-2, August 24th, 1921Enlarge

Rescuers scramble across the wreckage of British R-38/USN ZR-2, August 24th, 1921

Although the Los Angeles flew successfully for 8 years, the U.S. Navy eventually lost all three of its American built rigid airships to accidents. The USS Shenandoah flew into a thunderstorm over Ohio in 1925 and broke into pieces. The USS Akron was caught by a microburst and driven down into the surface of the sea off the shore of New Jersey in 1933. Both storm related losses led to great loss of life. The USS Macon broke up after suffering a structural failure in its upper fin off the shore of Point Sur in California in 1935. All but 2 of the 83 people aboard the Macon survived the crash.

Britain suffered its own airship tragedy in 1930 when the Airship R101, a fatally flawed machine barely able to lift its own weight, crashed in France with the loss of all aboard. Because of the bad publicity surrounding the crash the Air ministry grounded the competing Airship R-100 in 1930 and sold it for scrap in 1931, despite the excellence of its design and its proven handling characteristics.

The most spectacular and widely remembered airship accident, however, is the burning of the Hindenburg on 6 May 1937, which caused public faith in airships to evaporate in favour of faster, more cost-efficient (albeit less energy-efficient) airplanes. What is generally not remembered is that of the 97 people on board, 67 got out alive. There were 36 dead—13 passengers, 22 aircrew and one American groundcrewman.

Continued Use

Although airships abandoned carrying passengers, they continued to be used for other purposes. In particular, the US Navy built hundreds of blimps for use in World War II. The most successful application of these airships was for convoy escort near the US coastline. During the war some 532 ships were sunk near the coast by submarines. In contrast, none of the 89,000 or so ships escorted by blimps was lost to enemy fire.

Blimps continue to be used for advertising and as TV camera platforms at major sporting events.

In recent years, the Zeppelin company has reentered the airship business. Their new model, designatied the Zeppelin NT made its maiden flight on September 18, 1997. There are currently three NT aircraft flying. One has been sold to a Japanese company and will be flown to Japan in the Summer of 2004.

An airship is planned to fly over Athens during the 2004 Summer Olympics as part of security anti-terrorism measures.

Present Day Research

Recently, several companies have begun exploring the possibilities of airships with their potentially huge lifting capacities, near-VTOL capabilities, and potentially lower freight costs, though none has demonstrated the economic viability yet.

In addition to the research on conventional blimp designs, several unconventional prototype designs continue to be investigated. One example is a design commissioned by the United States Military for a massive solar powered spy and communication blimp, 25 times larger than the Goodyear Blimp, which it is hoped will be able to carry tons of payload far above the range of antiaircraft weapons. The company developing the design, JP Aerospace, claims to have long-range plans to develop an "orbital airship" capable of lifting cargo into low earth orbit with a marginal transportation cost of $1/ton/mile altitude.

Contracts are underway with Lockheed for HAAs (High Altitude Airships).

Airships are being investigated for use as LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellite communications. One proposed system involves sending unmanned airships high above cities at 70,000 feet. These aircraft would provide cellular voice and data service to a city with service similar to what LEO's provide.

With the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. military has been forced to reassess threats and evaluate strategies for aerial defence. Two major defense contractors are pitching the zeppelin as a potential piece in the homeland security. Military planners envision unmanned airships as high-altitude radar platforms keeping watch for anything threatening U.S. airspace.

Airships in Fiction

Airships were a popular theme in scientific romance (prototypical science fiction) and adventure fiction published in the late 19th century and the earliest years of the 20th century. The theme of aeronautical exploration was most famously explored in this period by Jules Verne (The Clipper of the Clouds) and H. G. Wells (The War in the Air). After the invention of the airplane, airships were largely forgotten by mainstream fiction, and today appear mainly in historical fiction and alternate history (particularly the steampunk genre and the work of Michael Moorcock). More than a few video games, such as Crimson Skies, Skies of Arcadia and the Final Fantasy series, utilize airships in their fictional worlds as a major mode of transportation. Also, in Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, the Soviets' most lethal conventional weapons are their extremely tough Kirov Airships, which drop insanely powerful bombs.

See also: Airship R101, Evolutionary Air and Space Global Laser Engagement

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External links