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Zeppelin Airships
 
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. Zeppelin's ideas were first outlined in 1874 and formulated in detail in 1893. They were patented in Germany in 1895 and in the United States on 14 March 1899. After the outstanding success of the Zeppelin design, the term zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships. Zeppelins were first flown commercially in 1910 by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG "DELAG", the world's first airline in revenue service. By mid-1914, DELAG had carried over 34,000 passengers on over 1,500 flights. After the outbreak of World War I, the German military made extensive use of 
Zeppelins as bombers and scouts.
 
The World War I defeat of Germany in 1918 temporarily halted the airship business. But under the guidance of Hugo Eckener, the deceased Count's successor, civilian Zeppelins became popular again. In 1919 DELAG established scheduled daily services between Berlin, Munich, and Friedrichshafen. Their heyday was during the 1930s when the airships LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ 129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights from Germany to North America and Brazil. The Art Deco spire of the Empire State Building was originally if impractically designed to serve as a mooring mast for Zeppelins and other airships to dock at. The Hindenburg disaster in 1937, along with political and economic issues, hastened the demise of the Zeppelin.
 
Principal Characteristics
 
      
                                                                      "Graf Zeppelin", Drawing with Internal Structure and Gas Cells.
 
Internal components and gas cell locations shown schematically, excluding passenger and engine gondolas. 
 
Key:
 
ACP = Auxiliary control post
Red = AC = axial corridor running from main ring −2 to the front mooring hub
Blue = LC = lower corridor running from main ring 20 to ring 211 ending at ladder to axial corridor
Orange = WC = crew's toilet
Beige = CQ = crew's quarters with tables, chairs and berths
Beige = B = berths or cargo space
Blue Stripes = A = ventilation shaft
Green Stripes = CS = climbing shaft
Brown Stripes GE = exhaust gas shaft
Brown Box = O = oil tanks
Yellow Box = P = petrol tanks
Light Blue Box = W = water tank
OP = Observation post on top of hull
Pink Cell = H2 = hydrogen gas cell
Magenta Cell = BG = Blaugas cell
 
The most important feature of Zeppelin's design was a rigid light-alloy skeleton, made of rings and longitudinal girders. The advantage of this design was that the aircraft could be much larger than non-rigid airships, which relied on a slight overpressure within the single pressure envelope to maintain their shape. The framework of most Zeppelins were made of duralumin.
 
The basic form of the first Zeppelins was a long cylinder with tapered ends and complex multi-plane fins. During World War I, as a result of improvements by the rival firm Schütte-Lanz Luftschiffbau, the design was changed to the more familiar streamlined shape and empennage of cruciform fins used by almost all later airships. Within this outer envelope, several separate balloons, also known as "cells" or "gasbags", contained the lighter-than-air gas usually "hydrogen", but "helium" in airships operated by America. For most rigid airships the gasbags were made of many sheets of goldbeater's skin from the intestines of cows. About 200,000 were needed for a typical World War I Zeppelin. The sheets were joined together and folded into impermeable layers. Non-rigid airships often do not have multiple gas cells though some "Italian-built semi-rigid airships" did.
 
Forward thrust was provided by several internal combustion engines, mounted in nacelles, or engine cars, attached to the structural skeleton. Some of these could provide reverse thrust for maneuvering while mooring. A comparatively small compartment for passengers and crew was built into the bottom of the frame, but in large Zeppelins this was not the entire habitable space; they often carried crew or cargo internally for aerodynamic reasons.
 
History
 
The First Generations
 
      
                                                          Ferdinand von Zeppelin
 
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin's serious interest in airship development dates from 1884, when he was inspired by a recent lecture given by Heinrich von Stephan on the subject of "World Postal Services and Air Travel" to outline the basic principle of his later craft in a diary entry dated 25 March 1874. This describes a large rigidly-framed outer envelope containing a number of separate gasbags. He had previously encountered Union Army balloons in 1863, during the American Civil War, where he was a military observer. 
 
He began to seriously pursue his project after his early retirement from the military in 1890 at the age of 52. Convinced of the potential importance of aircraft designs, he started working on various designs in 1891, and had completed detailed designs by 1893 These were reviewed by an official committee in 1894, and were the subject of a patent granted on 31 August 1895, with Theodor Kober producing the technical plans.
 
Count Zeppelin's attempts to secure government funding for his project were unsuccessful, but a lecture given to the Union of German Engineers gained their support. Zeppelin also sought support from the industrialist Carl Berg, then engaged in construction work on the second airship design of David Schwarz. Berg was under contract not to supply aluminum to any other airship manufacturer, and subsequently made a payment to Schwartz's widow as compensation for breaking this agreement. Schwarz's design was fundamentally different from Zeppelin's, crucially lacking the use of separate gasbags inside a rigid envelope and in December 1897 Zeppelin stated that the Schwarz design could not be developed. Sean Dooley speculates on the indirect benefits Zeppelin gained from Carl Berg and Schwarz's work. In 1899, Zeppelin started constructing his first airship to his own designs.
 
One unusual idea, which never saw service, was the ability to connect several independent airship elements like train wagons; indeed, the patent title called the design Lenkbarer Luftfahrzug "steerable air train". 
 
In 1898, he founded the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt "Society for the promotion of airship flight", contributing more than half of its 800,000 Mark share capital himself. He assigned the technical implementation to the engineer Theodor Kober and later to Ludwig Dürr. 
 
              
 
Construction of the first Zeppelin began in 1899 in a floating assembly hall in the Bay of Manzell on Lake Constance, Friedrichshafen. This was intended to facilitate the difficult launching procedure, as the hall could easily be aligned with the wind. The prototype airship LZ 1 "LZ for Luftschiff Zeppelin, or "Airship Zeppelin" had a length of 128 meters "420 feet", was driven by two 14.2 horsepower "10.6kW" Daimler engines and was controlled in pitch by moving a weight between its two nacelles.
 
The first Zeppelin flight took place on 2 July 1900 over Lake Constance the "Bodensee". Upon repair, it proved its potential in two subsequent flights on 17 October and 24 October 1900 beating the 6 m/s velocity record of the French airship La France. Despite this performance, the shareholders declined to invest more money, and so the company was liquidated, with Count von Zeppelin purchasing the ship and equipment. The Count wished to continue  experimenting, but he eventually dismantled the ship in 1901.
 
Donations, the profits of a special lottery, some public funding, a mortgage of Count von Zeppelin's wife's estate and a 100,000 Mark contribution by Count von Zeppelin himself allowed the construction of LZ 2, which took off for the only time on 17 January 1906. After both engines failed, it made a forced landing in the Allgäu mountains, where the anchored ship was subsequently damaged beyond repair by a storm.
 
    
 
Incorporating all usable parts of LZ 2, the successor LZ 3 became the first truly successful Zeppelin. This renewed the interest of the German military, but a condition of purchase of an airship was a 24 hour endurance trial. This was beyond the capabilities of LZ 3, leading Zeppelin to construct his fourth design, the LZ 4. While attempting to fulfill this requirement, the LZ 4 had to make an intermediate landing at Echterdingen near Stuttgart. During the stop, a storm tore the airship away from its anchorage on the afternoon of 5 August 1908. She crashed into a tree, caught fire, and quickly burnt out. No one was seriously injured.
 
This accident would have finished Zeppelin's experiments, but his flights had generated huge public interest and a sense of national pride regarding his work, and spontaneous donations from the public began pouring in, eventually totaling 6,096,555 Marks. This enabled the Count to found the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH "Airship Construction Zeppelin Ltd". and the Zeppelin Foundation.
 
Before World War I
 
Before World War I, a total of 21 Zeppelin airships "LZ 5 to LZ 25" were manufactured. In 1909 LZ 6 became the first Zeppelin used for commercial passenger transport. The world's first airline, the newly founded DELAG, bought seven Zeppelins by 1914. The airships were given names in addition to their production numbers, four of which were LZ 8 Deutschland II "1911", LZ 11 Viktoria Luise "1912", LZ 13 Hansa "1912" and LZ 17 Sachsen "1913". Seven of the 27 were destroyed in accidents, mostly while being moved into their halls. There were no casualties. One of them was LZ 7 Deutschland, which made its maiden voyage on 19 June 1910. On 28 June it began a pleasure trip to make Zeppelins more popular. Among those aboard were 19 journalists, two of whom were reporters of well-known British newspapers. LZ 7 crashed in bad weather at Mount Limberg near Bad Iburg in Lower  Saxony, its hull getting stuck in trees. The crew then let down a ladder to allow all the passengers to leave the ship. One crew member was slightly injured on leaving the craft. 
 
         
 
The German Army and Navy purchased 14 Zeppelins, who labeled their airships Z 1/2/... and L 1/2/..., respectively. During the war, the Army changed their scheme twice: following Z XII, they switched to using LZ numbers, later adding 30 to obscure the total production. When World War I broke out, the military also took over the three remaining DELAG ships. By this time, it had already decommissioned three other Zeppelins LZ 3 "Z 1" included. Before the war the Army had lost three zeppelins to accidents, in which two people had died. The Navy lost two, both in 1913: a storm forced Navy Zeppelin LZ 14 or "L 1" down into the North Sea, drowning 14; LZ 18 or "L 2" burst into flames following an engine
explosion, killing the entire crew. These accidents deprived the Navy of a large number of experienced personnel.
 
By 1914, state-of-the-art Zeppelins had lengths of 150 to 160 meters "490 to 520 feet" and volumes of 22,000–25,000 m3, enabling them to carry loads of around 9,000 kilograms "20,000 pounds". They were typically powered by three Maybach engines of around 400 to 550 horsepower "300 to 410 kW" each, reaching speeds of up to 80 kilometers per hour "50 mph".
 
During World War I
 
    
 
The German airships were operated by both the Army and Navy as two entirely separate divisions. Over the course of World War I, the Zeppelins were mainly used in reconnaissance missions for the Navy. Bombing missions, especially those targeting London, captured the public's imagination, but, in the end, proved to have only psychological value, and were not a military success. These were executed by both Navy and Army aircraft.
 
1914–1918 Naval Patrols
 
The main use of the airship was in reconnaissance over the North Sea and the Baltic, where the endurance of the airship led German warships to a number of Allied vessels. Zeppelin patrolling had priority over any other airship activity. The majority of airships manufactured were commissioned by the Navy. During the war almost 1,000 patrols were made over the North Sea alone, compared to about 50 strategic bombing raids. The German Navy had some 15 Zeppelins in commission in 1915 and was able to have two or more patrolling continuously at any one time, almost regardless of weather. They prevented British ships from approaching Germany, spotted when and where the British were laying mines and later aided in the destruction of those mines. Zeppelins would sometimes land on the sea next to a minesweeper, bring aboard an officer and show him the mines' locations.  Before the widespread availability of incendiary
ammunition made commerce raiding too risky, they would also land or hover close to a merchant ship suspected of carrying contraband, order all ship's hands to leave in boats, then inspect the ship, and either destroy it or take it back to
Germany as a prize.
 
Supply
 
In 1917, the German High Command made an attempt to deliver much needed supplies using a dirigible to Lettow-Vorbeck's East African Campaign in German East Africa. L.59 Zeppelin travelled over 6,400 km "4,000 miles" in 95 hours, but in the end failed to deliver the supplies. The airship had been purpose-built and was intended to be broken up and used on arrival. It never attempted the mission again, and was converted into a bomber.
 
Technological Progress
 
Strategic issues aside, Zeppelin technology improved considerably as a result of the increasing demands of warfare.
 
The pre-war M-class designs were quickly enlarged, first to the 530 feet "160m" long duralumin P-class, which increased gas capacity from 880,000 cubic feet "25,000 m3" to 1,130,000 cubic feet "32,000 m3", introduced a fully enclosed gondola, and extra engines. these modifications added 2,000 feet "610m" to the maximum ceiling, over 10 mph to the top speed, and greatly increased crew comfort and hence endurance. Twenty-two P-class airships were ordered and the first, LZ.38, was delivered to the Army on 3 April 1915.
 
In 1916, the Zeppelin Company, having spawned several dependencies around Germany with shipyards closer to the fronts than Friedrichshafen, delivered airships of around 200m "660 feet" in length "some even more" and with volumes of 56,000–69,000 m3. These M-class dirigibles could carry loads of three–four tons of bombs and reach speeds of up to 100 to 130 kilometers per hour "62 to 81 mph" using six Maybach engines of 260 hp "190kW" each.
 
To avoid enemy defenses such as British aircraft, guns and searchlights, Zeppelins became capable of much higher altitudes up to 7,600 meters "24,900 feet" and they also proved capable of long-range flights. For example, Zeppelin LZ104, based in Yambol, Bulgaria, was sent to reinforce troops in German East Africa, today the mainland of "Tanzania" in November 1917. The ship did not arrive in time and had to return following reports of a German defeat by British troops, but it had traveled 6,757 kilometers "4,199 miles" in 95 hours and thus had broken a long-distance flight record.
 
A considerable, frequently overlooked, contribution to these technological advancements originated from Zeppelin's only serious competitor, the Mannheim-based Schütte-Lanz airship construction company. While their dirigibles never became comparably successful, Professor Schütte's more scientific approach to airship design led to a number of important innovations copied, over time, by the Zeppelin company. These included the streamlined hull shape, the simple yet functional cruciform fins "replacing the more complicated box-like arrangements of older Zeppelins", individual direct-drive engine cars, anti-aircraft machine-gun positions, and gas ventilation shafts which removed excess hydrogen.
 
End of the War
 
The German defeat in the war also marked the end of German military dirigibles, as the victorious Allies demanded a complete disarmament of German Air Forces and delivery of the remaining Airships as reparations. Specifically, the "Treaty of Versailles" contained the following articles dealing explicitly with dirigibles:
 
Article 198
The armed forces of Germany must not include any military or naval air forces. [...] No dirigible shall be kept.
Article 202
On the coming into force of the present Treaty, all military and naval aeronautical material [...] must be delivered to the Governments of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers. [...] In particular, this material will include all items under the following heads which are or have been in use or were designed for warlike purposes:
[...] 
Dirigibles able to take to the air, being manufactured, repaired or assembled. 
Plant for the manufacture of hydrogen. 
Dirigible sheds and shelters of every kind for aircraft.
Pending their delivery, dirigibles will, at the expense of Germany, be maintained inflated with hydrogen; the plant for the manufacture of hydrogen, as well as the sheds for dirigibles may at the discretion of the said Powers, be left to Germany until the time when the dirigibles are handed over. [...]
On 23 June 1919, a week before the treaty was signed, many war Zeppelin crews destroyed their airships in their halls in order to avoid delivery. In doing so, they followed the example of the German fleet which had been scuttled two days before in Scapa Flow. The remaining dirigibles were transferred to France, Italy, Britain, and Belgium in 1920.
 
A total of 84 Zeppelins were built during the war. Over 60 were lost, roughly evenly divided between accident and enemy action. 51 raids had been undertaken, in which 5,806 bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358 while causing damage estimated at £1.5 million. It has been argued the raids were effective far beyond material damage in diverting and hampering wartime production, one estimate was that the due to the 1915–16 raids "one sixth of the total normal output of munitions was entirely lost". 
 
After World War I
 
Renaissance
 
Count von Zeppelin had died in 1917, before the end of the war. Dr. Hugo Eckener, a man who had long envisioned dirigibles as vessels of peace rather than of war, took command of the Zeppelin business. With the Treaty of Versailles having knocked out their competitor Schütte-Lanz, the Zeppelin company and DELAG hoped to resume civilian flights quickly. In fact, despite considerable difficulties, they completed two small Zeppelins: LZ 120 Bodensee, which first flew in August 1919 and in the following two years actually transported some 4,000 passengers; and LZ 121 Nordstern, which was envisaged being used on a regular route to Stockholm.
 
However, in 1921, the Allied Powers demanded these two Zeppelins be delivered as war reparations, as compensation for the dirigibles destroyed by their crews in 1919. Further Zeppelin projects could not be realized, partly because of Allied interdiction. This temporarily halted German Zeppelin aviation.
 
Eckener and his co-workers refused to give up and kept looking for investors and a way to circumvent Allied restrictions. Their opportunity came in 1924. The United States had started to experiment with rigid airships, constructing one of their own, the ZR-1 USS Shenandoah, and ordering another from the UK when the British R38 "ZR-2" was cancelled. However, the R38 based on the "Zeppelin L70", ordered as "ZR-2" broke apart and exploded during a test flight above the Humber on 23 August 1921, killing 44 crewmen. 
 
Under these circumstances, Eckener managed to acquire an order for the next American dirigible. Of course, Germany had to pay the costs for this airship itself, as they were calculated against the war reparation accounts, but for the Zeppelin company, this was secondary. So engineer Dr. Dürr designed LZ 126, and using all the expertise accumulated over the years, the company finally achieved its best Zeppelin so far, which took off for a first test flight on 27 August 1924.
 
No insurance company was willing to issue a policy for the delivery to Lakehurst, which, of course, involved a transatlantic flight. Eckener, however, was so confident of the new ship that he was ready to risk the entire business capital, and on 12 October 07:30 local time, the Zeppelin took off for the US under his command. His faith was not disappointed, and the ship completed her 8,050 kilometers "5,000 miles" voyage without any difficulties in 81 hours and two minutes. American crowds enthusiastically celebrated the arrival, and President Calvin Coolidge invited Dr. Eckener and his crew to the White House, calling the new Zeppelin an "angel of peace". 
 
         
 
    
 
Under its new designation the ZR-3 USS Los Angeles, the former "LZ 126", became the most successful American airship. She operated reliable for eight years until she was retired in 1932 for economic reasons. She was dismantled in
August 1940.
 
 
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Revised: 01/28/2013 – 06:45:27