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2 July 2009

On this day in history: First Zeppelin flight, 1900

In 1852, the French engineer, Henri Giffard, flew seventeen miles in the first powered airship. For the next fifty years other powered airships flew but each with the same limitation: size. This restriction was because non-rigid airships (or blimps) maintain their shape through the pressure of the gases within the envelope. Towards the end of the century various engineers began to work on designs for rigid airships, which could be much larger and have a far greater range. Foremost among these visionaries was the German Count, Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

In 1899, von Zeppelin started to manufacture a rigid airship based on the design of David Schwarz, a Croatian wood merchant. The design was used by the German entrepreneur Carl Berg to procure a contract to build an airship for the Prussian Government. After Schwarz died in 1897, Berg teamed up with von Zeppelin, who had seen the potential in rigid airships during the 1870s and could raise the capital required to fund the venture, and the German designer Theodor Kober who completed the design. Berg, von Zeppelin and a third investor, formed the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffart (Society for the Promotion of Airships).

At a little after 8pm on 2nd July 1900, the Zeppelin LZ1 left its floating hanger on Lake Constance in southern Germany, and took to the skies: the first successful untethered rigid airship flight. The LZ1 was made from aluminium (supplied by Berg) covered in cotton cloth. It was over 400 feet long, nearly 40 feet wide, and was powered by two 15-horsepower Daimler internal combustion engines, which each turned a pair of propellers. The flight lasted seventeen minutes in which time the five passengers travelled 3.7 miles reaching a maximum altitude of 1,300 feet before landing back on the Lake

In spite of problems with the design and mechanics the LZ1 flew twice more before being scrapped. Nevertheless, the Society attracted no further investment and the three partners liquidated it. Undaunted, von Zeppelin continued to develop airships financed from his own pocket, as well as a lottery and private donations - which, somewhat perversely, flooded in following a well publicised crash landing of one of his airships. Within ten years of the first flight of the LZ1, his company was producing commercial airships, which were so popular that they became synonymous with him.

The UK television company, Channel 4 has the transcripts of a series of programmes about history of airships available to read, with links to other web-based materials on the subject.

Related posts
Montgolfier Brothers first public balloon flight, 4th June 1783
Balloonmania reached the United States, 9th January 1793

4 comments:

cornyman said...

Hello,

i live near the area where they build the new Zeppelin NT. They say it's an amazing feeling to fly in the new Zeppelin but it's also quite "expensive" because only less than 10 person can fly.
But if you want to see something in this area at the lake of Constance, i highly recommend a booking of this journey. They offer a flight over the sea in only 200 meter height. So you can see everything clear!

Stepterix said...

I used to live near Cardington where the British airships were based. The huge hangers are still there as far as I know. I guess the days of giant airships are passed.

Thanks for the comment.

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Stepterix said...

Thank you, Andrea