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The term zeppelin refers to a type of rigid airship pioneered by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century.

The craft of the zeppelin design were so successful, that the word zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships. Zeppelins are quite distinct from the non-rigid type of airships commonly known as blimps.

In addition to founding the airship construction business, In the early 20th century, Count von Zeppelin also founded the world's first commercial airline called DELAG. Both business were based in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

The zeppelin airships were lighter-than-air craft using a rigid frame construction with an aerodynamic outer envelope and several separate balloons called 'cells' containing the lighter-than-air gas hydrogen completely within the frame. A comparatively small compartment for passengers and crew was built into the bottom of the frame. Several internal combustion engines provided motive power.

The elderly Count was replaced as head of the Zeppelin business by Hugo Eckener. Eckener was both a master of publicity as well as an extremely skilled airship captain. It was under Eckener's guidance that the Zeppelins reached their zenith.

The Zeppelin business was successful up to the 1930s and included long-distance routes from Germany to the United States and South America. However the Great Depression and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany both had negative effects. In particular, Eckener and Nazis had an intense and mutual loathing. The Zeppelin business was nationalized by the German Government in the mid-1930s and closed down a few years later following the Hindenburg disaster, in which the company's flagship zeppelin caught fire during a landing.

However, during approximately 20 years of private operation as an airline, it was at least somewhat profitable, and had a perfect safety record until the Hindenburg fire.

Zeppelins were used as long range bombers against England during World War I but were not notably successful. Their slow speed, large size, and highly flammable hydrogen lifting gas made them easy targets for anti-aircraft guns as well as gunfire from airplanes.

Airships using the Zeppelin construction method are sometimes referred to as zeppelins even if they had no connection to the Zeppelin business. Several airships of this kind were built in the USA, Britain, Italy, and the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s. A series of fatal crashes halted this effort.

U.S. Navy zeppelin, most likely the USS Macon which was built in the United States by the Goodyear[?]-Zeppelin company in the 1930s, at what appears to be the airfield later named Moffet Field[?], in Santa Clara, California

Public domain image from NASA

External links

  • Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (http://www.zeppelin-nt.de/) the original company, still developing the concept
  • Cargolifter (http://www.cargolifter.com/2002/repository/splash_e) a company developing a huge variant between a zeppelin and a blimp.
  • Advanced Technologies Group (http://www.airship.com) a company developing a range of products such as UAV's - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and HAPS' - High Altitude Platform Stations for telecommunication
  • SkyStation (http://www.skystation.com/sts) a company focusing on the development of HAPS'

Not to be confused with Led Zeppelin, a famous rock band who took their name by substituting "zeppelin" in the expression "lead balloon".

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