An airship is a lighter-than-air aircraft that can be steered and propelled through the air.

Airships are also known as dirigibles from the French dirigeable, meaning "steerable". The term airship is sometimes informally used more generally to mean a machine capable of atmospheric flight. Likewise, the term dirigible is sometimes used informally to refer only to rigid airships (see below.)

In contrast to airships, balloons move through the sky by being carried along with the wind.

Airships are typically filled with either helium or hydrogen. 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 External links

Types of Airships


Although some balloons with limited mobility flew in the 19th century, the first successful airships were built by Alberto Santos-Dumont in Paris around 1900. Santos-Dumont's machines typically consisted of a long, non-rigid gas envelope beneath which was hung a truss to which the engine and pilot's seat were attached.

The most successful airships were the rigid Zeppelin type, so named after the pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (born in Konstanz, Baden, Germany April 8, 1838 - died March 8, 1917). Von Zeppelin began experimenting with rigid airships before World War I. He had, by the time war 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 streamlned engine and crew pods hung beneath the hull.

The prospect of using airships as bomb carriers had been recognized in Europe well before 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 declaed in print that the airhsip 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'.

Airplanes had essentially replaced airships as bombers by the end of the war,and Germany's remaining zeppelins had been 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 dirigible R-34, which 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.

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 lead 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 the 1930s when the R-101, a fatally flawed machine barely able to lift its own weight, crashed in France with the loss of all aboard.

The most spectacular and widely remembered airship accidence, however, is the explosion of the Hindenburg [see: Hindenburg disaster ] on 6 May 1937, which caused public faith in airships to evaporate in favour of faster, more cost-efficient (albeit less energy-efficient) airplanes.

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.

Recently, several companies are again 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.

See also: Airship R101

External links



  • Advanced Technologies Group a company developing a range of products such as UAV's - Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, heavier-than-air airships and HAPS' - High Altitude Platform Stations for telecommunication
  • SkyStation a company focusing on the development of HAPS'