The Legacy of Zeppelin Airship Innovation

By: Loan Budy

The rock band or the doomed blimp? Hydrogen explosions and catchy melodic hooks have hijacked our thinking about the term “Zeppelin.” Visceral television coverage of the Hindenburg disaster — and its scale — have largely overwritten the more storied tales of these luxurious sky kings.

 Designed using the basic plan of the LZ 126 — which was supplied to the United States and commissioned the USS Los Angeles as war reparations — the LZ 127 was also built using triangular duralumin girders and rings spaced 15 meters apart. When completed, the craft was 776 feet long and 110 feet high, making it the largest airship in the world.

Building a Better Zeppelin Airship

Once cleared for active service the Graf Zeppelin began making history; on Oct. 11, 1928, it completed the first commercial passenger flight across the Atlantic in 111 hours and 44 minutes. And in 1929, the LZ 127 conquered another first: A worldwide journey with passengers on board.

Graf's Gone (World)Wide

What Zeppelins lacked in sleek aerodynamics and simplicity of use, they made up for in stability of flight, comfort and the ability to carry large volumes of cargo, crew and passengers around the world. So it’s no surprise that the massive LZ 127 — effectively a proof-of-concept for its size and the use of Belau gas — captured public interest

Catching the Fever

Airships had a simple problem: Hydrogen is highly flammable and dangerously explosive under pressure. But there’s a (relatively) easy fix — helium. With 92% of hydrogen’s lifting power and none of the flammability, this noble gas is the perfect alternative

 Ballooning Interest

Zeppelin airships represented a breakthrough in aeronautic technologies, introducing comfort and control never before seen in airborne vehicles. The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin marked the pinnacle of hydrogen-powered travel, breaking transatlantic, global and even polar records during its nine-year service.

We Have Liftoff

This Zeppelin airship also used a new type of fuel for its combustion engines, called “Blau gas” after its inventor. With a similar weight to air, burning Blau gas meant airship personnel didn’t have to account for the loss in weight as heavier-than-air fuel burned, which ordinarily necessitated the regular venting (and therefore loss) of lifting gas. When completed, the LZ 127 was capable of reaching altitudes of up to 6,000 feet and speeds of 72 miles-per-hour..

The long, thin hull of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was not aerodynamically ideal and was subject to bending stress. Designers wanted to maximize the ship’s fuel-carrying capacity and would have likely made the Zeppelin even larger if they weren’t constrained by the construction shed at Friedrichshafen — which had interior dimensions of 787 feet long and 115 feet high.

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