Common Airship Myths
Dr. Hugo Eckener, who ran the Zeppelin Company and also commanded many zeppelin airships was staunchly anti-Nazi and at one point was even declared to be a non-person by Hitler’s regime. With Nazi control of Germany and the Zeppelin Company in financial turmoil the Nazis were able to take control over the Zeppelin Company and use it for their propaganda purposes. In the end it was the Nazis who ordered the destruction of the last remaining Zeppelins.
Zeppelins are rigid airships because they have an internal structure which is responsible for their shape. Due to this internal structure rigid airships can be made quite large and have the internal lifting gas divided into multiple cells. Internal compartments can also be constructed within the rigid structure and engines can be positioned along the hull of the airships to provide better thrust and less noise for passengers.
Semi-rigid airships are a cross between rigid and non-rigid airships in that the airship derives part of its shape from the internal structure and the rest of its shape from the internal gas pressure.
Today there are two major developments that further diminish bad weather as a problem for airships. Advances in weather tracking technology and the development of more powerful vectoring propulsion systems combine to help airships avoid inclement weather altogether or be able to ride out the storm. Advances in flight instrumentation, structural design techniques and material strengths could also serve to further enhance the durability of any modern rigid airships.
Bad weather poses the greatest risk not to airships in flight, but to airships taking off and landing. Take off and landing procedures could be further developed with technology. In the event of poor weather conditions airships may delay a take-off or landing just as airplanes do.
Old rigid airships were fast considering their size, but they were still quite cumbersome and required hundreds of men to assist with takeoff and landing procedures. This could change today, however, by the use of more powerful propulsion systems with multi-directional thrusting capabilities as well as automation and other modern advancements.
It was a zeppelin that first crossed the Atlantic Ocean from mainland Europe to mainland America non-stop and it was this same zeppelin that established the first trans-Atlantic commercial airlines. During its 9 year operational lifetime starting in 1928 the LZ127 Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights carrying 13,110 passenger over a million miles without a single injury. The Graf Zeppelin made 144 ocean crossings at a time when even one crossing by airplane was still considered a life or death affair.
At the time of their development rigid airships were superior to the airplane in many respects. They flew much farther and could carry more passengers in comfort. Early airplanes experienced as many if not more crashes than airships. The biggest difference with large airships was public perception. If a small plane crashed somewhere it was just part of the risk early aviators took, but if a large airship crashed it became an event in and of itself. If allowed the same level of development as the airplane received over time we would likely still see large rigid airships flying today and with even greater efficiency. However, with the highly publicized destruction of the Hindenburg public perception around the world had turned against rigid airships.
Due to the airplane we no longer see many trans-oceanic passenger ships. There are far fewer ocean liners today as a direct result of the airplane’s superior speed, and yet we still have ships. Passenger ships still exist in the form of cruise ships used for recreational purposes. Ships have simply changed their role since the onset of the airplane. Flying ships or airships can do much the same thing.
Unlike an airplane, where most of the time you are seated, on board an airship you could look out the wide windows on the scene below, walk over to a table to play a game of cards, get out on the dance floor, have dinner and some drinks and then turn in for the night in your cabin. The experience would be unlike anything in existence today. Vibrations, noises and turbulence were nearly non-existent on an airship. In fact, a game of many passengers on large airships like the Hindenburg was to balance a pen on its end and see how long it remained standing. The pen would rarely, if ever, fall over.
The United States Navy’s two aircraft carrier zeppelins, the Akron and the Macon, were able to carry 5 and 9 sparrowhawk biplanes respectively along with full crew compliments. German, American and British rigid airship developers all had plans for future larger versions that would have been capable of carrying even more passengers and cargo.
As airships grow in size their lift becomes even more efficient. This is because the ratio of surface area to volume decreases as a volume of space increases. The material necessary to enclose a volume of lifting gas will comprise a smaller percentage of an airship’s overall weight as its size increases. With stronger and lighter modern materials today’s airships could be truly massive and thus achieve capacities far greater than any aircraft ever built.