Today in History – July 2, 1900 – First Zeppelin flight. The German-made LZ-1 Zeppelin was the first rigid airship to use a large internal metal frame containing multiple cells of hydrogen gas balloons. It was shaped like a long uniform cylinder with rounded ends and 416 feet (120m) overall length. The airship was named after its inventor, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. During its first flight, it flew for about 18 minutes above the Bodensee (Lake Constance) near Friedrichshafen, Germany, aided by two Daimler internal combustion engines.
Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (Count of) first had the idea of using a gas filled balloon for mass transportation during a visit to the United States. Since he was offered an ascent with a free balloon, he wracked his brain about how to navigate and direct such a balloon.
When in July 2nd 1900, 110 years from now, the first Zeppelin airship LZ1 took off, this event marked a milestone in the history of aviation. Aboard the 18 minutes flight were 5 passengers and 350kg of ballast. With the biggest problem being a relatively high gas loss of the mantle, the LZ1 was equipped with two Daimler motors of 16 horsepower each for forward thrust. After having used up the initial funds for the project, additional financing was provided by a lottery to finish building a second airship in 1904. The 1908 LZ4 was able to fly for over 24 hours.
After the death of Graf von Zeppelin in 1917 more airships were constructed. During WWI those ships were designated for military usage to transport 40,000 passengers over 200,000 km. After the war, the Zeppelin was again employed as a means of civil transport.
Most popular for its 299 hour cruise from Friedrichshaven, Germany over Tokyo and Los Angeles to New York was the 1928 LZ 127. This 237m long Zeppelin was designed to carry 30 tons of payload. The tragic burn out of the LZ 129 (“Hindenburg”), carrying 97 passengers out of who 62 persons survived the accident, initiated the end of airship aviation in 1936. Although it achieved many technological achievements, the Zeppelin will forever be remembered for the fiery Hindenburg disaster of 1937. Before this disaster, the Hindenburg was considered the fastest and most comfortable way to cross the Atlantic Ocean.
What happened to the Zeppelin?
In 2000, one hundred years after the first ascent, a novel Zeppelin prototype was built. The 75 meter LZ N07 was meant to revolutionize airship aviation with top notch technology. So far, this airship could only be employed for tourist transport on scenic flights. A Zeppelin can reportedly fly on pure solar power and can be designed for secure passenger transportation. Recent announcements to build energy efficient airships, like the “Cargo Lifter” have not been put into practice.