aviation comes of age

the dirigible
the great airships


Ferdinand von Zeppelin
Zeppelin passenger ships
Zeppelin posters
Hindenburg disaster

HMA 1 Mayfly
HMA 23
R 31
R 32
R 33
R 34
R 36
R 38
R 80
R 100
The R101 airship disaster

USS Los Angeles
the Akron
the Macon


Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Probably hardly a shape of aviation history is part of as many legends as Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. He was born on July 8, 1838 in Konstanz at the Bodensee. He was educated at the Ludwigsburg Military Academy and the University of Tübingen. He entered the Prussian army in 1858 and went to the United States in 1863 to work as a military observer for the Union army and observed the Civil War. Zeppelin served in the Franco-German War of 1870-1871; he retired in 1891 with the rank of brigadier general. It was quite usual in his noble and high-decorated family, that he chose a military career. And later explored the headwaters of the Mississippi River, and made his first balloon flight while he was in Minnesota . And on August 7, 1869, he was married to his wife Isabe. His military career, however successful, did not run. He, along with others, at that time preferred modern opinions over combat tactics, which brought his career into conflicts with the military authorities. In the age of 52, he was prematurely retired in 1890 for his criticism of the Prussian war office, giving him free time to work on his airship ideas.

Zeppelin now finally found the time to concern himself with his visions to the topic of "Lenkbare Luftschiffe" or "guidable airships". This idea had always pursued him in the last 20 years. It was particularly the success of the airship LA FRANCE, which had very much impressed Zeppelin. In a letter to his king, Zeppelin referred, particularly, to the possibilities of the military use of this technology. A meeting with the military authorities, following on it, did not bring good results for it. The authorities over-estimated the problem of air resistance as substantially higher than it really was.

Only in the year 1892, the concrete work on the project began. With the assistance of his engineer, he set up a construction plan for an airship in a period of 2 years. It is to be marked that Zeppelin had no concrete development realizations, or physical data. When he wanted to present his new construction in 1894 to the military officials, it ended in a clear reject. Particularly, the low rate of the missile was criticized.

In 1886 an electrolytic process by which aluminium could be produced in commercial quantities was invented almost simultaneously by Paul Heroult in France and C. M. Hall in the US. The introduction of this light, strong metal during the next few years opened up new possibilities for designers of lighter-than-air craft. One of whom was Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin. The design used by Zeppelin was a tubular aluminium frame, but instead if covering it with sheets of metal, he made a fabric cover not intended to be gas-tight. The gas was enclosed in bags in compartments of the hull separated by transverse aluminium girders.

In the year 1895 its missile under the designation "Luftzug" or "draft of air" was patented. One year later the VDI (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure or association of German engineers) was convinced of the plans of Graf Zeppelin. The association started a campaign for the support of Zeppelin’s projects. Thereupon, Zeppelin created in January 1898, the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt" (society for the promotion of the Air-Navigation). From this point on, the development preceded rapidly. In 1899, the first bug rings were already installed. In the spring of the same year, the building of the legendary "schwimmenden Halle" (swimming hall) began in one cell with Friedrichshafen. A young engineer named Ludwig Dürr led the assembly of the first Zeppelins.

Zeppelin had spent nearly a decade working on his dirigible prior to his flight in 1900. The ship was known as the LZ-1 and was 128 meters long and resembled a sausage shaped balloon. It was created by combining the aerodynamics of kites with the aerodynamics of a balloon. Built in a floating shed on Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, LZ-1 had two passenger cars and two 14.7-horse-power gasoline engines. From the hangar on the Bodensee, a raft was pulled, on which the LZ-1 was situated. A short time later, the ship rose into air. The first flight should take 18 minutes. "Count von Zeppelin, a stout 62-year-old ex-cavalry commander with a white walrus moustache, twinkling eyes and a white yachting cap perched on his round head" is how he was described on July 2, 1900, the date of his maiden voyage. "I am not a circus rider who performs for the public," he had told a reporter. "I am doing serious work for my country." Zeppelin was inspired of the successful ascent. The ship achieved a rate of 30 km/h, whereby it proved an amazingly high controllability. Expectations of the military observers were not fulfilled, however, which was to due to the low engine performance of the Daimler Benz machines. After two further test flights, the new company was actually bankrupt. It was liquidated and the LZ-1, the father of all rigid airships, had to be wrecked.

Particularly for this purpose, an educated commission of the VDI now analyzed the results obtained so far. The commission came to the conclusion that Zeppelin had carried out good work, the Zeppelin-airships did not develop, however, technically, and no future prospects would have. This was a complete setback for Zeppelin. Without cash, and with its only remaining engineer, Ludwig Dürr, he made himself the design of a successor. He made donation calls into newspapers and innumerable Bettelbriefe (Begging Letters) to wealthy contemporaries, which only brought mockery to it.

Nevertheless the untiring zealot and missionary of the airship idea, went into the year 1905, with his second ship. The building of the LZ-2 became possible, due to his king and the Prussian lottery, both of which put the necessary capital to it at his disposal. Although the LZ-2 did not bring considerable successes, and because of substantial defects, did not yield Zeppelin, but was wrecked later. Again it was a lottery, which made necessary finances available. The crucial turn came in the year 1906.

As a special stroke of luck, Zeppelin met with Alfred Colsman, the son-in-law of his deceased friend and sponsor, Carl Berg. Colsman, an experienced manager, who was inspired by Zeppelin’s ideas, now took over the consultation Zeppelin. In October 1906, two travels with the new LZ-3 occur. These successful messages ensured the fact that tendencies against Zeppelin began to slowly change. Zeppelin’s former critic, Hugo Eckener, political economist, became the most engaged lawyer for the thing of Zeppelins.

Suddenly Zeppelin’s success curve moved steeply upward. The University of Dresden made Zeppelin Dr. of Ingenuity and the government put to it, a half million Mark. Zeppelin was lent the highest honor by the VDI. The government placed amounts to the building of his next ship at million heights to the order and wanted to purchase the finished airships. Additionally he received a personal remuneration for his past work.

With his new ship, the LZ-4 Graf Zeppelin, a 12 hour travel over Switzerland was achieved. With large energy applied it gave 24-hour tours. But this project ended in a disaster. During an intermediate stop to the engine repair, a violent gust of wind tore the ship from its anchorage. The LZ-4 was driven off over a kilometre away and exploded finally in the case of the impact on the soil. A wave of the helpfulness and the national sympathy began surprisingly. Ferdinand Zeppelin had become over night the national hero. Within shortest time donations had been received at a value of over 6 million Marks. With these people’s donations, the VDI, companies and private individuals, which was actually unusual took part. The government assured the purchase of Zeppelin’s two next ships to Zeppelin.

Ferdinand Zeppelin could force his research further and for the first time, without financial needs. The largest problem, which he wanted to solve, was the increase of the speed. He had proven that a rate of 70 km/h was absolutely necessary, and that the airship must remained manoeuvrable with strong wind also.

In the meantime, Zeppelin GmbH was created, which was led by Alfred Colsmann. In the proximity of Ludwigshafen, large production plants and buildings of workshops developed. One was thus prepared for high production capacities in the best way. But the expected jobs of the military were missing. The guidance the Zeppelin GmbH reacted very fast. In 1909 he created the DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktien-Gesellschaft), mainly to bring in revenue and to organize commercial flights. DELAG was used to make the airship manufacturing company to some extent independent of the army by providing an alternative outlet for its products. The DELAG began to unfold very fast thereby creating new activities. So several cities could be won to take part in the building of airship hangars. A route network was advanced, in order to connect the large German cities on the airway. Additionally training centres for Airship pilots and crews were created. Dr. Hugo Eckener was engaged first as airship pilot and a teacher and moved up later into the executive committee of the DELAG.

Zeppelin established the Zeppelin Foundation. Its purpose was to safeguard his organization against governmental interference. He then set up a company to manufacture airships, another to manufacture engines specially designed by Carl Maybach for lighter-than-air machines, and another to manufacture ancillary equipment. All components were manufactured from the smallest gear wheel to the production of the covering material on one's own. To the Zeppelin-Imperium soon belonged the Zeppelin Welfare GmbH, which was created when Zeppelin desired. This institution promoted social projects such as housing developments or sports sites.

Particularly to mention the commitment of Zeppelin is in the aircraft construction. Besides the building of airships, this field also interested him very strongly. In the year 1907, he assigned his co-worker engineer Kober the construction of an airplane. For this, the aircraft construction Friedrichshafen GmbH was created. In 1910, Claude Dornier was hired to the company. Dornier operated on behalf of Zeppelin on the development of a steel airship, for the Trans-Atlantic traffic. At the beginning of the war (1914), Zeppelin gave the job for the building of a water airplane. As World War I began, Graf Zeppelin advanced his ideas of enormous airplanes, which could be used for bomber purposes. In June 1915, an enormous airplane of the type Gotha, an aircraft, started to provide only for sensation. The Gotha was the prototype of a long-range bomber, which was used in the First World War with large strategic success. The zeppelin was too slow and explosive a target in wartime (about 40 were shot down over London) and too fragile to withstand bad weather. Its era ended with the explosion of the Hindenburg in 1937.

Zeppelin participated actively in the developments of his numerous companies into his highest age. In March 1917 he had to undergo of a heavy intestinal operation, which he did not survive. At the age of 79, Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin died in Berlin. It is true that he was a crucial figure of aviation history and understood it excellently to meet and bind to its projects and to the correct people around himself. The name of Zeppelin connected itself in the run of time with his own factory. If nowadays an advertising airship in the sky emerges, look up at those humans admiringly and say: "Look, a zeppelin!" Thus the name of the stubborn Count was received by his own legacy. The connection between creators and creation became legend.