Tag Archives: Dirigible

24 September 1852

Henri Giffard (Deveaux, 1863)
Portrait de M. Henri Giffard, ingénieur. (Jacques-Martial Deveaux, 1863)

24 September 1852: French engineer Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard (1825–1882 ) flew his hydrogen-filled dirigible, powered be a 3-horsepower steam engine, 17 miles (27 kilometers) from the Paris Hippodrome to Trappes in about three hours. During the flight he maneuvered the airship, demonstrating control.

The Giffard Dirigible (French: “directable”) consisted of an envelope 44.00 meters (144 feet, 4 inches) in length, 10 meters (32 feet, 10 inches) in diameter, and had a volume of 2,500 cubic meters (88,300 cubic feet). The envelope was filled with coal gas. A one-cylinder steam engine fueled with coke turned a 3.3-meter (10 feet, 10 inches) diameter, three-bladed pusher propeller mounted to the underslung gondola. The steam engine weighed just 250 pounds (113 kilograms), and with the boiler and fuel, came to 400 pounds (181 kilograms).

Illustration of Giffard’s dirigible. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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18 September 1928

Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Firedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)
Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Friedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)

18 September 1928: The rigid airship, Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (the Zeppelin Airship Company). The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

During the next nine years, Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights, including an around the world flight, and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

In his excellent history of the Royal Air Force leading up to the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, describes how Germany used Graf Zeppelin for reconnaissance missions, occasionally overflying the British Isles in poor weather due to “navigational errors.” The airship was scouting for radar sites and RAF radio frequencies. (This airship may have been Graf Zeppelin II, LZ 130.)

Both airships were scrapped and their duralumin structures salvaged.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 August 1919

The DELAG airship Bodensee, LZ 120, at Friederichshafen, October 1919. (Library of Congress)

20 August 1919: The first airship built after World War I, Bodensee, LZ 120, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany, with Captain Bernard Lau in comand. LZ 120 was built for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, DELAG, (German Airship Travel Corporation) especially to carry a small complement of passengers. It was hoped that this would generate favorable publicity and help to restart intercity travel by air.

Bodensee was the first fully-streamlined airship. Its teardrop shape was developed by engineer Paul Jaray and had no cylindrical sections. The shape had been tested with scale models in a wind tunnel. LZ 120 was the first airship to have the gondola was attached directly to the bottom of the envelope, decreasing aerodynamic drag.

Scale model of LZ 120 in a wind tunnel at Göttingen, Germany
Scale model of LZ 120 in a wind tunnel at Göttingen, Germany

LZ 120 was a rigid airship, or dirigible, with a metal skeleton structure covered with a cotton fabric envelope. Twelve hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks were contained within the structure.  A crew of 12 operated the airship and it could carry 20 passengers.

LZ 120 was 396.33 feet (120.8 meters) in length, with a diameter of 61.38 feet (18.71 meters). The airship had a volume of approximately 20,000 cubic meters (706,000 cubic feet). The airship had an empty weight of 13,646 kilograms (36,698 pounds) and a gross weight of 23,239 kilograms (51,233 pounds).

Maybach Mb IVa at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.
Maybach Mb IVa at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

LZ 120 was powered by four water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 23.093 liter (1,409.2 cubic inches) Maybach Motorenbau GmbH Mb IVa single overhead cam (SOHC) vertical inline six-cylinder engines with a compression ratio of 6.08:1 and four valves per cylinder. The Mb IVa produced 302 horsepower at 1,700 r.p.m., but was derated to 245 horsepower. Two engines were mounted in the aft centerline engine car and drove a two-bladed propeller with a diameter of 5.2 meters (17.1 feet) through a reversible gear train. Each of the other engines were mounted near the center of the airship, outboard. They each turned a two-bladed propeller with a diameter of 3.2 meters (10.5 feet), which were also reversible.

LZ 120 had a maximum speed of 82 miles per hour (132 kilometers per hour).

After two test flights under Captain Lau, Bodensee entered scheduled passenger service on 24 August 1919 under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener. It flew from Friedrichshafen to the Oberwiesenfeld at Munich, then on to Berlin-Staaken.

In 1921, Bodensee was turned over to Italy as war reparations. It was renamed Esperia and continued in operation until 1928.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 August 1908

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myer, Virginia, 1908 (U.S. Army)

12 August 1908: Test flights begin for Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 at Fort Myers, Virginia, with Thomas Scott Baldwin as pilot and Glenn Hammond Curtiss as flight engineer.

Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, 1906–1913. (U.S. Army)

On 1 August 1907, Brigadier General James Allen, Chief Signal Officer, United States Army, issued a directive establishing the Aeronautical Division within the Signal Corps. Captain Charles Chandler was the officer in charge. Specifications were published in Signal Corps Bulletin No. 5, soliciting bids for both lighter- and heavier-than air vehicles. There were 41 responses. Plans were submitted and a board of officers selected plans for those that seemed most practical.

The lighter-than-air craft was required to be a self-propelled dirigible (a “directable” balloon) able carry two persons and to be able to travel at 20 miles per hour (32.2 kilometers per hour). Thomas Scott Baldwin’s proposal was selected. (The Wright brothers’ Military Flyer was selected as the heavier-than-air winner on 2 August 1909, and designated Signal Corps Airplane No. 1.)

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 (SC-1) emerges from its shed at Fort Myer, Virginia, 3 August 1908. (Carl Harry Claudy/NASM-Claudy-205)

On 3 August 1908, Baldwin No. 8 was presented to the Army for trials. Although the the Baldwin No. 8 reached an average speed of just 19.61 miles per hour (31.56 kilometers per hour). It demonstrated the required endurance of two hours, averaging 14 miles per hour (22.5 kilometers per hour). Although the airship’s speed was short of the requirement, on 5 August, the Army purchased it from Baldwin for $5,737.59. The airship was designated Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1.

Contemporary sources give the airship’s dimensions as being 96 feet (29.26 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 19 feet, 6 inches (5.94 meters). The envelope was made of two layers of silk fabric separated by a layer of vulcanized rubber, and supported by 30 wooden frames. Buoyancy was provided by hydrogen gas. The envelope’s volume was approximately 20,000 cubic feet (566 cubic meters).

An open girder beam gondola (or “car”) built of spruce was suspended beneath the balloon. The gondola was 66 feet (20.12 meters) long with a  2½ feet × 2½ feet (0.76 × 0.76 meters) cross section. A water-cooled Curtiss-built inline four-cylinder gasoline engine was mounted at the front end of the gondola. The engine produced 20 horsepower and drove the tractor propeller through a steel drive shaft at 450 r.p.m. The two-bladed spruce propeller had a diameter of 10 feet, 8 inches (3.25 meters) and pitch of 11 feet (3.35 meters).

A two-plane “box-kite” canard elevator unit behind the engine provided control for pitch. The pilot was located behind the control surfaces. Another crew member was at the rear of the gondola, followed by a fixed cruciform stabilizer unit.

The dirigible had a lifting capacity of  1,350 pounds (612.4 kilograms). The payload was 500 pounds (226.8 kilograms).

The U.S. Army’s first aviators, Lieutenants Benjamin D. Fulois, Thomas Etholen Selfridge and Frank P. Lahm were taught to fly the airship. Lahm and Fulois made the first flight of an all-Army crew on 26 August.

Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 was assigned to the Signal Corps Post at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Army had a balloon factory. It was operated there until 1912. The airships envelope needed to be replaced, and unwilling to spend money for that, the airship was sold.

Second Lieutenants Lahm and Fulois flying Signal Corps Dirigible No. 1 (SC-1) at Fort Myer, Virginia, 28 August 1908. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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