Zeppelin is a type of dirigible, more specifically a type of rigid airship pioneered by German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century and based in part on an earlier design by Croatian aviation pioneer David Schwarz. Due to the outstanding success of the Zeppelin design, the term zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships. This article, however, focuses on Zeppelins in the narrower sense of the word. For a broader discussion of this type of aircraft, see airship.
These giant aircraft were used for passenger transport as well as for military purposes. The DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG), which can be considered the first commercial airline, served scheduled flights well before World War I, and after the outbreak of the conflict, the German military made extensive use of Zeppelins as bombers and scouts.
The German defeat halted the business temporarily, but under the guidance of Hugo Eckener, the successor of the deceased count, civilian Zeppelins experienced a renaissance in the 1920s. They reached their zenith in the 1930s, when the airships LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ 129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights between Germany and both North and South America.
The Hindenburg disaster in 1937 triggered the fall of the "giants of the air", though other factors, including political issues, contributed to the demise of the Zeppelin.**********Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin became interested in constructing a "dirigible balloon" after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/1871, where he witnessed the use of French balloons during the siege of Paris. He had also encountered the military use of such aircraft in 1863 during the American Civil War, in which he participated as a military observer on the side of the Union. He began to seriously pursue his project after his early retirement from the military in 1890 at the age of 52.
Convinced of the potential importance of aircraft, he started working on various designs shortly after leaving the military. He eventually purchased the rights to the designs of Croatian inventor David Schwarz after that inventor died suddenly before successfully flying. His first aircraft drew heavily on Schwarz's design.*********On August 31, 1895, he obtained a patent which already included most of the aforementioned features. One peculiar idea however that never made it into construction was to provide the ability to connect several independent airship elements like train wagons; in fact, the patent title called the design "Lenkbarer Luftfahrzug" (steerable air-cruising train).
An expert committee to whom he had presented his plans in 1894 showed little interest, so the Count was on his own in realizing his idea. In 1898 he founded the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (company for the promotion of airship flight), contributing more than half of its 800,000 Mark share capital himself. He delegated the technical implementation to the engineer Theodor Kober and later to Ludwig Dürr.*************Construction of the first Zeppelin airship began in 1899 in a floating assembly hall on the Bodensee in the Bay of Manzell, Friedrichshafen. This location was intended to facilitate the difficult starting procedure, as the hall could easily be aligned with the wind. The prototype airship LZ1 (LZ for "Luftschiff ('Airship') Zeppelin") had a length of 128 m, was driven by two 14.2 horsepower (10.6 kW) Daimler engines and was balanced by moving a weight between its two nacelles.
The first Zeppelin flight occurred on July 2, 1900 over the Bodensee. It lasted for only 18 minutes before the LZ1 was forced to land on the lake after the winding mechanism for the balancing weight broke. Upon repair, the technology proved its potential in subsequent flights (Its second flight was in October 1900. The third and final flight was on October 24, 1900.), beating the 6 m/s velocity record of the French airship La France by 3 m/s. But this performance was unable to convince possible investors. With his financial resources depleted, Count von Zeppelin was forced to disassemble the prototype, sell it for scrap, and close the company.**************In the following years until the outbreak of World War I in summer 1914, a total of 21 more Zeppelin airships (LZ5 to LZ 25) were finished. (See List of Zeppelins for a complete reference).
In 1909, LZ6 became the first Zeppelin to be used for commercial passenger transport. For this purpose, it was taken over by the world's first airline, the newly founded Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). Another six airships were sold to the DELAG by 1914, and were given names in addition to their production numbers. Three such were the LZ8 "Deutschland II (1911), the LZ11 "Viktoria Luise" (1912) and the LZ17 "Sachsen" (1913). Four of these ships were destroyed in accidents, mostly while being transferred into their halls. There were no casualties.
Altogether, the DELAG airships travelled approximately 200,000 km, and transported about 40,000 passengers.
The remaining 14 pre-war Zeppelins were purchased by the German Army and Navy, who labelled their aircraft Z I/II/... and L 1/2/..., respectively. (During the war, the Army changed their scheme twice: following Z XII, they switched to using the LZ numbers, later adding 30 to obscure the total production.)
When World War I broke out, the military also took over the three remaining DELAG ships. By this time, it had already decommissioned three other Zeppelins (LZ3 "Z I" included). Five more had been lost in accidents, in two of which people died: a storm pushed Navy Zeppelin LZ14 "L 1" down into the North Sea, drowning 14, and LZ18 "L 2" burst into flames following an engine explosion, killing the entire crew.
By 1914, state-of-the-art Zeppelins had lengths of 150-160 m and volumes of 22,000-25,000 m³, enabling them to carry loads of around 9 tonnes. They were typically powered by three Maybach motors of around 400-550 horsepower (300 - 410 kW) each, thus reaching speeds up to about 80 km/h.**************************