December 31, 2014 4 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Article by Robert W. Mann

Long forgotten and lost in the dusty pages of history, the great airships of the past are quietly coming back to life and several will soon be in commercial service. What if The Jacksonville Aviation Authority and JAXPORT actively attracted some of these companies to relocate or establish terminals here? Could this be our chance to win back the cargo laden  skies over Florida?

It started with the military and a need for surveillance over extended periods of time from the edge of space (without the NASA price tag). The spread of hot spot combat situations around the globe also created a demand for a heavy lift vehicle that could use VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) abilities to virtually any point on the globe. The Royal Navy joined into the act by considering a wonderful new method of resupply for the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

Around the globe, aerospace industries have started playing with Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin's mammoth flying machines. The idea is 140 years old. By 1900, 3 years before the brothers Wright would fly 20 feet in a self propelled airplane called the 'Wright Flyer,' Zeppelin was airborne and international. A tradition had already been established within the fledgling industry with an expression along the lines of 'bon voyage,' or 'pleasant journey,' the term is 'LUFTSCHIFF HOCH!' meaning, 'airship high!.'

The Norge, first aircraft over the North Pole
Commons Photo

The ZR-3 Los Angeles floating over Manhattan
Commons Photo
US Navy Photo

LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin visiting Florida
Florida Memory Photo

LZ-129 The Hindenburg
Commons Photo

The public memory usually fast forwards to the explosive crash of the LZ-29 Hindenburg, yet during an age when the average airplane could carry 14 passengers and their luggage, that same Hindenburg and her sisters was capable of carrying 200+. The Airship 'Norge' (Norway) made the first verified overflight of, and the first verified trip of any kind to the North Pole, on 12 May 1926. Airships beat Lindberg's little airplane 'The Spirit of St. Louis,' across the Atlantic by 8 years and flew around the world including the first trips of any aircraft over the Pacific ocean. One of the most amazing airships of that era was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a count (Graf) in the German nobility. During its operating life, the airship 'Graf Zeppelin' made 590 flights covering more than a million miles (1.6 million km). It was designed to be operated by a crew of 36 officers and men.

So what exactly are these things? A balloon is simply a giant envelope filled with hot air or a lifting gas known as an aerostat, it goes wherever the wind takes it. Nevertheless the first manned flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air balloon on December 14, 1782. An aerostat is an aircraft which remain aloft using buoyancy or static lift, as opposed to the aerodynamic which obtains lift by moving through the air. Airships are a type of aerostat. Airships were originally called dirigible balloons from the French ('dirigere' meaning steerable or navigable). This came to be shortened to "dirigible" and this term is still sometimes used to mean any powered or steerable aerostat or balloon. A blimp by American definition, is a non-rigid aerostat (meaning it has no metal or other internal framework) the name refers specifically to a non-rigid type of dirigible (steerable - powered) balloon or airship. The term zeppelin is a genericized trademark that originally referred to airships manufactured by the German Zeppelin Company, which pioneered the use of very large airships in the early years of the twentieth century. The initials LZ, for Luftschiff Zeppelin (German for "Zeppelin Airship"), usually prefixed their craft's serial identifiers. In technical usage, rigid airship is the term used for all aircraft of this type, with zeppelin referring only to aircraft of that manufacture. In modern common usage, the terms zeppelin and airship are used interchangeably for any type of rigid airship.

Zeppelin Tech
Photo Courtesy of: Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

Roll out of the Zeppelin NT

Unobstructed view from the cockpit
Photo Courtesy of: Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

One can lean out of the window
Photo Courtesy of: Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

Thrust is directional so crews are minimal
Photo Courtesy of: Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

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