The Legacy of Zeppelin Airship Innovation
Article By Doug Bonderud
Photo credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
The rock band or the doomed blimp? Hydrogen explosions and catchy melodic hooks have hijacked our thinking about the term “Zeppelin.” Visceral television coverage of the Hindenburg disaster — and its scale — have largely overwritten the more storied tales of these luxurious sky kings. Consider the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin: 90 years ago, this lighter-than-air craft made history with the first passenger-carrying flight around the globe and pumped up worldwide interest.
Building a Better Zeppelin Airship
Built by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and completed in 1928, the LZ 127 was named after airship pioneer Count (Graf) Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Designed using the basic plan of the LZ 126 — which was supplied to the United States and commissioned the USS Los Angeles as war reparations — the LZ 127 was also built using triangular duralumin girders and rings spaced 15 meters apart. When completed, the craft was 776 feet long and 110 feet high, making it the largest airship in the world.
As noted by Airships.net, size was the priority: The long, thin hull of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was not aerodynamically ideal and was subject to bending stress. Designers wanted to maximize the ship’s fuel-carrying capacity and would have likely made the Zeppelin even larger if they weren’t constrained by the construction shed at Friedrichschafen — which had interior dimensions of 787 feet long and 115 feet high.
This Zeppelin airship also used a new type of fuel for its combustion engines, called “Blau gas” after its inventor. With a similar weight to air, burning Blau gas meant airship personnel didn’t have to account for the loss in weight as heavier-than-air fuel burned, which ordinarily necessitated the regular venting (and therefore loss) of lifting gas. When completed, the LZ 127 was capable of reaching altitudes of up to 6,000 feet and speeds of 72 miles-per-hour.
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