Airships. In the early years of War, these beasts were known for their majestic presence in the sky and were icons of a country's power and prestige. They reigned mostly as reconnaissance and transport utility aircraft but there was something about this "lighter-than-air" ship that made it far more than a mere utility workhorse. In this essay, I will discuss the ever-popular and ever- living king of the sky; the Airship.
Airships, or dirigibles, were developed from the free balloon. Three classes of airships are recognized: the non-rigid, commonly called blimp, in which the form of the bag is maintained by pressure of the gas; the semi-rigid airship, in which, to maintain the form, gas pressure acts in conjunction with a longitudinal keel; and the rigid airship, or zeppelin, in which the form is determined by a rigid structure. Technically all three classes may be called dirigible (Latin dirigere, "to direct, to steer") balloons. Equipped with a bag containing a gas such as helium or hydrogen which is elongated or streamlined to enable easy passage through the air, these Airships could reach speeds up to 10mph with a 5hp steam engine propeller.
The first successful airship was that of the French engineer and inventor Henri Giffard, who constructed in 1852 a cigar-shaped, non-rigid gas bag 44 m (143 ft) long, driven by a screw propeller rotated by a 2.2-kw (3-hp) steam engine. He flew over Paris at a speed of about 10 km/hr (about 6 mph). Giffard's airship could be steered only in calm or nearly calm weather. The first airship to demonstrate its ability to return to its starting place in a light wind was the La France, developed in 1884 by the French inventors Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs. It was driven by an electrically rotated propeller. The Brazilian aeronaut Alberto Santos-Dumont developed a series of 14 airships in France. In his No. 6, in 1901, he circled the Eiffel Tower.
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the...