Joyeuse Fête Nationale!

by Dan on July 14, 2014

In honor of le 14 juillet, here is a brief review of early French airships.

Giffard Steam Powered Airship

In 1852, Jules-Henri Giffard built a 144-foot hydrogen airship powered by a coke-fired steam engine.  Taking off from the Paris Hippodrome on 24 September 1852, the dirigible was able to fly several kilometers downwind but was not powerful enough to overcome a headwind.

Henri Giffard Airship

Tissandier Electric Airship

Brothers Gaston and Albert Tissandier built a 92-foot battery-powered electric airship in 1882-1883, but their 1.5 hp Siemens engine could only drive the ship at 15 kph and it was unable to fly against even the lightest headwinds.

The Tissandiers flew an improved ship on 9 August 1894.  Named La France, the 165-foot ship carried an 8.5 hp electric motor and flew almost twice as fast as their earlier model, allowing the ship to return to its take-off point in light winds.

Tissandier Brothers Airship (Library of Congress)

Basket of Tissandier Brothers Airship (Library of Congress)

The Lebaudy Airships

Two wealthy sugar refiners, the brothers Paul and Pierre Lebaudy, financed and built a series of successful airships beginning in 1902.  Their first dirigible – nicknamed “le Jaune” for its yellow fabric — was a 175-foot semi-rigid ship powered by a 40 hp Daimler engine capable of flying in moderate winds.  Purchased by the French Army, Lebaudy I can be considered the world’s first military airship.

The Lebaudy brothers and their engineer, Henri Julliot, continued to build and improve airships over the next decade, including Patrie of 1906 and Republique  of 1908 which were built for the French army, and ships sold to the military forces of Russia, Austria, and Britain.

Lebaudy Airship I, c.1903 (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Lebaudy Airship “Patrie” of 1906 (Original French postcard)

Gondola of a Lebaudy Airship (Smithsonian Institution Archives)

Bonne Fête Nationale to all my friends in France.  






On this day in 1919, the British airship R34 completed the first round-trip crossing of the Atlantic ocean by air.

Westbound Crossing

R34′s flight from Scotland to New York was the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic from East to West, against the prevailing westerly winds; a feat that would not be accomplished by airplane until 1928.

The ship left East Fortune, Scotland on July 2, 1919, and landed in Mineola, New York on July 6, 1919, after a flight of 108 hours and 12 minutes.

Eastbound Return

The ship sailed home on July 10, 1919, and arrived in Pulham, England on July 13, 1919 after a flight of 75 hours and 3 minutes.  It was the first round-trip crossing of the Atlantic by air.


Today is the birthday of both Graf Zeppelin the man and Graf Zeppelin the airship.

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin – better known in English as Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin — was born on July 8, 1838.

The first airship to bear his name — LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin — was christened by his daughter, Countess Helene von Brandenstein-Zeppelin, on July 8, 1928.

















On this day in 1919, the British airship R34 completed the first westbound fight across the Atlantic in history.

Because of the prevailing westerly winds, this feat would not be matched by an airplane for almost a decade.

R34 arriving in Mineola, New York after the first Westbound crossing of the Atlantic by Air (1919)


Happy Independence Day, America

by Dan on July 4, 2014


Today is the Birthday of the Zeppelin

July 2, 2014

The first zeppelin airship to take to the skies made its maiden flight on this day in 1900. On July 2, 1900, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s first airship, LZ-1, left its floating hangar for an 18 minute flight over the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in southern Germany. (You can read more about the first zeppelins, and the [...]

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Happy Canada Day!

July 1, 2014

To all my friends up north… Happy Canada Day!

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Small Blimp Used to Protest Illegal NSA Spying

June 28, 2014

A small blimp flew over the NSA’s data center yesterday to protest the agency’s illegal spying. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “A coalition of grassroots groups from across the political spectrum joined forces to fly an airship over the NSA’s data center in Bluffdale, Utah on Friday, June 27, 2014, to protest the government’s [...]

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Hindenburg Insurance Payout: $81 Million in Current Dollars According to Fortune Magazine

May 14, 2014

An article in the current issue of Fortune Magazine discusses the history of insurance payouts for various aviation disasters including the crash of the Hindenburg. Fortune estimates the current value of the payout at $81 million, but this is always a very tricky calculation, subject to various methodologies and interpretations, especially when it involves adjusting both for [...]

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Lusitania Sinking Anniversary

May 7, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania by the zeppelin’s undersea cousin, the German U-boat, on May 7, 1915. In honor of the anniversary here is an article I wrote about the historical background of the Anglo-German maritime rivalry in the years before WWI: Public Symbols and Private Enterprise:  Transatlantic Ocean Liners, 1897-1914 The [...]

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Anniversary of the Hindenburg Disaster

May 6, 2014

Hindenburg was scheduled to land at Lakehurst, NJ at 6:00 AM on May 6, 1937, after her first North Atlantic crossing of the 1937 season.  But delayed 12 hours by headwinds, the ship was over Seal Island, Nova Scotia; when passengers were supposed to be disembarking they were gathering for breakfast instead. Just before noon [...]

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The Hindenburg; 24 Hours from Disaster

May 5, 2014

At 7:25 PM EST on May 5, 1937, LZ-129 Hindenburg was approaching the coast of Nova Scotia on her 63rd flight, carrying 36 passengers and 61 crew members from Germany to the United States. Twenty-four hours later the ship was destroyed by fire at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

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Free Kindle download this weekend; Murder mystery set on airship

March 15, 2014

Death on the Empress is a newly-issued murder mystery written for teens and young adults.  It is available for free Kindle download from this weekend only. I have not read the book so I cannot offer personal comments, but here is the description from Amazon: In an alternate Britain, where airships rule the skies, [...]

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Great film of LZ-130 at low level

March 1, 2014
Thumbnail image for Great film of LZ-130 at low level

A great film of LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin at low level.  I still can’t get over what it must have been like to see one of these ships close-up: My thanks to the ever-enthusiastic Milan Zivancevic for letting me know about this video. You’re the best, Milan!  

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New Children’s Book about the Hindenburg Disaster

February 23, 2014

A new children’s book has just been published about the Hindenburg disaster. The publisher was very concerned about getting the facts right and the contents are scrupulously accurate.  Most of all, the book does not repeat any of the nonsense so often found in books about the Hindenburg (e.g., the United States wouldn’t sell helium to [...]

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The Graf Zeppelin and Meteorology; Greetings from the Icy South

February 12, 2014

As the American South gets ready for another pounding by ice and snow the National Weather Service announced that Hurricane Hunter planes have been releasing Dropsondes to obtain data for forecasts of the upcoming storm. For all the weather nerds out there, here is some zeppelin trivia:  The precursor to the dropsonde was the radiosonde, [...]

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Hindenburg at the Olympics

February 9, 2014

LZ-129 Hindenburg at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games. And CGI from the film Berlin 36: Of course the political parallels between 1936 and 2014 are chilling.  The IOC of 1936 refused to criticize the policies of the Nazi government and the IOC of 2014 bears similar shame: International Olympic Committee Will Not Object To Arrests [...]

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Chimney Pots

January 29, 2014

“The British don’t want us over their chimney pots. They’ll complain to Foreign Office.” I guess times have changed. (I saw this while walking in Kew the other day and couldn’t resist.  Sorry!)

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Brazilian Zeppelin Bus

January 27, 2014

Hat Tip to scholar (and all-around great guy) Guillaume De Syon for letting us know about this zeppelin-shaped bus operated in Brazil in the 1950s. More photos here.

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Bust of Barnes Wallis at RAF Club in London

January 25, 2014

Every morning as I leave to do my research I have been greeted by this bust of Barnes Wallis and this painting so I thought I would share a quick photo. As blog readers know I have been in the UK for the past few weeks doing research about the RAF, but I have not [...]

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