Airships, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, & Blimps:
What’s the Difference?

What is an Airship?

An airship is any powered, steerable aircraft that it is inflated with a gas that is lighter than air.

What is a Dirigible?

“Airship” and “dirigible” are synonyms; a dirigible is any lighter-than-air craft that is powered and steerable, as opposed to free floating like a balloon.

The word “dirigible” is often associated with rigid airships but the term does not come from the word “rigid” but from the French verb diriger (“to steer”).

Dirigibles include rigid airships (like the Hindenburg), semi-rigid airships (like the Zeppelin NT), and blimps (like the Goodyear blimp).

What is a Blimp?

A blimp (technically a “pressure airship”) is a powered, steerable, lighter-than-air vehicle whose shape is maintained by the pressure of the gases within its envelope.

A blimp has no rigid internal structure: If a blimp deflates, it loses its shape.

The author, Dan Grossman, with U.S. Navy blimp MZ-3A. author Dan Grossman with the U.S. Navy blimp MZ-3A. (Photo: JB-MDL Public Affairs)

Today, blimps are best known as advertising vehicles — Goodyear began using blimps to advertise their brand in 1925 — but blimps have also played an important role in the armed forces of many countries; the U.S. Navy’s lighter-than-air program made extensive use of blimps, primarily in anti-submarine and reconnaissance roles, from the 1920s through the 1950s.

Was the Hindenburg a Blimp?

No, the Hindenburg is often called “blimp” but that is not correct; Hindenburg was a rigid airship that maintained its shape by means of a metal framework.

What is a Rigid Airship?

A rigid airship has a framework surrounding one or more individual gas cells, and maintains its shape by virtue of the framework and not from the pressure of its lifting gas.

This photograph of the U.S. Navy airship Shenandoah under construction illustrates the ship’s metal framework, a partially inflated gas cell, and the fabric outer covering that protected the gas cells and provided aerodynamic streamlining:

USS Shenandoah under construction

USS Shenandoah under construction, showing rigid framework, individual gas cells, and fabric covering

This drawing of U.S.S. Shenandoah illustrates the various parts of a rigid airship:

USS Shenandoah

Drawing of U.S.S. Shenandoah from the January 1925 issue of The National Geographic Magazine.

What is a Zeppelin?

A zeppelin is a rigid airship manufactured by a particular company, the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin of Germany (the “Zeppelin Airship Construction Company”), founded by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

Ferdinand von Zeppelin is considered the father of the rigid airship, but not all rigid airships are “zeppelins,” just as not all photocopiers are “Xerox” machines.

German Navy Zeppelin L-13 (LZ-45). Drawing by Norbert Andrup.

German Navy Zeppelin L-13 (LZ-45). Drawing by Norbert Andrup.

The term zeppelin is often associated with the German airships that conducted bombing raids during World War I, but while most of these ships were built by the Zeppelin Company, not all German WWI airships were zeppelins; the German military also used rigid airships of very different design built by the Schutte-Lanz and Parseval companies.

One of history’s most famous zeppelins was LZ-129 Hindenburg. (“LZ” stands for “Luftschiff Zeppelin” and “129” indicates that Hindenburg was the 129th airship designed by the Zeppelin Company.) Because the American naval ships USS Akron and USS Macon were built by a Goodyear-Zeppelin joint venture, they are sometimes referred to as zeppelins as well.

Zeppelins still fly today; in fact the new Goodyear airship is a not a blimp but a zeppelin, built by a descendant of the same company that built Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg.

What is a Semi-Rigid Airship?

A semi-rigid airship, like a blimp, maintains its aerodynamic shape from internal gas pressure, but it has a partial rigid frame, usually in the form of a keel, which supports and distributes loads and provides structural integrity during maneuvering.

Semi-rigid airship Norge

Semi-rigid airship Norge

Famous semi-rigid airships include Norge of polar explorer Roald Amundsen and Italia of Umberto Nobile. The modern Zeppelin NT is also a semi-rigid airship.

Goodyear’s newest airship, a Zeppelin NT, lifts off for its first flight on March 17, 2014. (photo: Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company)

89 Comments on "Airships, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, & Blimps:
What’s the Difference?"

  1. what where blimps used for in the war

  2. The DoD still does the research into use of LTA aircraft. There are three hangars at Lakehurst capable of housing the large blimps, and two of them have housed blimps within at least the last 5years.

    • Development of airships, for cargo transport purposes in infrastructure lacking regions, is aldo underway here in Brasil.
      In fact, if you check out “airship do brasil” on youtube you’ll see they already have a working vehicle.

  3. Second question: With large semi rigids like the Norge, Italia and Roma, did they maintain inner hull pressure and stability with ballonets like the new Zeppelin does? And was the inside of the envelope one giant chamber, or divided chambers? I would imagine with hulls as large as that, the surging of the lifting gas could be critical.

  4. Excellent article. I have two questions:
    1. In rigid airships of the 1930’s, the individual gas cells were contained tightly inside the outer hull structure. What I am not entirely certain of is how the lifting load of the gas cell was transmitted to the outer hull. With blimps, there are catenary curtains that suspend the gondola from the upper part of the outer pressure envelope. With semi-rigid ships like the new Zeppelin ships, the gondola is suspended with cables from hardpoints on the rigid framework within the outer pressure envelope.

    I have seen photos of the rigid ships with their outer covering removed. The gas cells are floating up against a light mesh of what looks like parachute cording. Is that mesh connected to the hull structure, or are there catenary lines down to the lower portion of the hull where the keel is (the stronger part of the hull)? It looks like to me that the gas cell containment mesh transmits the lift of the cells to a point somewhere midway up the hull on the airship hull’s “equator” if you will. The lower mesh looks like it’s there to contain the cell when it’s at full capacity. The upper mesh I would imagine keeps the cell from pressing up against the hull structure and damaging it.

    Another thing that was interesting was that you can clearly see a black grommet in the image of the Shenandoah deskinned. That was the main tension cable that ran the length of the hull from bow to stern. I understand they needed that as the hull structure in itself was not stable enough to withstand the dynamic pressures of flight. Someone please comment / or correct me on that if you please! Thanks again Dan for a wonderful site where information can be exchanged. As a amateur airship historian and wanna-be designer of airships, I am fascinated as to what made these great ships fly.

    • To Stu

      “What I am not entirely certain of is how the lifting load of the gas cell was transmitted to the outer hull.”

      What keeps a lighter than air craft up is that it is lighter than air. The total weight of the craft is less than the weight of the volume of air it displaces. It is atmospheric pressure that creates the lift just as it is water pressure that keeps a boat afloat. There are detail differences in effect of course because water is a liquid not a gas. The most efficient content of a lighter than air craft in terms of lift would be vacuum which would weigh nothing. But keeping the structure from collapsing from atmospheric pressure would require a very heavy enclosure. With a light gas, the pressure of that gas keeps the enclosure from collapsing without much weight penalty.

  5. Thanks for the clarification on the proper terminology for these LTA craft. Now if only Goodyear’s PR staff would learn the proper name in describing their new LTA fleet.

  6. Thanks to all for your highly informative comments. However, I did not see any reference to NAST (Naval Air Station Tillamook) now known as Tillamook Air Museum. It is the very well preserved Hanger B completed 8/15/43 after almost 9 months. Hanger A was completed in 27 working days on 8/27/43! Each wooden hanger could house 8 K-Class blimps. Hanger A was destroyed by fire on 8/22/92. Each wooden hanger was 1,072 ft long, 192 ft high and 296 ft wide. The remaining Hanger B is now a must-see museum if you are ever close to Tillamook, OR on U.S. 101. They can be reached at

  7. Hi DAN,
    I’m curious, with such extensive background history about lighter than air airships, why aren’t they exactly available commercially globally? (Like not just for advertising but for something like cruises or for recreational purposes) (tbh i think everyone likes to see a big gigantic flying thing outside their windows right? :P)

    Next, why don’t people just use 2 layered balloons when making their airships? Just fill the outer layer with helium and inside layer with hydrogen and that’s it, right? Saves a helluva costs i think.

    Btw, im 16 and of course i don’t even have a substantial background knowledge about these considering i just got interested 30mins ago (haha) so sorry if i ask obvious questions. Thx

    • This was originally proposed for LZ-129; a central cell of hydrogen surrounded by an outer cell of helium. As to the lack of passenger airships today, I think it relates mostly to economics. And for cruises, people would have to go days without a shower; water is heavy!

      • I think you can still have private cabins with showers, much like you see in smaller RV’s with “wet baths” or “dry”. Shower heads that are water efficient and a two or three day cruise with a reasonable passenger load would allow for all water-related conveniences save for pools and spas.

        The idea of flying an airship today would be totally different than 80 years ago. The airship today would simply be an alternative in a slight way, more a novelty more so. The airship would offer at a premium price an experience unlike no other possible in today’s marketplace. It would offer white linen table service, fine fresh prepared food, drink and cordials, a private bed, bathroom and vistas through large windows nothing else can match.

        Yes, you have hotel rooms with great views, and first class sleeper service in jetliners on long hauls with “private” cubicles. But you don’t have a private cabin much like a small hotel room or sleeper compartment on a train with a view quite like that of a low flying airship.

        I firmly believe the public is tired of the commercial jetliner business model which is financially oriented to efficiency with lessening and lowering expectations. If given the opportunity to fly on an airship, just once, I think many will jump at the chance – not as an alternative to getting to a vacation destination only, but as the main reason for the trip. The airship is the destination, and it’s scenic tours, coastal explorations and remote area flyovers are things no cruise ship, airline or tour helicopter could match.

        The idea of “low and slow” will be the refreshing alternative to fast and cheap.

  8. Michelle Chandler | May 11, 2016 at 1:10 pm | Reply

    I have acquired items and belongings in a “Lane Cedar Chest”. Some items are of the BLIMP. There are 2 large manila envelopes with a Large round stamp that reads(on the outside of the round stamp) “Protect our good Name(top of stamp) Goodyear Aerospace(bottom of stamp) and (in the middle of the round stamp) ZD Zero Effects, with the Goodyear emblem below. 1 envelope has a total of 6 names signed on the envelope. The exact same envelope has just one name. Both envelopes has a gentleman named Mr John Fogle. I have many items and pictures that belong to the Mr Fogle. I would like to give them to the appropriate person or Akron, Ohio Museum. Can anyone help me? Your help is very much appreciated.
    Thank you for your time,

  9. robin temple | March 20, 2016 at 2:42 pm | Reply

    What a wonderful site! My interest in balloons of all sorts (or lighter than air devices) came from a booklet given to me back in 1960 by an artist Royston Cooper (now sadly dead) who illustrated a set of 48 cards which were enclosed with packets of biscuits made by Paterson and Co of Rutherglen, Scotland, probably in the 1930’s. (Yes, the Scotland where you of Scottish background came from!). These cards illustrate every conceivable balloon, most bizarre, since that first proposed by the Jesuit priest Francesco Lana of Brescia, Italy in 1670, and the actual flight made by the Montgolfier Brothers in 1783 in a basket which also carried a sheep, cockerel, and a duck!. The flight lasted 8 minutes. I believe the lifting gas used was hot air since the familiar lifting gases such as hydrogen were not available in commercial quantities then.
    We see now once annually a true balloon event in our small town in Devon (England) when about a dozen massive balloons in beautiful coloured canvas fly over our rooftops, with the occasional roar as the burners are ignited to prevent the balloon hitting a rooftop! What a sight!
    I have not yet been up in one since my partner is scared stiff of the idea but the appeal to me is magical!! (Just incidentally I lived in Franklin Lakes NJ, for 3 years until sadly a US corporation bought our company and closed our US office!).

  10. Hi Dan,

    Awesome informative article on Airships.

    Considering the size of these Airships and blimps; I was wondering how do manufacturers keep check on defects/ Leakages in fabric?

    Can you please help me in understanding the technologies/ processes involved in detecting leakages?


    • Where the pressure vessel is the envelope itself (e.g. a blimp) operators often use a simple soap test; put soapy water on the envelope and watch where it bubbles. The gas cells of rigid aircraft usually had pressure monitors and cells were manually inspected for holes.

  11. This is a cool site Dan! My wife and I couldn’t be sure how to answer our young one’s question: “what’s the difference between a blimp and a dirigible?”
    Now we can!
    Thank you kindly.

  12. This is a long shot and rather late addition to the comments above. It is related to Airships inasmuch as it is regarding the Zeppelin L31 shot down over Potters Bar, Middlesex, now Hertfordshire. I have a photo’ of a party of British and German dignitaries that gathered at PB., Cemetery in March 1934, to commemorate the German crews of the Cuffley and PB., ‘zeppelins’ that were shot down in 1916. I can positively identify only one person in the group – Leopold von Hoesch, the German Ambassador to Britain, but there is also a German Officer wearing what appears to be a Luftwaffe uniform. I would dearly like to know who the identities of all the group members. Sorry, but this forum appears not to allow me to include pictures, otherwise I would! I you can help and can contact me by email, I will send the picture to you. Many thanks, Bruce.

    • langley salmon | March 29, 2015 at 11:50 am | Reply

      Hi, I would be very interested in these photo’s as I also have photos’ of german senior officers that were visiting cuffley at that time that my father had, as we lived in North Enfield before and after the war.

  13. Nancy Buckmaster | September 7, 2014 at 7:12 pm | Reply

    I saw the goodyear blimp fly over my house on several occasions when it was on the way to Notre Dame football games, I think it would start at Akron,Ohio and fly to South Bend. It flew so low over my house that I took many films of it. I have one picture as my desktop. Every time I heard the engine I’d run out with my camera. I have movies of it coming here and going back the next day. I love watching the air ships. I haven’t seen one for the last 2 or 3 years. I think they quit flying to South Bend after Notre Dame joined the eastern league for football. I really miss the roaring sound and the beautiful sight from my back yard.

  14. Jonathan Jones | January 21, 2014 at 9:49 am | Reply

    What are the obsticals in building a 1000 ft. Airship??

    • Money. And common sense. 🙂

    • Helium.

      It’s only available from certain natural gas wells in Oklahoma and Texas where it has collected by the natural decay of uranium and thorium. Even when the US Navy had two rigid airships, they only had enough helium to fly one at a time.

      Today, helium is in high demand as a cryogenic refrigerant for superconductors in MRI’s, supercomputers and particle accelerators.

      Unless hydrogen with various fire suppressants becomes acceptable by the public, airships can not play a major transit role but may be able to be used in unmanned roles such as a high altitude communication platform.

    • You’d have to build a hanger that large to build the thing in before building the airship. That plus the free space around the hanger to operate the airship once built. That takes enormous capital that would need a bold risk taker investor. I think the more feasible approach would be to build an airship that can be built and operated from an already existing hanger large enough to do so. It would have to be on a five year lease until funds could be made available for the construction of a larger, modern facility to operate the airship prototype and subsequent copies.

  15. Paul Grosscup | July 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply

    I have a Modelpower model of a U.S.Navy blimp marked on side as “U.S.Navy SP-12”. Information that came with the model was that “SP-12” helped sink the last German sub of WW2. I have a half dozen books on airships, but none of them classify a “SP-12”. Can anyone help me “SP-12”. Paul

    • SP-12 looks like an M-class ASW blimp built for the US Navy by Goodyear. They were used in WW2 for anti submarine warfare.

  16. john caldwell | June 22, 2013 at 2:58 pm | Reply

    To Dan
    From John Caldwell
    June 22, 2013
    After you showed a picture of Lindbergh I suggested that you tell a little about the earlier amazing Harriet Quimby, who was the first licensed U.S. female pilot (about 1910) and the first woman to fly over the English Channel, it was solo also, and she landed safely on the French shore. Unfortunately, the Titanic sunk at the same time, getting all the press, and that is why she is not well known.

  17. Bill Kincheloe | January 9, 2013 at 6:47 pm | Reply

    I have been fascinated with LTA since that August day in 1929 (just before my fourth birthday) that a great, gray “thing” flew overhead. It was, I later learned, the Graf Zeppelin making a turn near St. Louis, Missouri, as it was headed for Lakehurst on one leg of its ’round the world trip. That started my interest in aviation and I would plead for trips to the local airport (Lambert Field) and nearby Scott Field, an Army Air Corps installation. There was a huge (to a boy) hangar at Scott Field where the Air Corps kept some TC- blimps. One summer Sunday (I can’t remember the year) the blimps were crowded to one side as a zeppelin with Navy markings occupied center stage (the Los Angeles?). I have tried to keep up with LTA, reading everything I could find about Santos Dumont to the Zeppelin-NT. But one fact (at least) has eluded me. How did the smaller non-rigids end up beong called “BLIMP?” Many books and articles claim that their interpretation is THE one. One, however, does make a little sense but I can’t verify it either: “British classifications of airships in 1909 included three classes” A-rigid, B-non-rigid and C-free balloons” If that be so and if ”limp’ is linguistically ‘non-rigid,’ it is easy to suppose that the non-rigid airship of Class B would be designated B-limp (considering British humor!). B-limp would have a pleasant sound if the hyphen wasn’t pronounced when an order was issued (“Bring the blimp over.” is easier than “Bring the bee limp over.” Any authoritative answers out there?

  18. Charles H. Atkinson | May 9, 2012 at 12:08 am | Reply

    A blimp is a tethered non steerable lighter than air vessel used during WWI for spotting enemy submarines. The name came from their being spotted as a blimp on the horizon. The zeppelin was a internal and external framed dirigible with gas bladders. The Goodyear airship is not a blimp but is a dirigible with a rigid center frame surrounded by a gas bladder. Does anyone study history to get their answers anymore?

    • Blimps are not tethered; they are powered and steerable dirigibles that maintain their shape from the pressure of the gas inside their envelopes. The Goodyear blimps were and are blimps, with no rigid framework. (But the next generation of Goodyear airships, which are not yet in service, will be Zeppelin NT ships.)

    • Thomas Vincente Cortellesi | February 28, 2013 at 10:48 pm | Reply

      You Dont. If the Goodyear Blimps were rigid, they would look like it. they look like oblique, extrapolated baloons.

    • The word “blimp” has nothing to do with it being a “blimp on the horizon.” Instead it is an onomatopoeic word, that came from the sound of flicking the non-rigid’s envelope with a finger making a “blimp” sound. If you had studied history you would know this! As Dan says they are powered steerable dirigibles that maintain their shape through their internal pressure.

    • Being tethered and non-steerable would make it a moored balloon. In this particular case, an observation balloon. They were also used for other purposes as well as submarine spotting (Which, of course, relate to observation, such as finding artillery targets that were far outside the ground crew’s view)

      These, like some other modern tethered floating balloons, were sometimes called ‘blimps’, but they really are not blimps. If there is no propulsion, then it can’t be a powered airship, of which blimps fall under.

      I’m curious to know what ‘history’ it is that you studied exactly.

      (Yes, I know this is off by three years, but thought it might make a helpful note to others)

    • Todd Copeland | May 6, 2015 at 8:37 am | Reply

      Mr. Atkinson why do so many people (such as yourself) feel the need to downgrade people? So a person had some wrong information about a blimp, it does constitute a derogatory remark about people not studying about something. I have read that a blimp is in fact a steerable instead of a non-steerable aircraft such as you stated. Todd Copeland

    • Rebecca Prescott | May 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm | Reply

      Mr Atkinson, I am somewhat inclined to believe that you are in fact trying to have a joke at the expense of others on here using your ‘blimp on the horizon’ remark. Surely you cannot seriously have been conflating blimps with ‘a blip on the horizon’ – a phrase originating from the spot of light on a radar or sonar screen indicating the position of a detected object, such as an aircraft or a submarine? This was either a very poorly judged attempt at Poe-esque mockery, or an example of one’s own inability to ‘study history to get their answers’ – either way it was a complete fail; you should go to your room, without any supper and think long and hard about what you have done here. Lol.


  19. gary johnson | April 3, 2012 at 6:39 pm | Reply

    Can you id the airship that flew overhead today, 4/3/2012 in plainsboro,nj? It was all white, said U.S. Navy along the underbelly and flew the American flag off the rear.

  20. Moffett field near San Jose, CA has the huge hangar still there from when the U.S.S. Macon used it. There is also some limited LTA activity!

    In 2001 I saw a dirigible (maybe it could have been a blimp) flying low over Soledad, CA probably on its way to Moffett Field. If it was a blimp, it was one darn BIG one! I was THRILLED to see it flying so low. It sure made a lasting impression on me! It seemed fairly “fast” because it flew over the town fairly in a minute or two. It must have been at full speed.
    To my surprise, the engines of this machine were NOT SILENT as I had read about the raids of the Zeps. (I suppose “silent” for airships is a relative term). The noise of the engines was what caught my attention to look up and see the airship. I am still thrilled that I got to see an airship flying so low overhead! It is a sight that one will remember for a long time!

    • Moffett Field is in the Mt. View area just north of San Jose and just South of San Francisco. You forgot to mention that Moffett Field, the former U.S. Naval Air Station which was still an active Naval Station in the Vietnam War, and closed as part of the closures made in the 1990’s, has more than one hanger. It actually has 3 hangers. One huge hanger and two smaller hangers which were used for dirigibles and blimps. The hangers were still all there when I moved from the Bay Area in 2003 and I assume all 3 are still there. The huge hanger used to “rain” inside, due to its size, until they painted it inside.

  21. Josiah Wagener | January 24, 2012 at 12:25 am | Reply

    This isn’t directly about airships but somewhat related. When I was in high school I had a chemistry teacher who had worked for Ball Aerospace during the Cold War. He had been developing a system to very rapidly inflate a large balloon mounted on a ballistic missile. The idea was that in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war when most communications systems had been knocked out there would be a few of these special missiles in silos here and there which could be launched. When the missile reached the top of its arc in the upper atmosphere it would deploy the balloon which had to be able to inflate in just a few seconds and carry a heavy payload of radio repeater equipment, ELF antenna, and long life batteries. The systems were supposed to provide a temporary communications link for remaining military command sheltered in their bunkers. I think that he said that they were using some sort of exotic lift gas, not helium, but I don’t remember if he said what it was. I also don’t know whether system was ever developed to a deployable point or if it remained only experimental. He said that that was still classified.

    • Nehmo Sergheyev | May 10, 2012 at 8:03 pm | Reply

      “…they were using some sort of exotic lift gas, not helium…”
      The only possible lift gases are hydrogen and helium. Hydrogen would be appropriate when the chances of ignition are low.
      And why bother to use a missile-stage for this vehicle? Why not simple inflate the balloon while on the ground?
      `~- Nehmo

      • Josiah Wagener | May 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply

        I think that the idea was to have it into position in the upper atmosphere in a matter of minutes when needed. This is just my recollection of conversations with a teacher about 15 years ago. He definitely said that the purpose of his project was to rapidly deploy a balloon for a radio repeater from the top of the arc of a ballistic missile. The rest of the details I may not remember properly.

      • “The only possible lift gases are hydrogen and helium”?! What?! Whoever told you that was either lying or displaying ignorance of basic physics.

        Air has a density around 1.2 kg/m3 (varying slightly with humidity, temperature, pressure, etc.). Balloons, airships, etc. work because they have an overall density lower than the air around them. They rise like bubbles in water, and for the same reason.

        The goal is to build a structure with an overall density lower than about 1.2 kg/m3. Hydrogen and helium are far from the only ways to achieve this; they are merely the most convenient, since they have very low density while applying atmospheric pressure to the inside of the balloon so it can be made very light.

        Ever heard of hot air balloons? Heating any gas causes it to expand (i.e. causes its density to decrease), so hot air is less dense than cool air, and can be used as a lifting gas.

        There is no strict physical requirement for the buoyancy to actually be provided by a gas–the reasons for that come from chemistry, not physics. If a solid material with a density less than air could be obtained, it would work for a lighter-than-air craft. “Lighter than air” is exactly what it says, and is the only requirement.

        A vacuum would provide lift, since by definition it has a density of zero. The problem is that it also (by definition) has a pressure of zero, and air has a pressure rather higher than that, high enough to make structures capable of withstanding it (without the aid of equivalent pressure from inside) awkwardly heavy.

        The following gases all have slightly more than half the density of air (and thus give, to a very rough approximation, half the lift per volume that hydrogen does), and will therefore work as lifting gases: methane (CH4), ammonia (NH3), water vapor (H2O), and neon (Ne).

        Nitrogen is also lighter than air–not much lighter, since air is mostly nitrogen and the oxygen is only slightly heavier, but still potentially capable of lifting a suitably large and light balloon.

        Prototype balloons during the 1800s, while the technology was still being developed, often used “coal gas,” a mixture of substances, most prominently hydrogen and carbon monoxide, that has since been supplanted by the safer natural gas (mostly methane). From what I have been able to find about it, coal gas also had a density around half that of air.

        For the experimental radio balloon: if it didn’t use hydrogen or helium then my first guess would be ammonia. It is a gas under normal room conditions, but can be stored as a liquid at room temperature and somewhat higher pressure (it shares this trait with, most prominently, propane).

        • Vlastimil ÄŒech | January 22, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply

          I heard of artifical, no-flamanable lifting gas. It was made from methane and some of hydrogen atom was changed by fluorine… CH3F or CH2F2… is it true? Is it possible?

  22. My father was at Lakehurst when the tragedy occurred. it is sad I didn’t learn of this until after his death, so I never heard his first hand account. He was 18 at the time and I often wonder how that impacted his life decisions. He joined the Army Air Corp and later made the transition to the Air Force and retired after 30 plus years.

    Just from the pictures on their site, I would guess the Zeppelin company is now making semi-rigid airships rather than dirigibles?

  23. You write “a zeppelin is a rigid airship…” and “the modern Zeppelin (Farmers) NT … is a semi-rigid airship” and, finally, “the so-called ‘Farmers blimp’ is … a zeppelin”.

    If a zeppelin is rigid and the Farmers ship is semi-rigid, then it’s not a zeppelin according to your definition. Your third statement is, therefore, contradicts the two previous statements.

    • Since the NT is built by the Zeppelin company, it would be hard to say that it’s NOT a zeppelin. 🙂

      • The contradiction stands.

        • Hendrick Stoops | December 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Reply

          Actually, Dan is correct in his statement that the NT is a Zeppelin considering several facts: As said before, NT is built by the Zeppelin company thus it is a Zeppelin ( a Boeing rocket is still a Boeing even if they make planes). Also, the official designation of the craft in question is the Zeppelin NT-07. The confusion between blimps (pressure ships), rigid zeppelins, and semi-rigid zeppelins is because the name Zeppelin has become synonymous with rigid airships as well as the fact that Zeppelin never built non-full rigids before the NT. Also, ships like the R-100,R-101, and the Norge were not referred to as Zeppelins (or Zepps:) ). In case you’re wondering, the ZR-1 (U.S.S. Shenandoah) ZRS-4 and ZRS-5 (U.S.S. Akron and U.S.S. Macon) had the Z (standing for Zeppelin) in their names because the Shenandoah was based heavily off a German war-era airship, And the Akron and Macon were built by Goodyear with a liaison to the Zeppelin Company (or to be proper, Luftschiff Zeppelin G.m.b.H.). The ZR-4 Los Angeles had the Z designation because it was built in Friedrichshafen by the Zeppelin Co.

          • Dan says, “Since the NT is built by the Zeppelin company, it would be hard to say that it’s NOT a zeppelin” and Hendrick seconds that. Well, I doubt that Zeppelin only makes zeppelins. Are you saying anything they make is a zeppelin?

            Kodak was synonymous with cameras. They now make printers. According to your logic, their printers are cameras?

            Additionally, to simplify the three statements Dan wrote: 1) a zeppelin is a rigid airship, 2) the NT is semi-rigid, 3) the NT is a zeppelin. There is a contradiction there.

            Hendrick also states zeppelins may be either rigid or semi-regid. So, Hendrick’s implication is that Dan’s first statement should be modified.

          • replying to Craig, below

            No, Kodak’s printers are not cameras, they are Kodaks, which is the point. Anything Ford makes is a Ford, anything Maytag makes is a Maytag, anything Zeppelin makes is a Zeppelin.

          • *read the paragraph about the farmers airship, It states that it was a zeppelin, because it was made by the zeppelin company. END OF CONVERSATION!

        • Nancy, my mother said they flew so low to the ground that they could actually see the people waving back at them! It was almost a past time for them in those days.

  24. George F. Hope | August 30, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply

    Not all rigid airships need a framework. A rigid airship is an airship which can keep it’s shape even if its deflated. ZMC-2 for example was rigid for its metal skin and not a frame

  25. Dan,

    I am one of the 5 airship pilots to be selected to conduct the BIS trials for the ZPW 3W from 1958-1960. I was the second president of the Naval Airship Association. Our membership is open to anyone who has an interest in Lighter-than-air. Our web is membership forms are located there.
    I remember Gillen. How do I get a hold of him? You may send him my e-mail.

    • nelson shaffer | May 11, 2011 at 10:14 am | Reply

      We are interested in using blimps, and UAV for geologic and mining purposes, especially exploration, monitering, and reclamation. Any suggestions you can offer will be appreciated.

  26. A friend born in Ocean County around the turn of the century once told me that Lakehurst was selected as the lighter-than-air base because it seemed to have LESS THAN ITS SHARE OF STORMS than other areas near NYC. My personal experience living in the Toms River area seems to bear this out. I see more storms to the north and south. Watching weather radar, the “red” in storms approaching the center of NJ usually moderate. Can you comment?

    • I’d have to agree with you. I live in point pleasant and we really only gets storms once in a while. Personally, I love the weather here.

  27. Charles Bryant | April 4, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply

    Dear DWM and all others:

    Here in Ocala, FL, there was an article about the MZ-3A in the local newspaper the Ocala Star Banner. If you plug in the name, “Ocala Star Banner” on your web browser, it should bring you to their web site, then search for MZ-3A and it will pull up the piece. This particular airship has been making the run from Lakehurst, NJ down here to Dunnellon, FL for some time now where it finds it’s Winter home. No, she’s no giant, but as an airship, and a piece of aviation history from a bygone era, we’ll take her any way we can!

    So, the next time you find your way to this part of the country, do yourselves a favor and look this piece of Florida up on your road map. Part of the whole reason the MZ-3A has it as her “2nd home” is it’s location which is ideal for her.

  28. I have a second year design project where we are asked to design an un-manned aerial vehicle UAV ( i.e A HOVERING ROBOT ) that can make controlled take-off,hover and land actions.

    The robot should be either a blimp or zepplin. Which one do you think is better for this case ?

    • Charles Bryant | April 4, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply

      If you’re designing a project that is supposed to be a UAV, then payload/lift considerations will be a prime factor in your decision. While the difference is undoubtedly neglible when moving between a rigid(zeppelin) type of airship versus a non-rigid(blimp) type of airship design. That notwithstanding, since you’re next consideration is control, all things undoubtedly being equal between the two, I would favor the lighter of the two and also the easier of the two to design(less fabrication to deal with). Given these parameters, since lift will be determined by weight and control will be no doubt be roughtly equivalent using either design, the so-called “blimp” or non-rigid format would be preferable.

  29. Can anyone help me ? When my father was young in Alameda, Calif. he remembers seeing aircraft taking off of a Dirigible. Could this be possible ? Mom wants to know. No landings – just take offs. Thanks

  30. why are the rigid airships gone?

    • Charles Bryant | April 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply

      Airships undoubtedly fell out of favor due to their slow travel speeds versus those achieved by more advanced fixed wing/heavier than air craft and probably the memory of the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst, NJ when she burst into flames. Too, given the cost of the gasses(during the war that followed) used to give LTA craft their lift a culmination of these factors proved to be the death knell of lighter than air travel as it once was known.

  31. There is an excellent museum in Germany where the Zeppelin plant was located. Inside they have a section of the living space from a Zeppelin. That is not as close as you were hoping, but may be the only place to view how they were built.

  32. I’ve been inside of Hangar #1 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station where the Hindenberg was berthed. The place is seriously gigantic inside. There’s a small marker where the Hindenberg went down in the field outside.

    • I’ve been there as well. I believe that at one time that hanger was the largest single room building in the world.

      • That particular hangar is unique and vast. It creates it s own weather patterns and at times forms clouds and precipitation.

  33. George J. Gillen | July 10, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Reply

    David, it was great to hear that someone, anyone is still thrilled to talk about the Navy Airship program of the 50s and 60s.
    I flew the ‘Nan’ ship first out of Boca Chica field in Key West Fla. then later from 1959 to 1961 out of Lakehurst NJ. when the Navy started to decommission the whole fleet.
    I have to say it was a thrill to fly 1st Mechanic, (“Flight Engineers,”)
    In the larger ships, model ZPG-3s. We were able was able to fly by interconnecting both 1800 H.P. engines to fly with both 18′ props on 1 engine while we conducted an ‘in flight inspection’ of 1 engine at a time.
    I would like to go on, but I don’t know that anyone is there.
    My e-mail address is made up of gjg, my initials, my combat air crew cac#302.

    • Bonnie Smith Ritter | July 12, 2014 at 9:31 am | Reply

      I would love to talk to you. My father Richard C. Smith and his twin brother, Robert E. Smith was on the last crew of Blimps at Lakehurst in the 60’s. Please respond. I have a picture of the Blimp, don’t know the # or name. Please write at above e-mail.

      CAPT Bonnie Halderson-Ritter, USN

  34. In the The Robert Wise film Hindenburg it shows riggers and crew walking about inside the hull. Call me a mong, but surely they can’t be breathing the hydrogen gas, and if they’d filled it with helium, as intended, they’d all sound like the Piglets when they spoke. The hull gets ripped and the riggers go outside, repair the fabric to prevent hydrogen escape and loss of altitude. Can anyone explain?

    • Lifting gas was contained in gas cells, so the crew was able to move throughout the hull without being exposed to the lifting gas.

      The repair depicted in the film The Hindenburg (which was based on a real event which took place on the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin) was not to prevent loss of hydrogen, but to prevent further damage to the fabric which would have compromised the flight controls and the stability of the ship.

      (Incidentally, if you would like to read more about the movie, I wrote a blog post called The Hindenburg (1975) – Fact & Fiction.)

      • Thanks Dan! Very well and simply explained. They often seem to miss details like this in films. :o)

      • While teaching science in the ’70’s, I told the class the hindenberg,s tragedy. The next day my middle school youngster brought in an internal metallic structural piece of this derigible. Apparently it was given to him by his grandfather who barely escaped this fiery ordeal, picked up a piece, burned his hand, and many years later gave this little relic to his grandson. It was a blackened, most likely aluminum, braket-like six in piece. He gave it to me as a present that day. I still have it and treasure this small item immensely

    • if they’d filled it with helium, as intended, they’d all sound like the Piglets when they spoke.

      to get a squeeky voice you add a few percent helium, not enough to be worthwhile for lift.
      if it was fairly pure helium (or hydrogen) like airship gasbags contain, they would NOT be talking, they would be suffocating within a couple of breaths.

      There have been several helium suffocation fatalities in the USA.

  35. Would the tiny ZMC-2 enter into your consideration as a footnote in US Navy Rigid Airship article? Or is it much too semirigid-like? Is it simply not interesting enough?

  36. Hi Dan,

    First of all this site is very informative and very helpfull. I would like to ask you if you know whether there was a movie made about the hindenburg.

    Thanks a lot

  37. How long was the German Navy Zeppelin L-13 (LZ-45) and when was it in servies?

    • L-13 was a p-type ship with a length of 163.5m (536′ 5″). Its first flight was July 23, 1915, and the ship was commanded by Heinrich Mathy during a famous bombing raid on England. L-13 was dismantled in April, 1917.

  38. Ford U. Ross | July 29, 2009 at 11:48 am | Reply

    The next big event in LTA circles will be the openning of the Military Museum and Veterans Memorial at NAS Richmond in mid to late 2010. NAS Richmond was the 2nd largest U.S. Navy Blimp base in the U.S. Destroyed by a hurricane and fires in1945. The heart of the site will be the restored original Administration Building
    #25 which will be moved alongside the Railroad Museum on the oridinal site of Hangar #2.

  39. David W. Murray | July 14, 2009 at 11:30 pm | Reply

    What a wonderful site. I live near Lakehurst, and you will be glad to know that there is still some limited LTA activity there. The small non-rigid MZ-3A has been flying from Lakehurst for a couple of years, not a Top Secret project, but nobody’s talking much about it. In fact, I was earlier today belting down South Dover rd on a Triumph Thruxton, at highly illegal speeds, when she flew over, quite low. I pulled over to watch, as this sight has become a rarity. She’s tiny, even to one too young to have seen the big Rigids, but I remember the “Nan” class ships of the late 50s, which dwarfed her.
    Still, she’s an Airship, and I’ll take what I can get.

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