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).
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.
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:
This drawing of U.S.S. Shenandoah illustrates the various parts of a rigid airship:
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.
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.
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.
I rode in a Zeppelin NT and it was wonderful.
I understand much of the problems of shipping grain out of Russia is due to the lack of roads; modern airships could solve this problem. Are there any dirigibles being made now that could be used that way? Trading around Russia’s central government could get us out of the nasty… Read more »
Right now we cannot build airships big enough to effectively haul bulk cargo.
why dont they use airships for cargo?
Right now we cannot build airships big enough to effectively handle bulk cargo.
Interesting.i love to watch the Good Year blimp fly over. thanks nice article.
I think you mean the Goodyear airship… 🙂
This was really fascinating. I’ll have to tell my older brother about this because he loves planes and vehicles.
There were at least one dirigible with a Dish or flying saucer shape. It was in the 1970s and if I remember well was named Skyship. Do you hace any info about that type of dirigibles?
I believe you are thinking of Aereon, “the Deltoid Pumpkin Seed.”
I can’t recall where I got this notion, but maybe someone can verify or deny… I always thought that the term airship referred strictly only to rigid lighter than air steerable craft, and that dirigible was the catch-all term for all LTA craft whether or not rigid. Kind of makes… Read more »
While terminology does matter, dirigible and airship are interchangeable. The use of dirigible is also somewhat archaic, much like horseless carriage is to car. The true distinction of an airship is not in the term “airship” vs “dirigible”, but rather in an LTA vessel’s classification: Non-rigid, Semi-rigid, or Rigid. That… Read more »
What was the difference between blimps and zeppelins and why couldn’t the British make zeppelins to sink German submarines instead of blimps?
If you actually read the article you would see that has Zeppelin is made by a specific company the Zeppelin company. Also blimps are big balloons with fins basically and all Zeppelins are rigid or semi rigid inform. Furthermore the British could not build Zeppelin’s to bomb German submarines because… Read more »
THE British needed something quick and dirty, time was of the ESSENSE. THE game was to get war materials from America to England, avoiding or keeping to a minimum the torpedoing of the ship convoys, trying to keep England supplied. Building a Zeppelin, or more took too much time.
Excellent article, Dan. Last year I received my grandfather’s military service jacket and found that he was present in Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the ZR-1 first lifted off on Aug 16, 1923 (christened the USS Shenandoah that fall by the wife of President Coolidge). Your facts and drawings of the… Read more »
I would really like it if someone could verify this. When I was a young child living on Long Island NY. In Syosset NY. I went outside probably because there was some commotion outside…people were out on their lawns looking at the sky…there were intense and very low clouds very… Read more »
This might not have been a blimp. It was rigid. It was all silver grey and you could see a rigid structure over the entire surface in what looked like panels very big long panels. It was huge you could only make out the first part of this thing through… Read more »
When I was a kid in Georgia, Blimps would come over most every year, in groups, I think they were Navy. They still come over to advertise casinos or headed to a sporting event. None fly very high.
The US NAVY flew blimps from Brunswick, GA (NAS Glynco)..The Squadron was ZP 2. There were six K series blimps assigned to ZP 2 which was decommissioned in the mid 50s. Glynco also hosted a Lignter Than Air (LTA) training squadron.