The Airship and Futurism: Utopian Visions of the Airship

Solar-powered aerial landing field. Modern Mechanix magazine. October, 1934.

Modern Mechanix magazine. October, 1934.

Airships have often served as the symbol of a brighter tomorrow.

Even before the first zeppelin was invented, airships featured prominently in utopian visions of the future. This 1898 poster advertised a musical comedy on the New York stage:

Musical theater poster. 1898.

Musical theater poster. 1898.

And these German and French postcards predicted air travel in the year 2000:

Hildebrand and Son airship postcard

German postcard, circa 1900

French postcard. 1910.

French postcard. 1910.

Mixing the Airship and the Airplane: The View from the 1930’s

Futurists of the early 20th Century often combined lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air technology, as in this urban skyscraper airport and solar-powered aerial landing field:

Popular Science magazine. November, 1939

Popular Science magazine. November, 1939

Modern Mechanix magazine. October, 1934.

Modern Mechanix magazine. October, 1934.

World War II Vision for Hybrid Airship

This hybrid airship concept from 1943, designed to meet the needs of war, predicted the hybrid airships that would be built in the 21st century.

Hybrid airship proposal from 1943

Popular Science magazine, February 1943


Goodyear and the Future of Zeppelin Travel

Sometimes futurist airship visions were promoted by companies which were actually involved in the lighter-than-air business.

For example, the Goodyear-Zeppelin company, which built the American airships Akron and Macon, and which had a financial interest in the promotion of the passenger dirigible, frequently offered alluring illustrations of future airship travel.

Goodyear president Paul Litchfield and publicist Hugh Allen included the following pictures in their 1945 book, WHY? Why has America no Rigid Airships?:

Sleeping cabin on Goodyear's proposed luxury airship. ( collection)


These drawings from Hugh Allen’s The Story of the Airship (1931) imagined an Art Deco dining salon, promenade, and even a lounge with a fireplace.




Airships and Medicine

Airships could even advance medical technology, such as this airship tuberculosis hospital.

A Flying Tuberculosis Hospital - Airship TB Sanatorium

The Airship and the Soviet Future

Under the illusion that communism was the way of the future, Soviet propagandists loved images of modernity and enlisted the airship in their cause.

Soviet poster, 1931. ("We Are Building a Fleet of Airships in the Name of Lenin." Azeri text)

Soviet poster, 1931. (“We Are Building a Fleet of Airships in the Name of Lenin.” Azeri text)

Unflyable Airship Fantasies

Sometimes illustrators got so carried away depicting lavish interiors that they neglected to leave room for much lifting gas, as in this illustration from The American Magazine.

The article described future airships to be built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company, which would be “fitted up as sumptuously as a Palm Beach winter hotel”:

American Magazine.

The American Magazine. May, 1930.

This illustration of an atomic dirigible from a Soviet magazine in the 1960’s left no room for lifting gas at all:

Soviet Atomic Dirigible

Soviet Atomic Dirigible

The Iron Airship

Modern Mechanics. July, 1931.

Modern Mechanics. July, 1931.

52 Comments on "The Airship and Futurism: Utopian Visions of the Airship"

  1. This is wonderful stuff! I’ve always liked airships. I even flew on one of the Good Year blimps as a kid! (No joke! I really did!) Some of these designs are impossibly fanciful, but still fun to think about.

    The giant airship has a lot of baggage in the collective mind, though. The laws of physics are not in their favor. The lifting ratio of helium, or even hydrogen, is an insurmountable obstacle. I mean, if you want to transport 200+ passengers, or several hundred tons of cargo, your lifting mass (gas bag) needs to be impossibly large. Such a bag will require an equally large frame to contain it, but that frame will also need to be lifted. Sufficient gas will be needed to handle not just the payload, but the frame of the ship itself. After a while, diminishing returns will push you against a wall, and you will find that loads beyond a certain size are impossible. The designers of R-101 found that out in spades. Granted, technology has changed sufficiently that new materials are available. These light, strong building materials may make it possible for giant airships to be more practical. But the laws of physics can’t be held off forever.

    Smaller dirigibles, however, have better prospects. They have proven their worth in a variety of specialized applications, like communication, search and rescue, weather research, ecological research, tourism, and so on. And of course they provide awesome coverage of major sporting events! I’m not suggesting that giant airships have no future, only that their smaller brethren have a brighter one.

  2. I remember that the Zeppelin Museum edited a catalog a decade ago or so for an exhibit on airships that never flew. This is a nice complement to some of what they covered!

  3. Hi, I’m doing a paper for school on zeppelins and airships in pop culture. Could I possibly have the links to your sources for some of these?

    • I believe Dan (The writer/creator of this site) studied Airships himself, so this isn’t really a website for information organized from the internet, more like a Airship Encyclopedia.

      It does say on his twitter page that he is an airship historian.

      • The information on this site is based mostly on primary research so the website, itself, is the source. Most of the images are scanned from my personal collection of research material, supplemented with images I have obtained from various archives or museums around the world.

  4. Is the “inventor” of the corrugated iron airship the same Tsiolkovsky who was the Russian rocket pioneer? It wouldn’t be the first time someone was totally FOS in one area but was quite smart and productive in another!

  5. I have a large ( more than 4 foot) metal ” model of the Akron Airdock. It has a motor that opens the end doors and the front of an airship comes out and then goes back in and the doors close. I’m not sure if this was a display or a toy. Any info on this?

  6. I am looking for information about a Goodyear Zeppelin trophy that I found at an auction of an old gas station..History of transportation is shown from right to left, Mercury[?] standing to left, topped with dimensional Zeppelin…Was there an actual race, or is this some kind of tire dealer sales award?? It says” winner, second annual Goodyear Zeppelin race, July/August, 1930..It is a joy to own, no matter WHAT it is!!, but I know nothing about it…can’t believe I found this site that mentions it, and would appreciate any info…Thanks, M

  7. Anybody have anything on vacuum airships? They can’t be built today because any vacuum chamber strong enough to resist the outside air pressure is too heavy to fly. Only with some ultra-light, ultra-strong material could the vacuum airship be built. There are a few in science fiction, but real life isn’t there yet.

    But I suspect we’re getting close. Someday, we’ll have the materials for it, and that I think is when airships will truly make their triumphant return. Hydrogen is dangerous and helium is both expensive and limited in locations, but vacuum is anywhere you make it, cheap, and it sure won’t burn.

    Anybody have anything on this idea?

    • Using a vacuum is a nice idea but nothing more. Yes a vacuum is not infammable but it is still dangerous. The pressure difference between outside and inside the hull is what is dangerous. Any leakage will lead to implosion with extremely dangerous shrapnell effects (because the hull material pushed inside will collide with other regions of the hull). Have you ever seen a TV imploding? You don’t want to be near a vacuum ship imploding…

  8. Hi all i have Managed to make a Purchase of a genuine Original Copy of Paul W Litchfields and Hugh Allens WHY? why has America no Rigid Airships??. I know Dan that you don’t do Valuation’s etc etc but i just wanted to know if the book is hard to get?? i can’t wait to read it as it look’s rather interesting especially with those Fabulouse pictures of Interior design and other’s that im sure will be in the book!! :). I hope someone can help shed some light on the book i have purchased and i am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Regards: Jason Wallace

  9. why did production of zeppelins stop?

  10. D. Frank Robinson | September 20, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Reply

    In the 1950s, I think, there was a design for an airship powered by an nuclear reactor. Today, there are much smaller lighter reactors under development by the Japanese and maybe others. A nuclear powered electric motor airship remotely piloted could remain above 70,000 feet for perhaps years as a communication platform. Stream me up, Scotty!

    • Modern reactors may be smaller and lighter than in the past, but shielding requirements rely solely on mass, so remain unchanged. The idea of airborne reactors is interesting, but even a 1000 kilowatt reactor will emit lethal radiation to anybody on board. Shielding to protect people on board will be so heavy that the airship will not fly.

      An unmanned nuclear airship could tow a manned airship with a cable, say half a kilometre long, and range will be almost unlimited but speed slow.

      I cannot see regulatory authorities approving umanned nuclear airships, interesting though the idea is.

  11. Windbreaks for airships

    Airships are vulnerable when landing or taking off in wind. The airship wants to move at the speed of the wind, but the ground is stationary.

    Ships avoid rough sea in sheltered harbours, sometimes with a breakwater. A windbreak for airships will be very large, perhaps a kilometre across and 100 metres high, so that an airship sinks down out of the wind into a sheltered area, large enough to maneuver in.

    A smaller option is a circular wall 100 metres high, and say 100 metres in diameter, so that an airship approaches the wall from downwind, and is sheltered from wind when it is close to the wall. The circular wall deflects wind from any direction.

    In the early days of aircraft, people imagined flying boats using the harbours of cities on the coast. We could return to this idea for airships, with a circular wall on a huge raft, moored in a harbour.

    • The zeppelin NT solved that issue fairly well with her unique propulsion system of articulated props up front delivering roll and pitch control, and a vectorable propeller aft to give yaw control. The ship can actually back itself up and is quite capable with only a very small landing crew under normal weather parameters.

  12. John Flavell Carr | September 11, 2011 at 1:15 am | Reply

    Zeppelins have always captured my imagination. The Graf Zeppelin flew within sight of our family farm in southern Michigan on it around the world flight in the late 20’s. Nowadays, we see the Zeppelin NT on its sightseeing flights around San Francisco Bay. We say, “there goes the Hindenburg”. Our dream is to fly the Atlantic in the next generations of rigid airships. Given the great success of cruise ships, and the safer, more durable technology of the recent offerings of
    the Zeppelin Company in Germany, we are convinced that the development of the larger, more capable rigid airships is only a matter of time and that our dream of long distance travel by Zeppelin will become a reality.

  13. David Erskine | July 7, 2011 at 4:13 am | Reply

    The air at the equator, plus or minus 5 degrees is extraordinarily calm. There are occasional violent storms, but most of the time the air is calm and on beaches there is no surf. These are the doldrums. I suggest east west airshp routes in this (mostly) calm air near the equator, covering Indonesia, the Congo basin and the Amazon basin, and across the Pacific. These are not heavily travelled air routes at present, but the calm air is a strong advantage for airships approaching a mooring mast.

  14. This is a very good page Dan.
    I want to rebuild the hindenburg, with modern, double motors, 250-400 passenger compartment, 2 crew compartment (pilot,co-pilot) automatic horizont-holder system,autopilot, 8×1500 HP motors with 3-4 bladed metal props.This is my dream.
    I was planing this airship, from original plans, but modern avionics, and instruments,
    in a 3d modoeller, google sketch up 8.When I complete, can I send to you?

    Regards: Steve

    • Great site. Thaks Dan for provididing hardly available info for airship enthusiasts. And Steve business will surely be profitable

      Many people claim, that airship don,t have the future. I did some investigation. Germany has probably most advanced transport network in the world and connection between Berlin and München is one of best even in Germany. Going from Berlin to Münich is many possibilities.

      1. Your own car. This highway is exellent without speed limit, so you drive 200kmh and spend 3 hours and some 160 USD for gasoline. It,s also possible save some money, drive 90kmh, spend 6 -7 hours but spend only ca 75 USD for gasoline.

      2. High speed train. Also 3 hours, ticket from 194-296 USD

      3. Airplane. Lufthansa cityline, flight time 1h 15min, price 205- 582 USD. Also add time to and from airport.

      4. Common Bus. 8 hours but only 63 USD

      5. And the night train. It departs 9pm, arrives 7 am, driving time is 10 hours and ticket 182-251 USD.

      The last option shows, that many people preferring moving hotel and and are ready to pay slow but comfortable transport. So there is place on market for 100-150 kmh moving transport when you give your customers opportunity sleep in normal hotel like room and bed.

  15. Dan,……an incredible web-site (of yours) to be sure!
    Do you think however you could initate a section devoted to “GOODYEAR-ZEPPELIN CORP.” exclusivly?! I mean the subsidary of Goodyear that is! maybe
    talk about the “G.-Z.” years & display odd, unusial, & rare “artifacts” from that era? The “ultra-rare” “Goodyear-Zeppelin”/Dealers race trophy for ex. or the early 30’s “art-deco” figurine of a(chrome plated) zeppelin attached to a “high mast”
    with “arrow” type fins & the old Goodyear- Zeppelin “logo” engraved on the sides?!
    Interesting stuff for sure; looking forward to seeing something on your site in future
    “airship doc.”
    (Neal Sausen) L.A. Calif.

    • That’s a great idea and I look forward to creating a section like that. Unfortunately I don’t have as much time as I would like due to a very demanding “day job,” and I have a long “to do” list for the site, but I will add a Goodyear-Zeppelin section to my list of projects.

      • airship doc (neal sausen) | January 30, 2011 at 5:38 pm | Reply

        Great!! I’ll be happy to contribute photos of “Goodyear-Zeppelin Race” trophy photos, art-deco zeppelin figurines, (12ft. “Akron ladder”)etc. If you like.

    • I found this website trying to locate information abouth the Second Annual Goodyear Zepplin race of 1930. I have a aprox. 16-18 high art deco styly plaque. Silver in color. Seems to be a spelter type of metal. It is shaped like a stone plaque that can sit on a table of be wall mounted. It is inscribed with the words ” Winner, Second Annual Goodyear Zeppelin Race July August 1930. The theme is the history of transportation. It starts from the left side showing this evolution from horses, wagons, trains, the automobile, steamships, and airplanes. On the left side this scene is being pulled upward by the mythological figure of a winged Mercury. It is a spectacular piece of art work to look at. I would like to know more about what I have. Hopefully some of your writers can enlighten me.

      • Hi Lee….Neal Sausen here.
        Yes….Ihave that excat same “trophy” It was awarded to the “GOODYEAR TIRE DEALERS” who sold the most (Goodyear) tires & rubber products that year (not actually a zeppelin race at all)!
        I don’t know how many years they (Goodyear) actually sponsored this “event” but it was at least for 2 years. Lee…. does your trophy feature a “detachable zeppelin” @ or near the top?!
        It (the zepp) attached to the main body of the trophy via 2 screws or bolts (there should be 2 screw holes @ top of trophy). The Zeppelin has the name “Goodyear-Zeppelin” im-printed @ front & is de-tachable.
        Neal Sausen (airship-doc)
        12-13-11 @ 7:35 p.m.

        • Hi Neal
          Thanks for your reply. You confirmed what I thought my “trophy” was. I figured it was awarded to a dealership. Mine does have two holes on the top of the frontside of the trophy. I figured that was for mounting but now I know that it is where the Zeppelin went. There is also a small chip up in that area. Either the Zeppelin was to big of a temptation for a kid to have a playtoy or it possibly fell over and broke. The way the graphics flowed from horses upwards through the evolution of transportaion I wondered why there was no zeppelin included since the trophy was about a zeppelin race. My trophy is missing the zeppelin. I don’t mind though for it is still a wonderful piece of 1930’s art and looks great in my display case in my garage that houses my antique cars collection. Thank’s so very much for solving my mystery.
          Lee Barber

          • (to Lee Barber) hello Lee,
            Neal Sausen here do you remember me? I’m the one who answered your question about your “1930 GOODYEAR-ZEPPELIN DEALERS RACE TROPHY” that you had recentlly aquired. you had stated that YOUR piece was nissing the “ZEPPELIN” portion @ the top (of the trophy). Well…… good news! some one has just listed on E-BAY that “top portion/zepppelin” missing piece today. (01-01-13) the e-bay # is as follows: 330852916170, seller is “gojunkster” “Zeppelin is not in best shape but has “mounting screws’ in-tact & IS COMPLETE!
            Now you can “complete your trophy if you want!
            reguards, Neal Sausen (“airship doc”).

  16. Hi folks,
    Gordon Taylor, CEO of Hybrid Air Vehicles, is hinting to the press that HAV might have an announcement to make during the Farborough airshow week, that they have some kind of new contract for a Cargo version of Skycat. Last time Gordon started dropping hints when talking to the press was a few weeks before the LEMV contract win. This story just might be starting to look rather important not just rather interesting.
    One good side effect is that it will get rid of the epedemic of silly airship sites trying to trick investors into some heavy lift, ultra high altitude, solar powered, mach 2, all terrain hybrid airship companies, that make the LTA sector look like a helium sniffing nutters marketplace.
    Regards JB (silly airship site

  17. Airships…intrigue…adventure! Just another day in the life of Crazy Taylor.
    When Charles Morgan inherits an Australian town from a distant uncle, he never dreams what it will eventually lead to. Along with his wife, best friend, and brother-in-law, they set out on the adventure of a lifetime that will shape their children’s future.
    Taylor Morgan is her father’s daughter. Adventurous and obsessed with flying from an early age, she never imagines she’ll find herself helping shape the course of WWII for the Allied forces.
    Can romance fly in the face of war, or will Nazi forces, a determined spy, and disgruntled government wonks ground “Crazy Taylor” and her Circus?
    Read an excerpt of my latest dieselpunk novel at:

  18. Hi folks,
    A lot of what former government advisor sir David King says about big hybrid airships for cargo, is true once a civil version of the HAV 304 hybrid airship is available from Hybrid Air Vehicles in Cardington, near Bedord England. Northrop Grumman and HAV have just won the 517 million dollat contract to build the LEMV for the US Army. This is the biggest initial manufacturing order for a prototype aircraft since the Harrier jump jet or Concord and it will change the face of aviation history, or as one reporter who looked at the design model flying said: this is not just going to be your grandmothers blimp.
    If you want to see more on modern airships, past, present and future see: or if you just want a helium sniffing laugh try the worlds only lighter than air comedy site, with lots of funny pictures and U tube links fit for all the family.
    Regards Bond, James Bond.
    (Skyship blimp pilot in a View to a Kill)

  19. Welcome to LJ blog AEROCRAT CONCEPT with woldwide aeronautic themes: there are stuffs about airships and aerostats incl. concepts and artworks…

  20. Very nice website. I’m doing some research on zeppelins and utopias right now, so this article is very helpful. I love the Skyscraper Airport; it makes me think of a toy I had as a child. It was a Kenner building construction set with a working battery-powered monorail. I wish I still had it.

    Can you tell me how you found these articles? I’d like to find more stuff like this.

  21. Quartermain Longfellow | April 22, 2010 at 8:10 pm | Reply

    Awesome website, I love it. I have always loved airships and this is a great site for the history of airships and zeppelins.

  22. Have you seen Ghibli’s anime film ‘Laputa Castle in the Sky’? Full of huge airships and great fun!

    • I have. Laputa was filled with wildly improbable flying machines, the most outlandish being the Goliath itself. (Go look for the Lego model somewhere on the interwebs.)
      Something other that hydrogen or helium keeps the fantasy world in the sky!

      • David Erskine | April 12, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Reply

        I have also seen Miyazaki’s film ‘Castle in the Sky’, based on Swift’s idea in his novel ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ of a flying island, Laputa, held aloft by magnetic forces. An entire nation lives on this flying island.

        Modern airships can be a little like Laputa. A rich playboy could stay aloft in his airship for weeks, perhaps even months, riding winds. Satellite pictures give information about the weather that was not possible during the heyday of airships, in the thirties. Large areas of solar panels can provide auxiliary power indefinitely. The engines and propellers would only be used intermittently, to avoid bad weather, or to approach a mooring mast to make a landing.

  23. Hi folks,
    I think the only chance of a new large airship being built is if a new Count von Zeppelin style private investor can be found that has the hundreds of millions in spare cash to fund a prototype. The military wont pay for such a machine and Cargolifter in Germany sank any chances of raising capital on the stock markets.
    Joe ( for serious enquiries and for silly enquiries )

    • Actually, the Count, while fairly wealthy, lost most of his personal funds in early dirigible ventures. He relied heavily on support from private backers and the government. He sent requests for support out to millions of Germans at a time, and the king of Wurttemburg set up a kingdom-wide lottery specifically to help fund the Count’s work. That was only early on, there was another Germany-wide lottery developed in his name, and as his ships got more reliable the military began providing grants. He received 6.25 million marks from contributions directly following the crash of the LZ4.

      I guess my point is, it took a whole nation to bring the Zppelins into existence back then. Odds are even lower that such a thing would happen now. Still, I wonder if new technology might make such an undertaking more economical….

  24. In defense of that Russian fantasy dirigible, the drawing is not to scale. The decks and components are exaggerated in the “main” drawing. The smaller cross section to the left is the accurate scale. You can see the lower decks at the bottom, the upper decks at the top of the airship, and the (substantial) space in the middle for the lifting gas ballonets.

    The design is still a bit on the optimistic side (it probably wouldn’t fly), but it still leaves more space for lifting gas than most fantasy airship designs.

  25. I love your airship article. It takes me back to the 40’s (yes, I am that old) when those magazines talked about things like these air ships and other aircraft which captured your imagination.

    Those airships would have been safer to navigate then, because there was less air traffic. A big fear is being run into by another aircraft, despite all of the moderrn navigation wonders available today (witness the air collision over the weekend in Colorado in clear skies.)

    But, the artcles on these aurchips are wonderful. I get a kick out of all of the little bi-plane commuter planes that are incorporated into these drawings. Great stuff.


  26. Dan, your site is fantastic!

    Have you considered doing something on the above mentioned scenario: That rigid airships, or hybrids like “Buoyancy Assisted Lift Air Vehicle (BAAV)”, might hit the skies again, as a competetive means of transportation? I really miss an investigative apporach (like yours) to this, as the only information I can find on the web are either promotions of yet-to-be constructions (though presented as an existing reality with animated videos), or journalistic renderings of the same material.

    The projects that seem fairly serious are Aeroscraft, SkyCat and SkyFreighter, as summed up in this link:
    In addition to these, there’s also the SkyHook, (presumably) being developed for heavy lifts. And the existing Zeppelin NT should have some potential beyond sightseeing.

    However, when you look beyond the fancy artist animations, what you detect is models made out of plastic bags swiveling through a hangar (apart from the Zeppelin NT, which is actually there).
    So – is this just another futrurism, or is it real this time? I really would love to see them come true, as this seems to be the most eco-friendly way of travelling or transportation. I’m dubious, though, as to whether these models really fly well.

    I would love to see you add an investigation of the future of airships to your site!



    • Thank you for your comment and suggestion. I only wish I had the time to do more on my site, including analysis of various airship plans, from the realistically possible to the overly ambitious to the apparently fraudulent (e.g. the attempt to sell e-books by “Turtle Airships”).

  27. Hey so just got that book in, lol. Can’t wait to read it. 🙂

  28. Hey so that book from Goodyear perked my interest, and so I decided to check through my university library, and low and behold, I can get the book through inter-library loan from another library in my state. Should come in within a few days. Lol.

  29. Of course, lol.
    I myself have been fascinated for years by rigid airships. I’m a history education student working on my bachelors, and currently writing a research paper over the 1938 decision by the US gov’t not to sell helium to Germany for use in the LZ-130, so I’ve got airships on the brain at the moment. I’m really enjoying your site. Very well done.

  30. Great stuff! Really liked the stuff from Goodyear-Zeppelin. Do you have more images from that book?

    • Thanks for taking the time to post your comment!

      Obviously, I have the whole book… but if I posted everything in my collection, the website would be way bigger than most people want to read. 🙂

      Thanks for saying hello!

  31. America, in the post-Greater Depression Era, will be looking for the cheapest air-freight methods possible, and these devices just might fill the bill in a few specific instances! Also: can we put them up at a fixed altitude, moored there by cable, and expliot wind and solar advantages found at altitude? We are only touching the edges of our technical abilities, and we have slumped into a “Cheap Oil Era” rut of corporatism and “American Dream” status Quo in the late 20th century. This will change as will our very existences, and Science and learning will march on, if not in America, certainly in Asia, and the dirigible will be back with a vengeance!

  32. I don’t know which is more prominent, airships in the real world, or airships that never will be. These pictures are amazing and it’s nice to delve into some of the fictional parts of airships.

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