During WWI, Germany used Zeppelins to bomb England

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Ferdinand von Zeppelin was a German general and engineer.  He first became interested in balloons during the American Civil War, which he took part in as a Union volunteer.  During this time von Zeppelin saw Union surveillance balloons, the first wartime application of such a craft.  Soon after, he became determined to develop a bigger, stronger balloon-craft that could be steered.

The pink ovals are the hydrogen cells

 Characteristics of the Zeppelin

Zeppelins had a rigid superstructure, allowing them to carry heavy loads -- passengers, bombs, whatever.  The inner "cells," or gasbags, were usually filled with helium.  Fun fact: the gasbags were made from the intestines of cows.  I don't know anything about the process but I'm guessing it was labor-intensive.  Zepplins were steered partly by their fins and partly by manipulating the combustion engines to provide either forward or backward thrust.

German Zeppelins took their toll on England during WW I

Zeppelins at War

Ferdinand von Zeppelin's dream of using dirigibles as warcraft began successfully.  The design he outlined in 1874 and patented in 1899 took to the skies to terrorize England in 1915, killing almost 200 people and wounding close to 500 more.  For a time, the bombing raids were highly effective.  Then William Leefe Robinson shot down a "super-zeppelin," emptying rounds into it until it caught fire.  British propagandists quickly made up a poster to celebrate.

A somewhat prophetic image...

Zeppelins Enjoy New Life ... Until ...

In 1928, the Golden Age of Zeppelins began.  Zeppelins were popular with the public and sometimes greeted with confetti parades.  These "giants of the air" circumnavigated the globe, raced, and took part in scientific expeditions as well as delivering passengers and mail.  But by 1933, the rise of the Third Reich in Germany had strained relations with the U.S. to the point where sufficient helium to lift the huge airship the Hindenburg could not be obtained.  So the decision was made to use volatile, highly-flammable hydrogen instead.  The rest, of course, is history.  Play the video below to hear the famous "oh, the humanity" live commentary.

Views: 175

Comment by Lia Keyes on May 13, 2011 at 3:18pm
Oh wow. That video really shocked me.
Comment by Stephanie Abbott on May 13, 2011 at 3:25pm
Easy to see how dirigibles fell out of favor, probably unfairly.  Apparently there is some controversy as to whether or not hydrogen was really to blame, but I am not much of an amateur scientist so I don't know if there's truly an argument to be made, or if the proponents of hydrogen-powered buses and cars just don't want this footage conflated with their products.  (I glimpsed a bus marked "hydrogen-powered" in the background in the first Iron Man movie.  Interesting use of future product placement in a film.  Better than the inevitable Dr. Pepper bottle.)


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