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Zeppelin is both the name of the airships (or blimps or dirigibles), and the company that manufactures them. The name comes from German count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin (1838 - 1918) who founded the company in late 19th century.. The formal name of the company is today Zeppelin GmbH, and they are a major name in the business of silo and construction plants industry. They have also recently started building airships again, more on that below. 

Most airships that exists today are of the soft type, where the gas itself expands the balloon. Over one thousand airships have been built, and a majority of those have been of this soft type. The Zeppelin airships were of the firm, rigid, type that has a metallic skeleton covered with some fabric. In a rigid airship, the shape of the ship is determined by the metallic frame, and inside there are several - usually 10 to 20 - balloons filled with gas that provides the lifting force. In total, about 160 rigid type airships have been built in the world. The Zeppelin company built 120 of those, and the rest have been built by Goodyear and Vickers.

The first Zeppelin airship, LZ 1, made its debut flight on July 2nd 1900. It had a floating hangar, which could be turned in the most favorable direction of the wind. During World War I many Zeppelin airships were built and used for reconnaissance and other military tasks. The first really large airship, built for the US Navy, was the LZ 126, Los Angeles. Built in Germany in 1922, it was flown to the US where it remained in military traffic until de-commissioned in 1932. The Los Angeles was the first airship to cross the Atlantic in winter, doing so in two days. It made 331 flights and also landed on a aircraft carrier once. 

 In 1928, the LZ 127, Graf Zeppelin, started regular international passenger flight. It traveled at speeds of 100 km/h (55 mph) and brought passengers between Germany and South America. In 1929 the Graf Zeppelin made a journey around the world, stopping in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo before returning to Germany twelve days later. At the time, it was the most famous aircraft together with Spirit of St. Louis, and drew huge crowds wherever it went.

The perhaps most famous individual aircraft of all, and definitely the most famous of all airships, was the LZ 129, Hindenburg. It carried passengers between Germany and South America in regular traffic in 1936 and 1937. Read more on its fate in that node.  The last rigid airship of the was LZ 130, Graf Zeppelin II, which was built 1938. Because of high investments in infra-structure, hangars etc, it became too expensive to use airships for commercial travel, since the ships were slow and only carried up to a hundred passengers.

Apart from military uses and commercial passenger traffic, the Zeppelin airships were used for shipping mail. In Germany, special stamps were issued, and this type of air mailing was in use until 1939.

In 1997, the Zeppelin company unveiled a new semi-rigid type of airship called Zeppelin NT. It takes about 12 passengers and is thought to be used for tourism, sightseeing and advertising.

Zep`pe*lin" (Ger. tsep`pe*len; Angl. zep"pe*lin), n.

A dirigible balloon of the rigid type, consisting of a cylindrical trussed and covered frame supported by internal gas cells, and provided with means of propulsion and control. It was first successfully used by Ferdinand Count von Zeppelin.

 

© Webster 1913.

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