Invention of Rigid Airships - Who invented Zeppelin?

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin (Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin) was born on July 8 1838 in Konstanz, Grand Duchy of Baden, Germany, and is the most famous as an inventor of Zeppelins, rigid airships lighter than air. But invention of the Zeppelins didn’t go as smooth as we might think.

Inspired by Union Army balloons during the American Civil War and lecture given by Heinrich von Stephan on the subject of "World Postal Services and Air Travel" he wanted to use a rigid airship as a method for travel and transport. He started working on various designs in 1891 and had working designs by 1893. In 1898, he founded the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (Society for the Promotion of Airship Flight) and with support of Union of German Engineers and the industrialist Carl Berg he began construction of the first Zeppelin in 1899. Construction was done in a movable, floating shed in the Bay of Manzell on Lake Constance, Friedrichshafen. This was done so the shed could be aligned with the wind so the Zeppelin could enter and leave its hangar easier. The first Zeppelin was called LZ-1 (“Luftschiff Zeppelin”, or "Airship Zeppelin") and was 128 meters long, 12 meters wide, had 11.300 cubic meters of hydrogen in 17 gas cells made of rubberized cotton fabric and was driven by two 14.2 horsepower Daimler engines. Its first flight was on the 2 July 1900, very short (some 20 minutes) and riddled with problems but that is expected from the prototype. It nevertheless broke the 6 m/s velocity record of the French airship “La France”. That didn’t convince shareholders and for the second Zeppelin we had to wait 6 years.

Picture of Zeppelin LZ 4  after Echterdingen Disaster

LZ-2 had its first (and only) flight January 17, 1906. It was made with money from a lottery approved as a favor by the King of Württemberg, partly by the mortgage of Count von Zeppelin's wife's estate and from public funds. Engineer Ludwig Dürr also helped in its design and will stay as chief engineer, designing every ship built by the Zeppelin Company after this one. It was an improvement over LZ-1, but it still didn’t have vertical and horizontal stabilizers and control surfaces. Rigidity and strength were improved by replacing of the weak tubular girders of LZ-1 with triangular girders. Engines used were also five times stronger but they both had failure which forced an emergency landing and LZ-2 was destroyed by the storm that evening.

Parts of the LZ-2 were used on LZ-3 which became the first truly successful Zeppelin. It had large horizontal fins and elevators finally provided greater pitch control and stability, and the ship could lift on its own power by sheer aerodynamics. It was also capable of longer flights. In 1907, LZ-3 made a flight of 8 hours. This drew attention of the German military, but they asked for a 24 hour endurance trial in order to purchase the airship. LZ-3 could not do that so LZ-4 was in order.

LZ-4 was in improved variant of LZ-3 with increased diameter and length. It first flown on 20 June 1908 it made a series of successful flights and a 12-hour flight over Switzerland but when it had to do 24 hour endurance trial, it caught fire on 5 August 1908, after landing to carry out engine repairs. But that didn’t end life of the Zeppelins. All the hardships kindled German patriotism and the next Zeppelin was made from the donations of the people.

Picture of Zeppelin LZ 4  after Echterdingen Disaster