© Wonders of World Aviation 2015-23  |  contents  |  site map  | contact us  |  cookie policy

Wonders of World Aviation

Mobile Site

A retired German Major-General who became world famous as an airship designer



ZEPPELIN’S FOURTH AIRSHIP, the LZ4, leaving Manzell, Lake of Constance. On her first trip, in 1933, the Zeppelin flew over the Alps trom the Lake of Constance to Lucerne and back. This flight aroused enthusiasm in Germany and an official duration flight was arranged. Engine trouble, however, compelled a forced landing in stormy weather. The airship could not be controlled by the ground crew and was wrecked.

FERDINAND, Count von Zeppelin, was born at Constance, Germany, on July 8, 1838. Having graduated from a military school, he entered the German army, in which service he attained the rank of major-general of cavalry. It was only after he had retired from the army that he began the work that was to make his name internationally famous.

Thirty years before that, Zeppelin, then in his early twenties, went to America and served during the Civil War of 1861-65 with the Union Army as a military observer. This was to have a great effect on his life, for at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and later in Virginia, he saw free and captive balloons in use and made several ascents. He never forgot this experience and later, during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, when he saw free balloons leaving Paris during the siege, he began seriously to study the possibilities of building mechanized balloons or airships.

He tried to obtain the interest of his Government as early as 1887, but it was not until 1894, when he was 56, that he completed the design of the first rigid airship, a type that today bears his name. Engineers and public remained unconvinced and the failure of the contemporary Schwartz airship (see the chapter “Types of Airship”) a few years later made his task all the harder.

In spite of many difficulties, however, Zeppelin at last succeeded in enlisting the necessary capital with which to finance his venture; and on July 2,1900, the first Zeppelin airship took the air.

Though the count felt that the demonstration had been a success, he realized that a larger and stronger ship with more powerful motors was needed. It took him another five years to raise the money. The new Zeppelin, after having attained a height of 1,640 feet, made a forced landing due to engine failure and was wrecked.

Ferdinand Count von Zeppelin

THE “AIR COUNT”, as Zeppelin was called by one of his critics, who referred disparagingly to his “air castles”, was born at Constance, Germany, on July 8, 1838. He served in the German Army, from which he retired with the rank of major-general. Not till he was 56 did he complete the design of his first rigid airship which took the air on July 2, 1900. After numerous setbacks, Zeppelin lived to see his principles vindicated, but not to see the fulfilment of his dream of a world flight by a commercial airship. The critic who had called him the “air count” was Dr. Eckener, later his disciple and successor. Zeppelin died on March 8, 1917.

This convinced everyone except Zeppelin that airships were impracticable. Among those who now considered that the count had merely proved the futility of his dream of air conquest was one who wrote under the pseudonym of “Dr. E”. This writer had then but lately taken up his abode on the shores of the Lake of Constance. His articles in a German newspaper, though they breathed a spirit of tolerance, made it clear that, in his view, the air would never be conquered by a rigid balloon, or what this “Dr. E” playfully called “the air castles of the air count”. Undismayed, the inventor, then 68, threw himself and the last of his resources into the task of building a third ship, which he completed late in 1906. This ship was an immediate success. The German Government became interested and announced its willingness to buy a ship if the ship could remain aloft for twenty-four hours. So Zeppelin built his fourth airship. On her first trip in 1908 he took her over the Alps to Lucerne and back.

This flight aroused enthusiasm in Germany and the official duration flight was arranged. The rejoicing was premature. Engine trouble again compelled a forced landing and, with a storm blowing up, the ship got out of control of the ground crew and was wrecked. An old man of seventy stood looking at a twisted mass of aluminium which represented the loss of his high hopes.

Critics once more were busy asserting that airships were nothing but a folly. One of these commentators was “Dr.E” who, among other things, wrote: “How great is the human heart daring to oppose all the forces of this world, and how weak in comparison is the work of the human hand which may be torn into pieces by a breath of air!”

This disaster would have broken the spirit of most men, but Zeppelin, with all the enthusiasm of a boy, began evolving new plans. He called at the home of his critic “Dr. E” and so for the first time Count Zeppelin and Dr. Hugo Eckener met. Zeppelin had a gift of attracting clever young men to his standard. He discovered in Karl Maybach a motor genius, in Claude Dornier a student in metals

and surface controls, in Duerr a constructor. In converting to his cause Hugo Eckener, journalist, economist and airship critic, he interested a man destined to become the greatest of Zeppelin captains and the successor to the old count.

It was Eckener’s pen that now brought an overwhelming support by the people of Germany to the cause of airships and a total of 6,000,000 marks (then worth about £300,000) was subscribed.

This money was placed in trust and the “Zeppelin Endowment for the Propagation of Air Navigation”, which today controls the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, was founded. The German Airship Transport Company, popularly known as “Delag” came into existence, with Dr. Eckener in charge.

Passenger airships were built and airship ports set up at various points throughout Germany. By July 1914, 37,250 passengers had been carried, 1,600 flights made, 3,200 hours spent in the air and 90,000 miles flown — without a single accident.

Then came the war of 1914-18. Zeppelin died on March 8, 1917, his dreams of a world flight by a commercial airship still to be realized. The Graf Zeppelin, named after the great pioneer and commanded by Dr. Eckener, flew round the world in 1929 (see the chapter “Famous German Airship Flights”). In 1938 a new Graf Zeppelin was launched.

The Zeppelin LZ1 was 418 feet long and had a diameter of 38 ft. 3 in.

START OF THE FIRST ZEPPELIN AIRSHIP on July 2, 1900. The LZ1 was 418 feet long and had a diameter of 38 ft. 3 in. Her volume was 339,000 cubic feet. She had an aluminium framework of sixteen loops which were connected and kept rigid by wire stays running longitudinally and diagonally. There were seventeen gas compartments. A triangular latticework keel of aluminium ran the whole length of the airship; apart from acting as a passageway this keel strengthened the whole airship structure. On her first trip, the LZ1 travelled three and a half miles. On October 21, 1900, she made a flight of one hour’s duration and attained a speed of 20 miles an hour.

You can read more on “Famous German Airship Flights”, “Types of Airship” and “The Second Graf Zeppelin” on this website.

Ferdinand, Count von Zeppelin