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Zeppelin over London


Zeppelin became the accepted term for the rigid structured, lighter than air air vessels developed during the early years of the 20th century. The name is derived from the great pioneer of dirigible aviation Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin.

The basic design of these majestic ships of the sky comprised a rigid skeleton of metal alloy which was covered by a tensioned fabric skin. Within this structure were numerous individual gas bags (cells) filled with Hydrogen gas. The hydrogen being lighter than air provided the lift. An airship of this type was powered through the sky by a number of engines set in gondalas that hung below the lifting body. The airship was also controlled from a separate gondala below the lifting body. There was plenty more space within the lifting body for passengers, cargo or a bomb load.

Ferdinand Von Zeppelin began to pioneer these great vessels in the 1890's and the first Zeppelin flew in 1900. By 1909 21 Zeppelins had been built and were already employed as passenger aircraft. In addition both the Geerman navy and army had appreciated the strategic and tactical potential of the airship as military scouts and even bombers.

By 1914 a typical German airship was over 130 m long and could carry 9 tons of stores at 80 Kph. Their range was also counted in many hundreds of kilometers. This carrying capacity, speed and range was well beyond the capabilities of the primitive aircraft of the time. A number of accidents had, however, demonstrated the airships greatest weakness. This weakness was the highly flammable hydrogen gas which had to be used to provide lift.

During 1915 and 1916 the German Navy and German Army both utilised these ships of the air as scouts and for conducting bombing raids. The first strategic bombing raids of Britain were also conducted by these aerial behemoths. These raids were actually undertaken by airships designed by two competing companies, the Zeppelin Company and Schutte-Lanz. Although Zeppelin has become synonymous with airship construction it was Schutte-Lanz which actually introduced a number of important features including defensive guns, and the more streamlined body shape and cruciform control surfaces which would become standard on all later airships.

The German favoured use of the alloy framed Zeppelin built airships whilst the German army generally operated the wooden framed Schutte-Lanz vessels. To begin with allied fighters were hopelessly incapable of effectively countering the fast and high flying Zeppelin and Schutte-Lanz airships. By late 1916, however innovations in aircraft design and new explosive and incendiary ammunition brought about the end of the airship's threat as a strategic bomber. In the night skies of Autumn 1916, flyers from Hornchurch spectacularly brought about the fiery ruin of three of Germany's greatest airships. Two of these were the most advanced design then available. All were destroyed because the hydrogen keeping them aloft was set on fire. Although a few more Zeppelin raids were launched during 1917 and even in early 1918 their threat had been effectively countered.

After World War I, airships continued to be designed and built by many nations as naval scouts and passenger aircraft. Ferdinand Von Zeppelin and his close associate Hugo Eckner continued to be at the forefront of championing the airship as the worlds first intercontinental air liner and freight/postal plane. It seemed that the luxurious long distance travel that was possible with an airship had secured a place for these leviathans of the sky. Zeppelins constantly shattered endurance records, made intercontinental and trans- continental journeys and even flew over the North Pol and throughout the later 1920's and early 1930's airships became the luxury queens of the sky. A number of disasters, including the crash of the British R101 demonstrated the danger of continuing to use hydrogen in airship design. The Zeppelin company had begun to contemplate using inert helium as the lifting gas but helium was in the 1930's a new and very expensive gas that was also denied to Germany for strategic reasons. However, on May 6th 1937 the airship dream foundered in fiery ruin as in the full glare of world publicity the flagship and pride of the Zeppelin fleet, the Hindenburg, exploded in flames as it came in to land at the Lakehurst Air Station near New York.

Below are the typical statistics for one of the Super Zeppelins L32 or L33 as shot down by Frederick Sowrey and Wulstan Tempest.

Type: Airship bomber and aerial scout
Crew; up to 30
Dimensions: c 200 m long and c 15m diameter
Powerplants; 6 x 240 hp HSLu engines
Maximum Speed: c 70 mph
Maximum Altitude: c 17,000 feet
Armament: c 15 defensive machine guns and c 7 tons of bombs





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