History of Airships and Balloons

The Inventors of the first hot air balloons: Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier.

The first free flight carrying a man took place in Paris, France, on November 21, 1783, in a hot air balloon made of paper and silk by the Montgolfier brothers. Two guys, Francois Pilatrê de Rozier and Francois Laurent, the Marquis of Arlanders, carried the balloon. They were standing on a revolving platform fixed to the balloon’s rim. They hand-fed the fire on either side of the balloon’s skirt through holes. The balloon reached an altitude of at least 500 feet and flew about 51⁄2 miles before safely landing 25 minutes later.

The First Launch of the Gas balloon by Charles and Robert

The first gas balloon was launched by physicists Jacques Alexander Charles and Nicholas Louis Robert on December 1, 1783, just ten days after the first hot air balloon flight. This flight began in Paris, France, too. The flight traveled a distance of 25 miles and lasted 21⁄2 hours. Hydrogen, lighter than air gas, was the gas used in the balloon, which was invented by an Englishman, Henry Cavendish, in 1776, using a mixture of sulphuric acid and iron filings.

Mode of Transportation in 19th Century

The popular mode of air transport quickly became gas balloons. So, the Royal Vauxhall Balloons (typical of gas balloons) were flown in the 1830s and 1840s for transportation purposes. They had extra lifting capacity to carry passengers and equipment to conduct scientific experiments. Gas balloons were not reliant on fire to get them aloft and stay up, unlike hot air balloons, but they were able to stay up longer and with the use of ballast, their altitude could be managed much better. Before the Wright brothers invented the fixed-wing aeroplane in America in 1903, gas balloons proved to be the main means of air transport. It was pricey and time-consuming to inflate a gas balloon, though so flying was not just something everybody could afford. However, there was no reliable heat source for hot air balloons, so hot air ballooning was not very practical.

The Launch of Airship

In 1852, Henri Giffard of France designed the first successful airship. A 160-kilogram (350-pound) steam engine capable of producing three horsepower was designed by Giffard, enough to spin a large propeller at 110 revolutions per minute. He packed a bag 44 meters (144 feet) long with hydrogen to bear the engine weight and, climbing from the Hippodrome of Paris, traveled at a speed of 10 km (6 miles per hour to cover a distance of around 30 km (20 miles).
Ferdinand, Count von Zeppelin, of Germany, was the most prolific operator of rigid airships, having completed his first airship, the LZ-1, in 1900. This technically advanced boat, with a length of 128 meters (420 feet) and a width of 11.6 meters (38 feet), had an aluminum structure of 24 longitudinal girders set within 16 transverse rings and was propelled by two 16-horsepower engines at speeds of approximately 32 km (20 miles per hour. During World War I, when many of his airships (called zeppelins) were used to bomb Paris and London, Zeppelin started refining his designs. The allies also used airships during the war, mainly for antisubmarine patrol.

What are an Airship and Its Types

Airship, a self-propelled lighter-than-air craft, also known as a dirigible or dirigible balloon. Three main types of airships have been created: nonrigid, semirigid, and rigid, or dirigibles. There are four main components of all three types: a cigar-shaped bag, or balloon, filled with a lighter-than-air gas; a car or gondola slung under the balloon and carrying the crew and passengers; propeller-driving engines; and horizontal and vertical rudders to steer the craft. Nonrigid is essentially ballooned with cables connected to vehicles; the balloon explodes if the gas escapes. Semirigid also rely on internal gas to preserve the shape of the balloon, but they also have a metal structural keel that stretches longitudinally around the base of the balloon and supports the vehicle. Rigids consist of a light structure covered with fabric but not airtight by aluminum-alloy girders.
There are a variety of gas-filled balloons within this structure, each of which can be filled or vacuumed separately; rigid retain their shape whether they are filled with gas.

Exploration with Airships

Airship development in Europe and the United States continued in the 1920s and 30s. In July 1919, a British airship, the R-34, made a round-trip transatlantic journey. Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth, and General Umberto Nobile successfully operated an Italian semi-rigid airship to discover the North Pole in 1926. The Graf Zeppelin was completed in 1928 in Germany by the heir to Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener. It made 590 trips, including 144 ocean journeys, before being decommissioned 9 years later. Germany launched a daily transatlantic passenger service with the Hindenburg aircraft in 1936.

Largest Airship ever built

The largest aircraft ever built, the Hindenburg, was used in 1936 to transport passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. It was 270 meters long and could accommodate one hundred passengers. The Hindenburg caught fire in 1937 when the flammable hydrogen gases used to lift the airship ignited in the United States as it was docking. In the crash, 37 people died.

Why airships were Abandoned

Despite these accomplishments, because of their expense, their slow speed, and their inherent susceptibility to stormy weather, airships were practically abandoned in the late 1930s.

The Disaster of Hinderburg Blast

The German zeppelin Hindenburg exploded on May 6, 1937, flooding the skies over Lakehurst, New Jersey, with fire and smoke. The huge tail of the airship dropped to the ground while its nose, hundreds of feet long, soared like a splitting whale into the air. In less than a minute, it turned to ashes. Although some burnt, several passengers and crew members jumped hundreds of feet to safety. 62 out of 97 passengers on board survived.

The Hindenburg was expected to usher in a new period of airship travel at that time. Yet instead of putting the era to an abrupt end, the accident gave way to the age of commercial airlines. The accident was the first major industrial incident captured on video, and the scene became rooted in the consciousness of the public.
Furthermore, a string of tragedies, perhaps the best known being the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg blast in 1937, along with developments in heavier-than-air craft in the 1930s and 40s, made most applications economically obsolete.