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Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin and his airships

from Veronika Leikam · August 22, 2019 · Report · Bodensee
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  • Postcard of a LZ-130
    Postcard of a LZ-130
    Photo: CC0, Wikimedia Commons

He dreamed of flying and conquering the sky. In the 19th century most people regarded flying as a delusional fantasy. But for Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin from Baden-Wuerttemberg it became reality. Today the “Fool from Lake Constance” is celebrated as the founder of airship aviation. Even 100 years after the invention of the Zeppelin, people are still in awe of the giant airships.

The “Fool from Lake Constance” becomes a visionary

Count Zeppelin in the command gondola of his airship
Count Zeppelin in the command gondola of his airship

While Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin only began building the “flying cigars” after his military career ended, the dream had accompanied him his entire life. In 1881 he officially retired from his military career and finally began to pursue his vision: the construction of an airship.

He received a patent for a “steerable airship-train” and soon founded the Society for the Promotion of Airship Flight. At first, he was ridiculed by the general public for his plans, often mocked as the “Fool from Lake Constance”. But after more and Germans began to share his passionate vision, he received more and more donations. The once frowned-upon inventor developed into an impressive pioneer of aviation technology.


Dramatic highs and lows: the beginnings of airship travel

And so it was not long before the first rigid airship was constructed near Friedrichshafen. The maiden voyage of the LZ-1 in the summer of 1900, however, was only of very short duration. After just 20 minutes, the 128 m long zeppelin was forced to make an emergency landing.

Although the successors of the first Zeppelin covered ever longer distances, reaching the North and South Poles, for example, or flying across the Atlantic, bad weather zones and technical deficits repeatedly led to dramas and accidents. The "Hindenburg" fire in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1936, where 36 people died in an accident, is probably the biggest catastrophe in the history of the aviation giants.

Airships as military weapons during WWI

Over time, the Count’s airships became increasingly more popular. Thus, the German military force decided to use zeppelins when the Great War broke out. A total of 102 airships were used. After all, the giant ships looked terrifying and enemies could not help to regard them as weapons that were not to be underestimated.

Continuing fascinations after more than 100 years of history

Today Zeppelins are no longer used for warfare purposes. In Friedrichshafen at Lake Constance, they only take off within the scope of passenger transports and research projects. Over time zeppelins have become the town’s symbol of status and prestige object, especially for Friedrichshafen. Because even 100 years after the invention of the “flying cigars”, people are still fascinated by the airships.

Permanent exhibition on the history and technology of airship navigation
from Joern Perschbacher,   Outdooractive Editors

If you want to float through the skies, look an airship pilot over the shoulder and to get know the Lake Constance and Alpine region from an aerial perspective, you should not miss the opportunity of a Zeppelin round flight at the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei (German Zeppelin Transport Company) in Friedrichshafen.

The Zeppelin Museum provides plenty of information on the history and technique of airships on a 4000 m2: from the different designs to usage as well as the aerodynamics and navigation of zeppelins.  

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Veronika Leikam
Updated: August 22, 2019

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Permanent exhibition on the history and technology of airship navigation
from Joern Perschbacher,   Outdooractive Editors
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