July 2nd, 1900 – The First Flight of the Zeppelin!


Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin‘s serious interest in airship development began in 1874, when he took inspiration from a lecture given by Heinrich von Stephan on the subject of “World Postal Services and Air Travel” to outline the basic principle of his later craft in a diary entry dated March 25th, 1874. This describes a large rigidly-framed outer envelope containing several separate gasbags. He had previously encountered Union Army balloons in 1863 when he visited the United States as a military observer during the American Civil War.

Count Zeppelin began to seriously pursue his project after his early retirement from the military in 1890 at the age of 52. Convinced of the potential importance of aviation, he started working on various designs in 1891, and had completed detailed designs by 1893. An official committee reviewed his plans in 1894, and he received a patent, granted on August 31st, 1895, with Theodor Kober producing the technical drawings.

First_Zeppelin_ascent 680

Zeppelin’s patent described a Lenkbarer Luftfahrzug mit mehreren hintereinanderen angeordneten Tragkörpern [Steerable airship-train with several carrier structures arranged one behind another], – an airship consisting of flexibly articulated rigid sections. The front section, containing the crew and engines, was 117.35 m (385 ft) long with a gas capacity of 9514 cu m (336,000 cu ft): the middle section was 16 m (52 ft 6 in) long with an intended useful load of 599 kg (1320 lb) and the rear section 39.93 m (131 ft) long with an intended load of 1996 kg (4,400 lb).


Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin

Count Zeppelin’s attempts to secure government funding for his project proved unsuccessful, but a lecture given to the Union of German Engineers gained their support. Zeppelin also sought support from the industrialist Carl Berg, then engaged in construction work on the second airship design of David Schwarz. Berg was under contract not to supply aluminium to any other airship manufacturer, and subsequently made a payment to Schwartz’s widow as compensation for breaking this agreement. Schwarz’s design differed fundamentally from Zeppelin’s, crucially lacking the use of separate gasbags inside a rigid envelope.

In 1898 Count Zeppelin founded the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (Society for the Promotion of Airship Flight), contributing more than half of its 800,000 mark share-capital himself. Responsibility for the detail design was given to Kober, whose place was later taken by Ludwig Dürr, and construction of the first airship began in 1899 in a floating assembly-hall in the Bay of Manzell near Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance (the Bodensee). The intention behind the floating hall was to facilitate the difficult task of bringing the airship out of the hall, as it could easily be aligned with the wind. The LZ 1 (LZ for Luftschiff Zeppelin, or “Zeppelin Airship”) was 128 metres (420 ft) long with a hydrogen capacity of 11,000 m3 (400,000 cu ft), was driven by two 15 horsepower (11 kW) Daimler engines each driving a pair of propellers mounted either side of the envelope via bevel gears and a driveshaft, and was controlled in pitch by moving a weight between its two nacelles.

Zeppelin L-Luftschiff1

The first flight took place on July 2nd, 1900 over Lake Constance. Damaged during landing, it was repaired and modified and proved its potential in two subsequent flights made on October 17th and 24th 1900, bettering the 6 m/s (21.6 km/h, 13.4 mph) velocity attained by the French airship La France. Despite this performance, the shareholders declined to invest more money, and so the company was liquidated, with Count von Zeppelin purchasing the ship and equipment. The Count wished to continue experimenting, but he eventually dismantled the ship in 1901.


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