Friday July 2, 2021’s Smile of the Day: The Zeppelin

On this Day:

In 1900, the first flight of LZ-1, a dirigible airship designed by Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, took place at Lake Constance near Friedrichshafen, Germany.

A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship named after the German inventor Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered rigid airship development at the beginning of the 20th century. Zeppelin’s notions were first formulated in 1874 and developed in detail in 1893. They were patented in Germany in 1895 and in the United States in 1899. After the outstanding success of the Zeppelin design, the word zeppelin came to be commonly used to refer to all rigid airships. Zeppelins were first flown commercially in 1910 by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG), the world’s first airline in revenue service. By mid-1914, DELAG had carried over 10,000 fare-paying passengers on over 1,500 flights. During World War I, the German military made extensive use of Zeppelins as bombers and as scouts, killing over 500 people in bombing raids in Britain.

The defeat of Germany in 1918 temporarily slowed the airship business. Although DELAG established a scheduled daily service between Berlin, Munich, and Friedrichshafen in 1919, the airships built for this service eventually had to be surrendered under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which also prohibited Germany from building large airships. An exception was made allowing the construction of one airship for the United States Navy, which saved the company from extinction. In 1926, the restrictions on airship construction were lifted, and with the aid of donations from the public, work began on the construction of LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. This revived the company’s fortunes, and during the 1930s, the airships Graf Zeppelin, and the larger LZ 129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights from Germany to North America and Brazil. The Art Deco spire of the Empire State Building was originally designed to serve as a mooring mast for Zeppelins and other airships, although it was found that high winds made this impossible and the plan was abandoned. The Hindenburg disaster in 1937, along with political and economic issues, hastened the demise of Zeppelins.

The principal feature of the Zeppelin’s design was a fabric-covered rigid metal framework made up of transverse rings and longitudinal girders containing a number of individual gasbags.[6] The advantage of this design was that the aircraft could be much larger than non-rigid airships, which relied on a slight overpressure within the single pressure envelope to maintain their shape. The framework of most Zeppelins was made of duralumin (a combination of aluminium and copper as well as two or three other metals—its exact content was kept a secret for years). Early Zeppelins used rubberized cotton for the gasbags, but most later craft used goldbeater’s skin, made from the intestines of cattle.

The first Zeppelins had long cylindrical hulls with tapered ends and complex multi-plane fins. During World War I, following the lead of their rivals Schütte-Lanz Luftschiffbau, the design changed to the more familiar streamlined shape with cruciform tail surfaces, as used by almost all later airships.

They were propelled by several engines, mounted in gondolas or engine cars, which were attached to the outside of the structural framework. Some of these could provide reverse thrust for manoeuvring while mooring.

Early models had a comparatively small externally-mounted gondola for passengers and crew which was attached to the bottom of the frame. This space was never heated (fire outside of the kitchen was considered too risky) so passengers during trips across the North Atlantic or Siberia were forced to bundle themselves in blankets and furs to keep warm and were often miserable from the cold.

By the time of the Hindenburg, several important changes had taken place: the passenger space had been relocated to the interior of the overall vessel, passenger rooms were insulated from the exterior by the dining area, and forced-warm air could be circulated from the water that cooled the forward engines, all of which made traveling much more comfortable. This did prevent passengers from enjoying the views from the windows of their berths though, which had been a major attraction on the Graf Zeppelin. On both the older and newer vessels, the external viewing windows were often open during flight. The flight ceiling was so low that no pressurization of the cabins was necessary, though the Hindenburg did maintain a pressurized air-locked smoking room (no flame allowed, however—a single electric lighter was provided, and could not be removed from the room).

Access to Zeppelins was achieved in a number of ways. The Graf Zeppelin’s gondola was accessed while the vessel was on the ground, via gangways. The Hindenburg also had passenger gangways leading from the ground directly into its hull which could be withdrawn entirely, ground access to the gondola, and an exterior access hatch via its electrical room; this latter was intended for crew use only.

On some long-distance units, Blau gas was used to run the engines of the Zeppelin airships. This had the advantage in that the weight of Blau gas was near that of air. Thus the use of large quantities of Blau gas as a propellant had little impact on the Zeppelin buoyancy. Blau gas was used on the Zeppelin airship’s first voyage to America, starting in 1929. The Zeppelin facility in Friedrichshafen produced the Blau gas.

Count von Zeppelin had died in 1917, before the end of the war. Dr. Hugo Eckener, who had long envisioned dirigibles as vessels of peace rather than of war, took command of the Zeppelin business, hoping to quickly resume civilian flights. Despite considerable difficulties, they completed two small passenger airships; LZ 120 Bodensee {Scrapped July 1928}, which first flew in August 1919 and in the following months transported passengers between Friedrichshafen and Berlin, and a sister-ship LZ 121 Nordstern, {Scrapped September 1926} which was intended for use on a regular route to Stockholm.

However, in 1921 the Allied Powers demanded that these should be handed over as war reparations as compensation for the dirigibles destroyed by their crews in 1919. Germany was not allowed to construct military aircraft and only airships of less than 28,000 m3 (1,000,000 cu ft) were permitted. This brought a halt to Zeppelin’s plans for airship development, and the company temporarily had to resort to manufacturing aluminium cooking utensils.

Eckener and his co-workers refused to give up and kept looking for investors and a way to circumvent Allied restrictions. Their opportunity came in 1924. The United States had started to experiment with rigid airships, constructing one of their own, the ZR-1 USS Shenandoah, and buying the R38 (based on the Zeppelin L 70) when the British airship programme was cancelled. However, this broke apart and caught fire during a test flight above the Humber on 23 August 1921, killing 44 crewmen.

Under these circumstances, Eckener managed to obtain an order for the next American dirigible. Germany had to pay for this airship itself, as the cost was set against the war reparation accounts, but for the Zeppelin company this was unimportant. LZ 126 made its first flight on 27 August 1924.

On 12 October at 07:30 local time the Zeppelin took off for the US under the command of Hugo Eckener. The ship completed its 8,050 kilometres (5,000 mi) voyage without any difficulties in 80 hours 45 minutes. American crowds enthusiastically celebrated the arrival, and President Calvin Coolidge invited Eckener and his crew to the White House, calling the new Zeppelin an “angel of peace”.

Given the designation ZR-3 USS Los Angeles and refilled with helium (partly sourced from the Shenandoah) after its Atlantic crossing, the airship became the most successful American airship. It operated reliably for eight years until it was retired in 1932 for economic reasons. It was dismantled in August 1940.

With the delivery of LZ 126, the Zeppelin company had reasserted its lead in rigid airship construction, but it was not yet quite back in business. In 1926 restrictions on airship construction were relaxed by the Locarno treaties, but acquiring the necessary funds for the next project proved a problem in the difficult economic situation of post–World War I Germany, and it took Eckener two years of lobbying and publicity work to secure the realization of LZ 127.

Another two years passed before 18 September 1928, when the new dirigible, christened Graf Zeppelin in honour of the Count, flew for the first time. With a total length of 236.6 metres (776 ft) and a volume of 105,000 m3, it was the largest dirigible to have been built at the time. Eckener’s initial purpose was to use Graf Zeppelin for experimental and demonstration purposes to prepare the way for regular airship traveling, carrying passengers and mail to cover the costs. In October 1928 its first long-range voyage brought it to Lakehurst, the voyage taking 112 hours and setting a new endurance record for airships. Eckener and his crew, which included his son Hans, were once more welcomed enthusiastically, with confetti parades in New York and another invitation to the White House. Graf Zeppelin toured Germany and visited Italy, Palestine, and Spain. A second trip to the United States was aborted in France due to engine failure in May 1929.

In August 1929 Graf Zeppelin departed for another daring enterprise: a circumnavigation of the globe. The growing popularity of the “giant of the air” made it easy for Eckener to find sponsors. One of these was the American press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who requested that the tour officially start in Lakehurst. As with the October 1928 flight to New York, Hearst had placed a reporter, Grace Marguerite Hay Drummond-Hay, on board: she therefore became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air. From there, Graf Zeppelin flew to Friedrichshafen, then Tokyo, Los Angeles, and back to Lakehurst, in 21 days 5 hours and 31 minutes. Including the initial and final trips between Friedrichshafen and Lakehurst and back, the dirigible had travelled 49,618 kilometres (30,831 mi).

In the following year, Graf Zeppelin undertook trips around Europe, and following a successful tour to Recife, Brazil in May 1930, it was decided to open the first regular transatlantic airship line. This line operated between Frankfurt and Recife, and was later extended to Rio de Janeiro, with a stop in Recife. Despite the beginning of the Great Depression and growing competition from fixed-wing aircraft, LZ 127 transported an increasing volume of passengers and mail across the ocean every year until 1936. The ship made another spectacular voyage in July 1931 when it made a seven-day research trip to the Arctic. This had already been a dream of Count von Zeppelin twenty years earlier, which could not be realized at the time due to the outbreak of war.

Eckener intended to follow the successful airship with another larger Zeppelin, designated LZ 128. This was to be powered by eight engines, 232 m (761 ft) in length, with a capacity of 199,980 m3 (7,062,100 cu ft). However the loss of the British passenger airship R101 on 5 October 1930 led the Zeppelin company to reconsider the safety of hydrogen-filled vessels, and the design was abandoned in favour of a new project, LZ 129. This was intended to be filled with inert helium.

The coming to power of the Nazi Party in 1933 had important consequences for Zeppelin Luftschiffbau. Zeppelins became a propaganda tool for the new regime: they would now display the Nazi swastika on their fins and occasionally tour Germany to play march music and propaganda speeches to the people. In 1934 Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, contributed two million reichsmarks towards the construction of LZ 129 and in 1935 Hermann Göring established a new airline directed by Ernst Lehmann, the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei, as a subsidiary of Lufthansa to take over Zeppelin operations. Hugo Eckener was an outspoken anti-Nazi: complaints about the use of Zeppelins for propaganda purposes in 1936 led Goebbels to declare “Dr. Eckener has placed himself outside the pale of society. Henceforth his name is not to be mentioned in the newspapers and his photograph is not to be published”.

On 4 March 1936 LZ 129 Hindenburg (named after former President of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg) made its first flight. The Hindenburg was the largest airship ever built. It had been designed to use non-flammable helium, but the only supplies of the gas were controlled by the United States, which refused to allow its export. So, in what proved to be a fatal decision, the Hindenburg was filled with flammable hydrogen. Apart from the propaganda missions, LZ 129 was used on the transatlantic service alongside Graf Zeppelin.


The Hindenburg on fire in 1937

On 6 May 1937, while landing in Lakehurst after a transatlantic flight, the tail of the ship caught fire, and within seconds, the Hindenburg burst into flames, killing 35 of the 97 people on board and 1 member of the ground crew. The cause of the fire has not been definitively determined. The investigation into the accident concluded that static electricity had ignited hydrogen which had leaked from the gasbags, although there were allegations of sabotage. 13 passengers and 22 crew, including Ernst Lehmann, were killed.

Despite the apparent danger, there remained a list of 400 people who still wanted to fly as Zeppelin passengers and had paid for the trip. Their money was refunded in 1940.

Graf Zeppelin was retired one month after the Hindenburg wreck and turned into a museum. The intended new flagship Zeppelin was completed in 1938 and, inflated with hydrogen, made some test flights (the first on 14 September), but never carried passengers. Another project, LZ 131, designed to be even larger than Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin II, never progressed beyond the production of a few ring frames.

Graf Zeppelin II was assigned to the Luftwaffe and made about 30 test flights prior to the beginning of World War II. Most of those flights were carried out near the Polish border, first in the Sudeten mountains region of Silesia, then in the Baltic Sea region. During one such flight LZ 130 crossed the Polish border near the Hel Peninsula, where it was intercepted by a Polish Lublin R-XIII aircraft from Puck naval airbase and forced to leave Polish airspace. During this time, LZ 130 was used for electronic scouting missions, and was equipped with various measuring equipment. In August 1939, it made a flight near the coastline of Great Britain in an attempt to determine whether the 100 metre towers erected from Portsmouth to Scapa Flow were used for aircraft radio location. Photography, radio wave interception, magnetic and radio frequency analysis were unable to detect operational British Chain Home radar due to searching in the wrong frequency range. The frequencies searched were too high, an assumption based on the Germans’ own radar systems. The mistaken conclusion was that the British towers were not connected with radar operations, but were for naval radio communications.

After the beginning of the Second World War on 1 September, the Luftwaffe ordered LZ 127 and LZ 130 moved to a large Zeppelin hangar in Frankfurt, where the skeleton of LZ 131 was also located. In March 1940 Göring ordered the scrapping of the remaining airships, and on 6 May the Frankfurt hangars were demolished.

Zeppelins have been an inspiration to music, cinematography and literature. In 1934, the calypsonian Attila the Hun recorded “Graf Zeppelin”, commemorating the airship’s visit to Trinidad.

Zeppelins are often featured in alternate history and parallel universe fiction. They feature prominently in the popular fantasy novels of the His Dark Materials trilogy and The Book of Dust series by Philip Pullman. In the American science fiction series, Fringe, Zeppelins are a notable historical idiosyncrasy that helps differentiate the series’ two parallel universes, also used in Doctor Who in the episodes “The Rise of the Cybermen” and “The Age of Steel” when the TARDIS crashes in an alternate reality where Britain is a ‘People’s Republic’ and Pete Tyler, Rose Tyler’s father, is alive and is a wealthy inventor. They are also seen in the alternate reality 1939 plot line in the film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and have an iconic association with the steampunk subcultural movement in broader terms. In 1989, Japanese animator Miyazaki released Kiki’s Delivery Service, which features a Zeppelin as a plot element. A Zeppelin was used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, when Jones and his father try to escape from Germany in a Zeppelin.

In 1968, English rock band Led Zeppelin chose their name after Keith Moon, drummer of The Who, told guitarist Jimmy Page that his idea to create a band would “go down like a lead balloon.” Page’s manager Peter Grant suggested changing the spelling of “Lead” to “Led” to avoid mispronunciation. “Balloon” was replaced with “Zeppelin” as Jimmy Page saw it as a symbol of “the perfect combination of heavy and light, combustibility and grace.” For the group’s self-titled debut album, Page suggested the group use a picture of the Hindenburg crashing in New Jersey in 1937, much to Frau Eva Von Zeppelin’s disgust. Von Zeppelin tried to sue the group for using the name Zeppelin, but the case was eventually dismissed.

Since the 1990s Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, a daughter enterprise of the Zeppelin conglomerate that built the original German Zeppelins, has been developing Zeppelin “New Technology” (NT) airships. These vessels are semi-rigids based partly on internal pressure, partly on a frame.

The Airship Ventures company operated zeppelin passenger travel to California from October 2008 to November 2012 with one of these Zeppelin NT airships.

In May 2011, Goodyear announced that they would replace their fleet of blimps with Zeppelin NTs, resurrecting their partnership that ended over 70 years ago. Goodyear placed an order for three Zeppelin NTs, which then entered service between 2014 and 2018.

Modern zeppelins are held aloft by the inert gas helium, eliminating the danger of combustion illustrated by the Hindenburg. It has been proposed that modern zeppelins could be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. Zeppelin NTs are often used for sightseeing trips; for example, D-LZZF  was used for Edelweiss’s birthday celebration performing flights over Switzerland in an Edelweiss livery, and it is now used, weather permitting, on flights over Munich (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What do you call an airship covered in light-emitting diodes?  LED Zeppelin

Second, a Song:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a 1989 American action-adventure film directed by Steven Spielberg, from a story co-written by executive producer George Lucas. It is the third installment in the Indiana Jones franchise and a sequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is also the first Indiana Jones film to be rated PG-13. Harrison Ford returns in the title role, while his father is portrayed by Sean Connery. Other cast members featured include Alison Doody, Denholm Elliott, Julian Glover, River Phoenix, and John Rhys-Davies. In the film, set largely in 1938, Indiana searches for his father, a Holy Grail scholar, who has been captured by Nazis while on a journey to find the Holy Grail.

After the mixed reaction to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Spielberg chose to tone down the dark tone and graphic violence in the next installment. During the five years between The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade, he and executive producer Lucas reviewed several scripts before accepting Jeffrey Boam’s. Filming locations including Spain, Italy, West Germany, Jordan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The film was released by Paramount Pictures in North America on May 24, 1989, to mostly positive reviews and was a financial success, earning $474.3 million at the worldwide box office. It won an Academy Award for Best Sound Effects Editing. A sequel, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, followed in 2008.

In 1912, 13-year-old Henry “Indiana” Jones, Jr., was horseback riding with his Boy Scout troop at Arches National Park in Utah. While scouting caves, Jones discovers a group of grave robbers who have found a golden crucifix belonging to Francisco Vázquez de Coronado and steals it from them, hoping to donate it to a museum. The men give chase through a passing circus train, leaving Jones with a bloody cut across his chin from a bullwhip and a new phobia of snakes. Jones escapes, but the local sheriff makes him return the cross to the robbers, who immediately turn it over to a mysterious benefactor wearing a Panama hat. Impressed with the boy’s bravery, the leader of the robbers gives Jones his hat.

In 1938, Indiana Jones fought “Panama Hat” and his henchmen on a ship off the coast of Portugal. Escaping overboard just before the ship explodes, he recovers the cross and donates it to Marcus Brody’s museum. Later, Jones learns from Walter Donovan that his father, Henry Jones, Sr., was searching for the Holy Grail using an incomplete inscription from a stone tablet as a guide and has since vanished. Jones receives Henry’s Grail diary via mail from Venice and heads there with Marcus, where they meet Henry’s Austrian colleague, Dr. Elsa Schneider.

Beneath the library where Henry was last seen, Jones and Elsa discover a set of half-flooded catacombs that house the tomb of a First Crusade knight that contains a complete version of the inscription that Henry had used, revealing the location of the Grail. They flee when the petroleum-saturated waters of the catacombs are set on fire by the Brotherhood of the Cruciform Sword, a secret society whose mission is to protect the Grail. Jones and Elsa capture Brotherhood member Kazim. When Jones explains that his only goal is to find his father, not the Grail, Kazim tells them Henry’s location. Looking through the diary, Marcus finds a map drawn by Henry of the route to the Grail, which begins in the ancient city of Alexandretta. Jones removes the map from the diary, gives it to Marcus for safekeeping, and sends him to İskenderun, the city built on the ruins of Alexandretta, to rendezvous with their old friend Sallah. Elsa begins a relationship with Jones before they depart to find Henry.

Jones and Elsa head to a Nazi-controlled castle in Austria where Henry is being held. Jones finds Henry and frees him only to be quickly captured by SS Colonel Ernst Vogel. He learns that both Elsa and Donovan are Nazis, who are using the Joneses to find the Grail for them. Elsa kisses Jones goodbye as she departs with Donovan and Vogel. Marcus is captured in Hatay State while meeting with Sallah. After their escape from the castle, Henry tells Jones that the Grail is guarded by three booby traps and his diary contains clues needed to pass them safely. Disguised as a German Army colonel, Jones recovers the diary from Elsa at a Nazi book burning rally in Berlin and comes face to face with Adolf Hitler, who autographs the book without recognizing it or him. Indy and Henry board a Zeppelin to leave Germany, but are discovered and forced to escape in its parasite biplane. A dogfight with Luftwaffe fighters ensues; although Jones and Henry are forced to crash-land, they survive and successfully bring down their pursuers.

In Hatay, Sallah tells them of Marcus’s abduction. The Nazis have been equipped by the Sultan of Hatay and are already moving toward the Grail’s location, using the map possessed by Marcus. Jones, Henry, and Sallah find the Nazi expedition, which is ambushed by the Brotherhood. During the battle, Henry is captured by Vogel while attempting to rescue Marcus; Kazim and his comrades are killed. Jones pursues the tank on horseback and, with the aid of Sallah, saves Henry and Marcus. He is caught up in a fight with Vogel, but escapes just before the tank goes over a cliff, sending Vogel to his death.

Jones, Henry, Marcus, and Sallah catch up with the surviving Nazis, led by Donovan and Elsa, who have found the temple in The Canyon of the Crescent Moon where the Holy Grail is kept but are unable to get past the first trap. Donovan shoots and mortally wounds Henry to force Jones to risk his life in the traps to find the Grail and use its healing power to save his father. Using the information in the diary and followed by Donovan and Elsa, Jones safely overcomes the traps (which include fast-moving saw blades, a word puzzle, and a hidden bridge over a bottomless pit) and reaches the Grail’s chamber, which is guarded by a knight. The man has been kept alive for 700 years by the power of the Grail, which is hidden among dozens of false grails. The true Grail grants eternal life, while the false ones will kill any user. Elsa intentionally selects a wrong cup for Donovan, causing him to rapidly age and crumble to dust after drinking from it. Jones drinks from a simple clay cup that proves to be the true Grail,[3] but the knight warns that it cannot be taken out of the temple and that its guardian must stay within in order to remain immortal.

Jones fills the Grail with holy water and brings it to Henry, healing him instantly. Elsa disregards the knight’s warning and tries to take the Grail with her, causing the temple to collapse around them when she crosses the Great Seal set in the floor at the entrance. When the Grail falls into a chasm in the floor, Elsa plummets to her death trying to recover it. Jones nearly suffers the same fate before Henry persuades him to leave it. The Grail Knight bids them farewell as they escape. After leaving the temple, the Joneses, Marcus, and Sallah ride off into the sunset (per Wikipedia).

Here is the “No Ticket” scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade featuring Sean Connery and Harrison Ford.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Rare stories traveled of those who rose too high, the ships who sailed like Icarus towards the sun. 

And like him, they crashed and burned for their arrogance.”  ― Katherine McIntyre, The Airship Also Rises

Further to the Canada Day Smile, Russ Waugh of Siglavik, Manitoba, Canada writes:

“Hi Dave,  Timely and good education with excellent videos at the end. Stay safe.  Russ”

and Frank Fowlie of Richmond, BC, Canada writes:

“Two of my favourite Canada Day’s were when I was in East Timor in 2000 and 2001.  Canadian peacekeepers, Mounties, and UN staff all singing “O Canada” in the heat of the tropics, while uniting in the purpose of supporting peace!!
Best Regards
Dr. Frank Fowlie”

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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