Surprising Facts About Zeppelins

Since I got an interest into airships and zeppelins, I’ve realized I’ve had a lot of misconceptions. I’ve tried to compile a list of random facts that may not be obvious.

  1. The envelope of a rigid airship such as Zeppelin is not completely filled with lifting gas. Instead lifting gas is stored in many individual smaller balloons called ballonnets.
  2. You can actually walk inside a Zeppelin envelop while in flight and it was a common thing to do. They had narrow passage ways inside so that crew could get to ballonnets and engines for repair and service.
  3. A gondola is the part hanging under the airship where you find the crew manning and navigating the airship. However in larger airships such as the Hindenburg, cabins, dining and observation deck was contained within the rigid envelope.
  4. Unlike an airplane where engines are attached to the wing, airship engines were actually contained within their own gondola, and engine mechanics would take shift looking after the engines, such as tuning them for optimal performance. Repairing engines while in flight was not unusual. Yes you could actually walk from the main airship envelope and into the engine gondola’s.
  5. Engine speed was adjusted much like on a sea going ship. The captain would send signals from the bridge to the engine gondola, where the machinist would adjust engine speed according to signal.
  6. Classic airships had to vent their lifting gas during flight. Why give away lift? There were many reasons for this. If the airship rises further up, external pressure drops. That means you need to vent to avoid bursting the ballonet. Consuming fuel could reduce the weight of the fuel can hence cause the airship to rise.

It is worth nothing that obviously not all these function or observations apply to modern airships. E.g. in a modern airship one could compress gas into a tank instead of venting it.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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