Rigid airship

Rigid airship

A rigid airship was a type of airship in which the envelope retained its shape by the use of an internal structural framework rather than by being forced into shape by the pressure of the lifting gas within the envelope as used in blimps and semi-rigid airships.

Rigid airships were produced and relatively successfully employed from the beginning of the 1900s to the end of the 1930s, but their heyday ended when the Hindenburg was destroyed on May 6, 1937.


Although "rigid airship" is the proper formal term, these aircraft are often referred to in casual use by several other names such as "dirigibles", "zeppelins" (after the most successful ships of this type built by the Zeppelin Company) or the "big rigids".

Early days

By 1874 several people had conceived of a rigid dirigible (in contrast to non-rigid powered airships which had been flying since 1852). Frenchman Joseph Spiess had published a rigid airship proposal in 1873 but failed to get funding. [Dooley A.174 citing Hartcup p89]
Count Zeppelin had outlined his thoughts of a rigid airship in diary entries from 25 March 1874 through to 1890 when he resigned from the military. [Dooley A.175] David Schwarz had thought about building an airship in the 1880s and had likely started design work in 1891, definitely by 1892 he was starting construction. [Dooley A.183] It was not until after Schwarz's death in 1897 that his all-aluminium airship, built with help from with Carl Berg and the Prussian Airship Battalion, was test flown. Schwarz and Berg had an exclusive contract and Count Zeppelin was obliged to come to a legal agreement with Schwarz's heirs to obtain aluminium from Carl Berg, although the two men's designs were different and independent from each other. [Dooley A.184-A.196] With Berg's aluminum Zeppelin was able in 1899 to start building and, in 1900 July, to fly the Zeppelin LZ1.

Great Britain

Great Britain and the USA lagged behind Germany in rigid airship technology. According to a 2001 PBS documentary, much of Britain's knowledge was based on reverse engineered technology from World War I German zeppelin crashes. After several crashes of experimental airships, the British ceded this field to the GermansFact|date=September 2008.


France's only rigid airship was built by Alsation Joseph Spieß using a wooden framework and it flew on 1913-04-13. It was 146 metre long, with a diameter of 13.5 metre and a gas volume of 16,400 cubic metres.


United States


As well as the Zeppelin Company, Schütte-Lanz also manufactured them. Both America and Britain have manufactured rigid airships at some point.

ome famous rigid airships

*"R34", British airship and the first aircraft to traverse the Atlantic Ocean from east to west, in 1919.
*USS "Shenandoah", American naval airship which served the U.S. Navy from 1923 until its crash in Ohio in 1925.
*"R38 (ZR-2)", British airship intended to join the American naval fleet, but crashed during testing in 1921.
*USS "Los Angeles", German airship sold to the United States in 1924 as part of German reparations from World War I. The ship served with distinction from 1924 to 1931.
*"LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin", German passenger airship designed and piloted by Hugo Eckener. It circumnavigated the globe in 1929 and had a spotless safety record. It was utlimately dismantled by the Nazis at the outset of World War II.
*"R-100", British airship built by the Airship Guarantee Company, a private company created solely for the construction of this airship, as a subsidiary of the armaments firm, Vickers.
*"R-101", British airship designed and built by the British government in a kind of competition with the R-100. The R-101 crashed on its maiden flight in 1930 in France, with considerable loss of life. Its crash effectively ended British participation in rigid airship construction.
*USS "Akron", American naval airship designed and built by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company in Ohio in 1931. Deployed as an airborne aircraft carrier, it was lost at sea in a storm off New Jersey in 1933 with considerable loss of life.
*USS "Macon", sister ship to the "Akron", it was a near carbon-copy of her. Though it suffered only 2 deaths, its crash in 1935 off the coast of California ended American participation in rigid airship development.
*"LZ 129 Hindenburg", German passenger airship also designed and built by Hugo Eckener. The airship was lost in a famous fire in New Jersey in 1937. With its end went the end of the age of the Great Rigid Airships.

Modern rigids

There are no rigid airships flying today. The Zeppelin company refers to their NT ship as a rigid but this is a misnomer. The envelope shape is retained in part by super-pressure of the lifting gas, and so the NT is more correctly classified as a semi-rigid.

ee also

* List of Zeppelins
* List of Schütte-Lanz rigid airships
* List of Parseval semi-rigid and non-rigid airships
* Airship hangar



* Dooley, Sean C., [http://biblion.epfl.ch/EPFL/theses/2004/2986/EPFL_TH2986_screen.pdf The Development of Material-Adapted Structural Form] - [http://biblion.epfl.ch/EPFL/theses/2004/2986/EPFL_TH2986_app_screen.pdf Part II: Appendices] . THÈSE NO 2986 (2004), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne
* Hartcup, Guy. The Achievement of the Airship: A History of the Development of Rigid, Semi-Rigid and Non-Rigid Airships. David & Charles : London. 1974.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • rigid airship — A type of dirigible that has a rigid framework to maintain its shape at all times. See airship …   Aviation dictionary

  • rigid airship — zeppelin, airship that has an internal metal frame to support the inflatable body …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Rigid Airship Design — B.V. was a company founded in the Netherlands in 1998 with the aim of building a modern rigid airship. In 1996, Scottish intellectual and airship expert Ian Alexander initiated a project in the Netherlands in co operation with the Technical… …   Wikipedia

  • Semi-rigid airship — Semi rigid airships are airships with a partial framework. These often consist of a rigid, occasionally flexible, keel frame along the long axis under the aerodynamic hull envelope. The partial framework can also be inside the hull. Semi rigids… …   Wikipedia

  • Airship Italia — was a semi rigid airship used by Umberto Nobile in his second series of flights around the North Pole. Design and specifications Italia was an N class semirigid airship, designation N4. In design it was almost identical to the N1 Norge but larger …   Wikipedia

  • Airship — For other uses, see Airship (disambiguation). Dirigible redirects here. For the 1931 film, see Dirigible (film). Not to be confused with Balloon (aircraft) or Blimp. Airship …   Wikipedia

  • Airship hangar — Airships are sheltered in airship hangars during construction and sometimes also for regular operation, particularly at bad weather conditions. The big historic, rigid airships needed always to be based in airship hangars because weather… …   Wikipedia

  • airship — /air ship /, n. a self propelled, lighter than air aircraft with means of controlling the direction of flight; dirigible. Cf. blimp. [1810 20, for an earlier sense; AIR1 + SHIP] * * * or dirigible Lighter than air aircraft with steering and… …   Universalium

  • airship — Synonyms and related words: Graf Zeppelin, aerostat, ballonet, balloon, basket, blimp, car, catwalk, dirigible, dirigible balloon, envelope, gas chamber, gasbag, gondola, lighter than air craft, mooring harness, rigid airship, sandbag, semirigid… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • rigid — [rij′id] adj. [L rigidus < rigere, to be stiff, numb < IE base * (s)rig , cold > FRIGID] 1. not bending or flexible; stiff and hard [a rigid metal girder] 2. not moving; set 3. severe; strict; exacting [a rigid taskmaster] 4 …   English World dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.