2 July 1900: First Flight of a Zeppelin Airship

On 2 July 1900 the first rigid airship built by Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin flew over Lake Constance in Southern Germany. Although the test was not a complete success, it marked the start of a new era in powered flight.

LZ-1 (The First Zeppelin)

LZ-1 (The First Zeppelin)

Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin first saw the potential for balloons during his service in the German army. He witnessed the flights of balloons used by the Union Army in the American Civil War and the French during the Franco-Prussian War, and by 1874 he had started to work on his own designs for a rigid airship.

After retiring from the army at the age of 52 in 1890, Zeppelin devoted himself, and a large amount of his own money, to creating a working airship. The plans he drew up were submitted to a committee for review in 1894 and the designs were patented on 31 August 1895. US patents were filed on 14 March 1899.

Construction of Zeppelin’s first airship began in June 1898 and was completed in the winter of 1899. It was built in a floating hangar on Lake Constance in Southern Germany that could be aligned with the wind direction to make entry and exit simpler.

Designated LZ-1 (Luftschiff Zeppelin 1), the airship was 128 metres long and 12 metres in diameter. Within a rigid metal alloy skeleton were seventeen cells containing 11,298 cubic metres of hydrogen gas. The airship was powered by two Daimler engines suspended beneath it and connected to propellers. A sliding weight under the hull allowed the pitch of the airship to be altered but no other controls were provided.

Inflation of the gas cells took place in June 1900 with the maiden flight scheduled for 2 July over Lake Constance. The flight lasted just 17 minutes before technical problems forced a landing in the lake. The zeppelin reached a height of 390 metres during its 6-kilometre flight, which ended when the pitch control jammed. Also, a weakness in the metal alloy frame caused the airship to bend, with the centre rising higher than the bow or stern.

Although the first flight of a zeppelin was not a great success, the concept of the design was proved sound. Many other zeppelins were built for commercial and military purposes, some being used for bombing raids during the First World War with LZ-38 being the first to bomb London.

LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin began the first transatlantic flights in 1928 and was joined by LZ-129 Hindenburg in 1936. Confidence in the airships was damaged, however, after the Hindenburg caught fire as it landed at Lakehurst, New Jersey on 6 May 1937 causing the deaths of 36 passengers.

Other events on 2 July

View more July events

Be Sociable, Share!

Join the discussion