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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Goodyear and Zeppelin

First off let me begin with, this post has nothing to do with Led Zeppelin the British band that was formed in 1968.
This story is quite a bit older and I may have to break down and write a non-fiction book one of these days telling the entire story up to modern times, but as the story is still unfolding I will wait.
In some future post I will examine an idea I have for what I call vacuum ships, which is essentially a blimp but instead of a gas that's lighter than air to cause the buoyancy it will use tanks with all the air sucked out of them.  Crazy I know, and impossible says the rest of the crowd, but alas this will be for another day because this story actually begins with a military man named Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who first outlined his ideas for his grand air ships in 1874.
His plans were reviewed by a committee and patented in the United States in 1894.  The first successful Zeppelin as these air ships became known, was the LZ3 which flew sometime around 1906.  By 1908 it had traveled 4,398 kilometers in the course of 45 flights.
The Count died in 1917 before World War I ended and the company was taken over and continued on primarily because of the efforts of Dr. Hugo Eckener.  Dr. Eckener finished the Zeppelin company's best ship ever in 1924, but had to deliver it in order to keep the company afloat.  To deliver it required a trans Atlantic flight which had never been done before.  It would be three more years before Lindbergh's famous flight in the 'Spirit of St. Louis.'  No insurance company would issue a policy for the ship.  Dr. Eckener literally risked the entire company on one flight and on October 12, 1924, he flew the LZ126 across the Atlantic ocean to be delivered to the United States.  It became the ZR-3 USS Los Angeles.  They crossed the ocean in 81 hours and 2 minutes covering 8,050 kilometers.
For comparison purposes the Wright Bros. didn't fly the 'Kitty Hawk', the first airplane to be credited with powered flight until December 17, 1903.  Charles Lindbergh was the first to fly an airplane across the Atlantic non-stop from New York to Paris and that was in May 1927.
The first circumnavigation of globe by air was in August 1929 by the LZ127, taking 21 days, 5 hours, and 31 minutes.  From Lakehurst to Tokyo, Tokyo to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles back to Lakehurst.
By 1909 the Goodyear company, who is known worldwide for their tires and blimps was partners with the Zeppelin Company.  Because of problems caused by and resulting from the World Wars their partnership was an on again off again relationship.  Also because the German government bought Zeppelins and used them as bombers in both World Wars, the Zeppelin company also got a bad reputation, and Zeppelins were known as ‘Baby Killers’ in British Propaganda in World War II.  Unfortunately one of the most awesome vehicles and ships of the last century was doomed because of Germany’s use of the ships against the Allied Countries.
The Zeppelins came into their hay day in the 1930's with the creation of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin and the LZ-129 Hindenburg.  On Thursday, May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg ignited and was destroyed as it tried to dock with it’s mooring mast at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.  Of the 97 people on board, 35 people died.

The disaster was caught on film and the spectacular newsreel coverage, photographs, and recorded radio eyewitness report from Herbert Morrison was broadcast the next day.  The actual cause of the fire remains unknown, although a variety of hypotheses have been put forward for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire.  Speculation has even been brought forth on numerous people that had access to the ship and different people from different counties who all had motives for sabotaging the massive airship.  The footage and pictures of the Hindenburg spreading in fireball across the sky as it fell to the ground shattered public confidence in the great airships for the next 52 years, effectively ending the great airship era.

In 1989 design study started on the next generation of Zeppelins.  The ZLT was founded as a spin-off of the Zeppelin company in September 1993.  It began to construct a prototype in 1995 and by 1997 the first prototype took to the air.  On the centennial of the first Zeppelin flight, July 2, 2000, the prototype SN 01 was christened D-LZFN Friedrichshafen.

In 2001 the company began manufacturing the Zeppelin NT in series and began to exploit the airships commercially.  The second ship SN 02 was christened D-LZZR Bodensee on August 10, 2001 and started to give joyrides five days later.  By the end of that year, it had already transported 3,222 passengers, a figure that rose to about 30,000 by November 2003.

Announced this week the New Zeppelin Company is going to build the next generation of the Goodyear Blimps.  Goodyear worked with the original Zeppelin company in the beginning.  That is one of the reasons why Goodyear has operated blimps all these years.

The new agreement with the German manufacturer ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik calls for the two companies to work together to design a fleet of all new Goodyear blimps.  The LZ N07-101 model airships will be built with Zeppelin and Goodyear airship teams at Goodyear’s Wingfoot Lake Airship Hanger near Akron, Ohio.  Construction on the first airship is scheduled to start in 2013 and begin operating in 2014.
The new Goodyear-Zeppelin airships will be larger, fly faster, carry more passengers and include state of the art avionics and flight control systems.  The ships will cost $21 million a piece.
"We are extremely pleased to renew the Zeppelin connection with the famous Goodyear blimp program," said Thomas Brandt, CEO of ZLT Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik.  "Goodyear and Zeppelin worked together almost 90 years ago to bring rigid airship technology to America and we’re thrilled to be working together again."

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