Beautiful certificate from the Colon Compania Transaerea Espanola issued
in 1928. This historic document has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an early Zeppelin airship. This item is handsigned and is
over 91 years old. There are also 11 unused coupons attached to the certificate not shown in the scan. Airship vignettes are very scare and desirable.
There are two main types of airships, rigid and nonrigid. Rigid airships
have a skeleton, or framework, of aluminum or some other lightweight
but strong material. The frame is covered with a tightly stretched
skin of cloth or some other fabric. Lightweight metal is sometimes
used instead of cloth to cover the frame. A number of bags of light
gas are inside the frame. If one bag breaks or leaks, the others keep
the ship aloft. Rigid airships remain the same shape, even if there
is no gas inside them. They are sometimes called dirigibles, from
a French word for ``steerable.'' They are also called zeppelins, after
Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin of Germany, who designed the first rigid
airships that worked well.
Nonrigid airships are called blimps. Blimps do not have a complete
inside frame. They depend on the pressure of the gas inside to keep
them inflated to their normal shape. They may have a number of separate
gas sections so that a gas leak in one section will not cause the
blimp to come down suddenly. Nonrigid airships are the kind most often
Development of the Airship
Henri Gifford of France in 1852 flew a long sausage-shaped balloon
filled with hydrogen for 17 miles (27 km) at 5 miles an hour (8 km/hr).
He used a three-horsepower steam engine to turn a big three-bladed
propeller for power, and used a boat rudder to steer. Other airship
pioneers tried other ways of developing power, including electricity.
However, none of these early airships worked very well until the lightweight
gasoline engine was invented. The Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont
flew a number of airships driven by gasoline engines in the early
Count von Zeppelin had four airships flying passengers between German
cities by 1910. German zeppelins bombed London in World War I. However,
British airplanes soon proved it was easy to shoot down the huge,
The Age of the Airship
The high point in airship history came in 1929, when the German Graf
Zeppelin flew around the world in 21 days. It had a crew of 40 and
carried 20 passengers. The huge silver airship was 776 feet (237 m)
long, and flew 80 miles an hour (129 km/hr). The Graf Zeppelin started
its famous flight in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It landed only three times,
first in Friedrichshafen, Germany, next in Tokyo, Japan. It then
flew over the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles, California. From there
it returned to Lakehurst. The Graf Zeppelin flew safely for nine years,
and carried a total of more than 18,000 passengers.
Encouraged by the success of the Graf Zeppelin, the Germans built
the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg was the largest rigid airship ever
built--803 feet (245 m) long and twice as wide as the Graf Zeppelin.
It carried 78 passengers and 19 crew members. It made ten successful
round trips between Germany and the United States in 1936. But, on
May 6, 1937, the hydrogen gas inside it exploded and the Hindenburg
crashed as it was landing at Lakehurst. Of the 97 people on board,
36 were killed and the rest were badly injured. This tragedy ended
the age of the airship. The British had lost their R-101 airship in
1930, and with the Hindenburg disaster Germany too abandoned lighter-
Many accidents to European airships were caused by explosions of the
hydrogen gas used to lift them. Hydrogen burns easily. U.S. airships
used helium, a gas almost as light as hydrogen, but which will not
burn. The U.S. has most of the world's helium supply. Germany had
none and, therefore, had to use hydrogen.
Between 1920 and 1935, the U.S. Navy built three huge dirigibles--
the Shenandoah, the Macon, and the Akron. The Macon and the Akron
each carried five small airplanes that could take off and land from
the airship in flight. All three airships eventually crashed: Shenandoah
in 1925, Akron in 1932, Macon in 1935. They were not strong enough
to fly in bad weather.
One type of airship that worked successfully was the U.S. Navy blimp.
Ten of these were used during World War II on antisubmarine patrols
and to escort 80,000 U.S. ships across the ocean.
Today, there is new interest in airships and finding better ways of
building them. Airships move so slowly and calmly that they are useful
for shooting television pictures from above for a bird's-eye view
of important news events. In the future, airships could provide cheap
transportation and also popular sight-seeing flights. The age of the
airship could return.
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