Henri Giffard invented the first
non-steerable, power-driven airship in 1852. A steam engine and a
three-bladed propeller powered it. The airship took flight in
France in 1852 and flew for 28 kilometres.
The airship did not
become a practical reality until the petrol engine and lightweight
aluminium for the structure were introduced in the 1880s The first
dirigible (steerable airship) was called La France and was
developed by Charles Renard and Arthur C. Krebs. It was
successfully tested on 9th August 1884.
In 1897 David Schwartz
developed the first rigid-hulled airship, an idea later furthered
by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. On 2nd July 1900 he launched his
famous hydrogen-filled Zeppelin airship, which was to spend some
years in commercial operation. It was powered by two Daimler
engines and contained about 11,000 cubic metres of hydrogen in 17
gas-tight bags. The first commercial Zeppelin service started in
1910, and the airships were used to make bombing raids over
Britain in the First World War.
In the 1930s, Zeppelins were used
for luxury passenger transport. However, in 1937 one of Germany's
Zeppelins, the Hindenburg, burst into flames, and effectively
ended its widespread use. Many debates have raged as of the cause
of the disaster. Most people believed that it was the hydrogen
that caused the fire seen on the famous footage of the explosion
but others have argued that hydrogen burns with a clear flame, so
it was the material of the shell of the airship that caused the
fire. Modern airships are filled with the much safer helium gas.
They are mainly used for advertising, photographic and television