The forgotten era of the Airships in rare photographs, 1900s-1940s

The history of airplanes begins like the history of hot air ballooning in France. After the invention of the hot air balloon in 1783, a French officer named Messnier envisioned an airship that used the hot air balloon design but was able to navigate.

In 1784, he designed an airship with an elongated envelope, propeller and rudder, unlike today's blimp. Although he documented his idea with extensive drawings, Messnier's airship was never built.

In 1852, another Frenchman, an engineer named Henri Gifford, built the first practical airship. Filled with hydrogen gas, it was powered by a 3 hp steam engine weighing 350 lb (160 kg), and it flew at a speed of 6 mph (9 km/h). Even though Gifford's airship achieved liftoff, it could not be fully controlled.

The first successfully navigated airship, La France, was built in 1884 by two more Frenchmen, Renard and Krebs. Powered by a 9 hp electrically powered airscrew, La France was in complete control of its pilots. It flew at a speed of 15 mph (24 km/h).

In 1895, the first uniquely rigid airship was built by the German David Schwarz. His design led to the successful development of the Zeppelin, a rigid airship built by Count Zeppelin.

The Zeppelin used two 15 hp engines and flew at a speed of 25 mph (42 km/h). Their development and the subsequent construction of 20 such ships gave Germany an initial military advantage at the start of World War I.

It was the successful use of the Zeppelin by Germany for military reconnaissance missions that prompted the British Royal Navy to build their own airships. Instead of copying the German rigid airship design, the British made several smaller non-rigid balloons.

These aircraft were used to successfully detect German submarines and were classified as "British Class B" airships. It is quite possible that the word blimp is derived from here—"Class B" plus lame or non-stiff.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Britain, Germany, and the United States focused on developing large, rigid, passenger-carrying airplanes. Unlike Britain and Germany, the United States primarily used helium to give lift to its airplanes.

Found in small amounts in natural gas reserves in the United States, helium is expensive to produce; However, it is not flammable like hydrogen.

Because of the cost involved in its manufacture, the United States banned the export of helium to other countries, forcing Germany and Britain to rely on the more volatile hydrogen gas.

Many large passenger-carrying airplanes that used hydrogen instead of helium suffered disaster, and the rise of the large passenger-carrying airship came to an abrupt end, due to such great loss of life.

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