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Saturday, July 18, 2009


By:- Iqbal Nanjee

Man has always been fascinated by the flight of the Birds and has forever dreamed of soaring in the skies like the feathered animals. This dream could not be materialized until June 5, 1783, when two French brothers, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier, flew an unmanned hot air balloon. On October 15, 1783, another Frenchman, Jean-Francoise Pilfore de Rozier, using the Montgolfier hot air balloon with a gondola attached to it, became the first human being to fly in the air, and ascended 84 Ft in the air and remained aloft for 4 min and 24 Seconds. In December, 1783, a French Chemist, J.C. Charles, using Hydrogen instead of hot air in his balloon, flew for almost two hours and traveled 27 miles from his starting point. This spectacular flight led to a rapid development of free ballooning, and a number of manned flights were made. The greatest amongst the early pioneers was another Frenchman, Francoise Blenchard, who made his first flight in Paris in 1784, and repeated his performance in almost all European Cities. On January 09, 1795, he made the first manned balloon flight in America at Philadelphia. But his most famous flight was the crossing of the channel on January 17, 1785, the first aerial crossing of the channel by a human being. On this flight, he was accompanied by an American Physician, Dr. John Jaffries, and they carried the first international airmail on record.

Manned balloon flights became quite common on both sides of the Atlantic, but these carried very few passengers (max. four) and precious little cargo. The balloons could travel a considerable distance, but their navigation was difficult and cumbersome. The spherical shape of the balloon could not overcome the air resistance causing problems in maneuvering the vehicles. These problems led to experimentation until; finally, the first airship was designed and successfully flown by a French engineer and inventor, Henri Giffard in 1852.

Airship or dirigibles (From the Latin “DIRIGERE”, meaning “to direct,” “to steer”) were basically balloons, shaped like a fish or a stubby cigar, with a power plant and a propelling mechanism, housed in one or more care located below the balloons. These care also carried accommodation for passengers. The dirigibles were categorized into three classes, according to their construction.

a] The non-rigid class, commonly known as the “Blimp” the one flown by Henri Giffard. In this class, the form of the balloon was maintained by the pressure of the gas. The first airship of this class to return to its starting point was the LE FRANCE, which was driven by electrically rotated propellers and which developed and flown by the French inventors, Charles Renaud and Arthur Krebs.

b] The desire to distribute the weight of the car, power plant, fuel and pay load over the length of the airship led to the development of the semi rigid class of the airships, in which a longitudinal keel structure was added to the bottom of the gas bag.

Although the semi rigid airships were used for long distance haul of passengers and cargo, there is no record of any airmail carried by them. The firs record of airmail being carried by airships became available after the rigid class of airships was invented, and these became operational in commercial aviation.

c] Due to the initiative and dedicated work of Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin and the group of men inspired by him the first rigid airship was constructed in 1900, and forever, thereafter, this class of airships has been “Zeppelins”. In the Zeppelins, unlike the non rigid and semi rigid classes, the outer envelop was completely supported, independent of the gas pressure by means of an elaborate hull structure. The prototype was 128 m long, with a diameter of 12m and had a hydrogen gas capacity of about 400,000 Cu.Ft, divided in 17 Gas Cells, individually covered in rubberized cloth and separated by wire bulk heads. It was steered by forward and aft rudders, and was driven by two 15 hp Diameter internal combustion engines, eath totating two propellers. Passengers, crew and engine were carried in two aluminium gondolas, suspended forward and aft. This prototype first flew a distance of 6 Km in 17 min on July 2, 1900, attained an altitude of 396m and carried five passengers.

With the successful flight of this prototype of the Zeppelin, the age of air transportation began. In 1908, count Zeppelin founded the LUFTSCHIFFBAU ZUPPELIN GmBH, or the Zeppelin Company as it was internationally known, for the construction and operation of the rigid class dirigibles. The company was headquartered tat Fredrichshfen on Lake Constance in Germany. By then, Siz Zeppelins had already been constructed and flown for passenger service between German Cities.

In November, 1909, the Zeppelin Company formed a subsidiary company, the DEUTSCHELUFTSCHIFFARTS AG (Commonly known as the DELAG) to operate passenger flights. This was the first commercial airline in the world. The first commercial was made on June 28, 1910 by Zeppelin NO. LZ-7, named DEUTSCHLAND. The lost of the pre war Zeppelin Airships, the LZ-17 SACHSEN was built in 1913. When the commercial operations were suspended in 1914, due to the First World War, 1,588 flights had been by 7 Zeppelin Airships on local and inter city routes in Germany, carrying 33,722 passengers and crew, and covering a total of 172,535 Km. Among the cargo carried on these flights, airmail figured prominently. Unfortunately, no record of this mail is available.

The British had been inspired by the German Zeppelins, and during the war, developed a series of rigid airships, beginning in 1915. In 1919, the British airship R-34, with a length of 196m and a hydrogen gas capacity of 1,980,000 Cu.Ft, made the first trans-atlantic flight, flying from East Fortune, Scotland, to Mineola, New York, Via New Foundland, Canada, and returning to Fulham, England. The total flying time for the round trip was 183 hrs and 15 min; and the total distance traveled, about 11,200 Km. Again, no record is available of any mail carried on this flight.

In Germany, following the Was, New Zeppelins were immediately constructed for the revived operations by DELAG. Service between Belin and Friedrichshafen was initiated on August 24,1919, with LZ-120 BODENSE and its sister ship, LZ-121 NORDSTERN. The new operations were terminated by an order of the Inter Allied Control command, which also confiscated the two airships.

The driving force in the development and implementation of the Zeppelins as trans-oceanic commercial carriers and in resurrecting the DELAG in the Post War period was Dr. Hugo Eckener. Undaunted by the confiscation of the two airships by the Allies, he supervised the Zeppelin design development. In 1924, Germany delivered to the U.S Navy as part of war reparations, the LZ-126, later named as the LOS ANGELES. The LOS ANGELES, which flown from Germany to the United States for delivery, was 198m. Long and had a gas capacity of 2,495,000 CU.Ft. The control gondola also carried accommodations for 30 passengers, with sleeping facilities similar to that of a Pullman car. The LOSS ANGELES made about 250 flights, including trips to Puerto Rico and Panama. It was de-commissioned in 1932. Once again, there in little record of mail carried by the LOSS ANGELES.

The success of LOS ANGELES inspired Dr. Hugo Eckener to the designing and construction in 1928 of the LZ-127, christened the GRAF ZePPELIN, it was 235m. long, with a diameter of 30m, and a hydrogen gas capacity of 3,955,240 cu.ft., divided into 17 gas cells, within a hull of 28 longitudinal. Powered by five 12 cylinders, 550HP Mayback VLII engines, mounted in individual cars, it could attain a maximum speed of 128km/hr. and a cruising speed of 115 km/hr. and could stay aloft for 118 hours. With a 13,411 kg. Load. The luxuries and spacious accommodations for 24 to 354 passengers made GRAF ZEPPELIN a favourite means of trans-atlantic air travel. In nine years of service, the GRAF ZEPPELIN flew a total of more than 1 million miles in 530 flights, crossing the Atlantic 139 times to the North and South Americas, and making a complete trip in 1929 round the world, with stops only at Tokyo, Loss Angeles and Lakehurst, New Jersey.