Moving Machines: Rising from the Ashes

  • Sheila J. Gibson

The Hindenburg disaster notwithstanding, the zeppelin was not an ill-conceived airship. Though lumbering and leisurely as a mode of air travel, the Hindenburg’s accommodations included 25 two-berth cabins, a lounge with a baby grand piano, a bar, a dining area that could seat 50, a reading and writing room furnished with Hindenburg stationery, and even a smoking room.  

Nonetheless, amenities and style notwithstanding, the Hindenburg’s spectacular demise 65 years ago saddled the zeppelin with a nearly insurmountable stigma. Only with the advent of the Zeppelin-NT has the craft’s public image begun to change.  

The Zeppelin-NT is only 246 feet long, 46 feet in diameter, seats 12 passengers and two crew members in its 35-by-61⁄2-foot gondola, and has a range of 559 miles—not long enough for transatlantic flight, but adequate for traveling from Paris to London. Its top speed of roughly 77 mph, while poky compared to that of a jet, is just as fast as the zeppelins of old. The crucial difference between the Zeppelin-NT (NT stands for neutechnik, German for new technology) and the Hindenburg-era zeppelins is the absence of hydrogen. The Zeppelin-NT instead employs nonflammable helium. Also, while the 20th-century zeppelins required as many as 200 people to pull them down to earth, the Zeppelin-NT needs a ground crew of only three. It has the trademark zeppelin skeleton, the rigid internal frame that stabilizes the shape of the envelope (the bag that contains the helium), making it easier to steer and control than other airships.  

Since German authorities licensed the Zeppelin-NT to carry passengers in August of last year, signs of a fresh zeppelin mania have begun to appear. The reservation books are full through early 2003 for $300 sightseeing jaunts over the lake where Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin made his initial flight 102 years ago. New pilots, many of them American, are now training at the company’s German facilities, and the FAA is reportedly scrutinizing the new zeppelin. Its manufacturers say they will accept custom orders for delivery in 18 months.  

Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik, +49.7541.5900.467, www.zeppelin-nt.com

With Joby Aviation and ESAero, NASA has begun developing the LEAPTech all-electric airplane…
The chopper can be outfitted with a conference table, swivel seating, and a mini galley…
After two years of development, the fuel-efficient plane has completed its first test flight…
This solar technology could have applications in commercial and business aviation…
Built on a Beechcraft King Air C09A airframe, the plane has new General Electric engines…
Photo by Paul Bowen
The extended-range aircraft’s circumnavigation required just one stop and set two speed records...
Photo by Airbus Group / CAPA / Cyril Abad
The company hopes its E-Fan 2.0 training aircraft will lead to electric-powered jetliners…
Deliveries of the new jet are expected to begin late this year…
Nextant G90XT features General Electric’s new H80 turboprop engines...
Photo by Philippe Stroppa
The company expects to begin deliveries next year…