Passengers travelling aboard the subject of this year’s Christmas road test don’t get airsick but can feel seasick, according to Kate Board, one of its lead pilots.
With distinctive blue-and-yellow livery, this Zeppelin LZ N07-101 airship is otherwise known as The Goodyear Blimp, a marketing vehicle that returned to European skies for the first time in almost a decade during the summer.
That people on board are likely to need sea legs rather than air legs tells you something about the unique nature of an airship, as we’ll discover. They’re sometimes referred to as lighter-than-air ships, although that’s not strictly accurate in the case of the latest Zeppelin craft, made by Zeppelin NT (for New Technology).
The German company’s current genesis came about after a long period of dormancy for the famous old name. The original Zeppelin made and operated huge airships, with its Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin offering transatlantic passenger crossings in as little as two and a half days, making them the fastest way across in the late 1930s. “They were the private jet aviation of the day,” Zeppelin CEO Eckhard Breuer tells us today.
Zeppelin even had a venture with Goodyear, and demand for airships was so great that Zeppelin wanted to buy helium gas from the US, but it needed its precious supplies for itself. Fatefully, Zeppelin instead floated the Hindenburg with hydrogen; its fiery 1937 crash was the world’s first televised industrial disaster and the primary reason why airships went out of fashion overnight.
The later invention of the jet engine sealed the airship’s fate, but Zeppelin as an entity continued, owning the likes of Europe’s largest Caterpillar dealer and car component supplier ZF, with a trust fund set aside for the rebirth of airships in the future.
That came to be in 1997, when a new Zeppelin airship prototype first flew. Refined and honed since, the Zeppelin’s attributes today make it much more than just a marketing tool and a floating beacon of joy.
With specialist industrial uses too, the LZ N07-101, made in Friedrichshafen, the world centre for airship design today as it was in the 1930s, is a remarkable and uniquely useful aircraft.
Price £17,880,000 Power 600bhp Fuel economy 40kg/hour Endurance 24 hours Climb rate 1000ft/min Descent rate 1200ft/min
Design and Engineering
Now here’s a thing straight away. Technically, The Goodyear Blimp isn’t a blimp at all. In fact, as Breuer tells us: “Nobody in Germany even knows what a blimp is.”
A blimp is a balloon that has no internal structure so obtains its shape solely from the pressure of the gas inside the balloon, or ‘envelope’. A rigid airship, meanwhile, like original Zeppelins, is a structure with a skin drawn tight around the frame, typically unpressurised and with gas bags inside it.