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Graf Zeppelin - The Most Successful Airship

Although a more infamous airship was to follow, perhaps the most famous airship was the Graf Zeppelin, which launched on September 18, 1928.Although a more infamous airship was to follow, perhaps the most famous airship was the Graf Zeppelin, which launched on September 18, 1928. The Graf Zeppelin was an impressive and imposing engineering and aeronautical marvel. Known officially as the LZ-127, it was to become popular as 'The Graf.' The Graf Zeppelin was designed by Ludwig Durr -- but in reality was the brainchild of airship champion Hugo Eckner. It adopted its name from German airship pioneer Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who had died in 1917. As one of Zeppelin's students, Eckner continued the Count's work and managed to keep the Zeppelin firm alive by building the ZR-3 'USS Los Angeles' for the US Navy. In contemplating The Graf, he appealed to the German populace for funds and managed to raise enough to start building. With proof of product, the Government matched funds and enabled completion. The Graf Zeppelin was like a luxury ocean liner and quite the example of comfort and elegance. There were cabins, berths and washrooms for the passengers -- all attended to by uniformed stewards. However, with the weight constraints of airships, some things were a bit less study than they appeared. What may have appeared to be fabric-covered walls were in reality fabric *sans* wall. But travelers certainly could not complain about the food. A master chef prepared meals on board, and the crew waited on passengers in an impressive dining room while the world slid smoothly beneath them. Accommodations for the 43 crew were built into the keel of the airship, running from nose to tail. Crew bunks, mess, workstations and the cargo hold were all along this sturdy spine made from duralumin -- an alloy metal of great strength and low weight. Even given the low weight, the amount of metal used amounted to more than 30 tons. For all the rings, girders, stringers and formers that gave The Graf its shape, there was an additional framework. An axial gangway ran between the gas cells so the crew could inspect or repair in flight. The first major flight for the Graf Zeppelin was to the United States. Leaving Friedrichshafen, Germany for Lakehurst New Jersey, the Graf Zeppelin was not to make a direct flight, but a demonstration flight that would fly a southerly route. The airship would pass over France and Spain before heading out over the Atlantic, skirting the Azores and Bermuda before making landfall over the United States. Heading north, the silver skinned craft would pass over Washington DC and New York before turning to the mooring mast at Lakehurst. At 6,200 miles, this was the longest non-stop flight to date. In early August 1929, the Graf was pointed east for the start of a world circling flight that would take the aircraft to places where no man made flying machine had ever been. Starting in New Jersey at the request of underwriters of the trip (publisher William Randolph Hearst), the LZ-127 stopped in Germany, and then continued on to Japan.

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About This Author:
Brian Nicklas is a researcher and the Asst. Reference Chief in the Archives Division of the National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. As a freelance aerospace writer and photographer he has covered the space program to military aviation, and has flight experience in gliders to blimps. He is an alumnus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach in Aeronautical Studies and was recently named a Contributing Editor to Air&Space/Smithsonian Magazine. As an unlicensed pilot, he flies in whatever he can when not building airplane models.
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