Lighter than air

Main articles: Airship and Zeppelin

Santos-Dumont's "Number 6" rounding the Eiffel Tower in the process of winning the Deutsch de la Meurthe Prize, October 1901.

The first aircraft to make routine controlled flights were non-rigid airships (later called "blimps".) The most successful early pioneering pilot of this type of aircraft was the Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont who effectively combined a balloon with an internal combustion engine. On October 19, 1901 he flew his airship "Number 6" over Paris from the Parc de Saint Cloud around the Eiffel Tower and back in under 30 minutes to win the Deutsch de la Meurthe prize. Santos Lighter than air-Dumont went on to design and build several aircraft. Subsequent controversy surrounding his and others' competing claims with regard to aircraft overshadowed his unparalleled contributions to the development of airships.

At the same time that non-rigid airships were starting to have some success, rigid airships were also becoming more advanced. Indeed, rigid body dirigibles would be far more capable than fixed-wing aircraft in terms of pure cargo carrying capacity for decades. Dirigible design and advancement was brought about by the German count, Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

Construction of the first Zeppelin airship began in 1899 in a floating assembly Lighter than air hall on Lake Constance in the Bay of Manzell, Friedrichshafen. This was intended to ease the starting procedure, as the hall could easily be aligned with the wind. The prototype airship LZ 1 (LZ for "Luftschiff Zeppelin") had a length of 128 m, was driven by two 14.2 ps (10.6 kW) Daimler engines and balanced by moving a weight between its two nacelles.

The first Zeppelin flight occurred on July 2, 1900. It lasted for only 18 minutes, as LZ 1 was forced to land on the lake after the winding mechanism for the balancing weight had broken. Upon repair, the technology proved its potential in subsequent flights, beating Lighter than air the 6 m/s velocity record of French airship La Franceby 3 m/s, but could not yet convince possible investors. It would be several years before the Count was able to raise enough funds for another try. Indeed, it was not until 1902 when Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres Quevedo developed his own zeppelin airship, with which he solved the serious balance problems the suspending gondola had shown in previous flight attempts.


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