"So, musing on the exploration of the aerial ocean, I too devised airships and flying machines in my imagination."
-Alberto Santos-Dumont, airship pioneer
Introduction to Airships
Airships are very ancient
and poorly understood aircraft. The simple definition of an airship is a powered, steerable aircraft that uses buoyant gas, often helium or hot air, but also hydrogen
in the past, to lift some or all of its structure. Airships have been around since the year 1852,
but their heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s.
They were and are used for a great deal of things, including advertising, exploration, heavy cargo transport, surveillance, flying aircraft carriers
, heavy bombardment, anti-submarine warfare, tourism, research, airborne early warning, and as luxurious transportation akin to an ocean liner.
They accomplished these with widely varying degrees of success, as detailed below. Airships' effect on media has been profound throughout history. They have inspired several tropes, including Cool Airship
, Zeppelins from Another World
, Airborne Aircraft Carrier
, and Sky Pirates
. Believe it or not, those last two actually happened.
As time has passed, airships have been seen as an impossible dream
, a promising innovation, an instrument of terror and mass murder
, glamorous high-tech transportation for the wealthy
, as obsolete antiques, and as an old technology with new potential. There are many different kinds of airship.
Hot Air Airships
The simplest, cheapest class of airship. They are basically elongated, sealed hot air balloons with a rudder and propulsion- what the French would call a "Dirigible"
or "directable" balloon. While most are technically 'blimps', they are in a different league than helium
blimps because they have a different lift gas and lack several major subsystems. Their major advantage is cost- they require no hangar, no mast, and very minimal ground support because they deflate and pack away after each flight. The ships themselves cost a tiny fraction as much as comparable helium airships, due to the convenience and simplicity of hot air. However, the disadvantage is that use of hot air hampers the ship's speed, reducing it to roughly a third as much as a helium blimp- 20 to 30 mph. It is no coincidence that hot air has a third the lift of helium. The ships can be built much lighter than helium vessels, so there is not as much payload loss at small scales, but the loss of speed is unavoidable. This limits them to advertising, photography and scientific roles.
Blimps, or nonrigid airships, are the most ubiquitous class of airship. They rely on slight gas pressure- maintained by internal air sacs called ballonets- to maintain their shape. In other words, they're inflatable. A blimp consists of two parts- the envelope, hull or gasbag; and the gondola or control car. The engine(s) are either connected to the gondola or lashed directly to the hull, as are the tail fins. Unlike a Zeppelin, there are no structures or rooms hidden within the hull, and all habitable spaces are confined to the gondola. Typically blimps have no separate gas cells or helium compartmentalization. Because of their smaller size and more fragile nature, blimps are usually slower and carry much less payload than a Zeppelin or semi-rigid. Nearly all hot air airships are blimps. Famous blimps include the Goodyear Blimp and Henri Giffard's airship, the first ever flown.
Semi-rigids are the intermediate step between blimps and Zeppelins. They can be larger and faster than blimps, and carry higher payloads. This is thanks to a rigid external or internal keel which distributes the payload evenly to the hull, and serves as a mounting point for the gondola, more powerful engines, and tail fins. Because they are not fully rigid, they still use ballonets to partially retain their shape. They sometimes have gas cells or separate gas compartments, but usually fewer than Zeppelins. Famous examples of semi-rigids would be the modern "New Technology (NT)" series of airships made by the Zeppelin company (not to be confused with their rigid airships) and the Norge,
the first aircraft confirmed to reach the North Pole.
or rigid airships, are the largest and most impressive category of airship. Count Zeppelin first invented and flew the fully rigid aircraft in 1900, and most now refer to all rigid airships as Zeppelins in his honor. Zeppelins are defined by their structure — they have a metal or wooden frames, in which usually ten to thirty independent, unpressurized balloons called gas cells are suspended. All but the earliest Zeppelins have an internal keel that runs from bow to stern, where vast majority of the rooms, passenger decks, cargo holds and supplies are located, and which can be used to access different areas of the ship. More recent
rigid airships can use different designs, some using a rigid internal structure to add strength to the exterior frame, and some using rigid panels instead of a canvas covering. Metalclads, or all-metal airships, are a rare subcategory of rigid airship. Some notable examples of Zeppelins would be the Graf Zeppelin
and the Hindenburg.
The newest, fastest(90-140 mph) class of airship. Hybrid airships are not hybridizations of different categories of airship. Rather, they are hybrids between lighter-than-air(LTA) airships and heavier-than-air(HTA) vehicles such as airplanes, tiltrotors and hovercraft, and often all of the above. Hybrid airships are an extremely recent category of airship, and are preferred by many over LTA airships because of their larger cargo payloads. A hybrid the size of a midsized blimp can carry 20 tons. Hybrids the size of the Zeppelins of the early 20th century can carry 250-500 tons to the Zeppelins' 50 or so. But even more important than the larger payload is their ability to land without expensive, specialized ground assistance, and their greatly increased redundancy, safety, and resistance to bad weather. Hybrid airships can be any class of airship. Notable hybrids include the Lockheed-Martin Skytug, the Solar Ships, the Aeroscraft, and the U.S. Army's LEMV.
The Science of Airships
Airships operate on two foundational principles: buoyancy, or Archimedes' Principle, and the Square/Cube Law
. Airships do not float because they weigh less than air; on the contrary, they can weigh hundreds of tons. Rather, they float because their average density
is reduced by their lift gas, which means that their weight is displaced by the helium and supported by the denser air. This is why airships can't float into space. The second principle, the Square/Cube Law
, states that the volume of an object goes up cubically with linear increases in size. That's why an airship only slightly larger than another can have double the volume of the smaller one, and it's also why Zeppelins carry seemingly disproportionately huge loads in comparison to blimps and balloons.
Helium gas can carry about a kilogram (2.2 pounds) per cubic meter, roughly the same as hydrogen, despite having double the atomic weight. The difference in buoyancy is about 8%. Hot air at the typical temperature of 110 degrees Celsius or so can carry a third as much as helium can. For much of airships' history, helium was undiscovered or unavailable, forcing them to use flammable hydrogen instead. This, in conjunction with very primitive construction and safety methods, caused dozens of crashes.
Due to the obvious size incentive, airships are quite large. The Hindenburg
was the largest, at 804 feet in length and 135 feet in diameter. The interior was somewhat like a cross between a fancy hotel, a luxury train, and an ocean liner, with staterooms for 70 passengers. It contained two hundred thousand cubic meters — or over seven million cubic feet — of hydrogen gas, which provided 250 tons of lift. It could fly at about 130 km/h, or 85 mph. Airships in general are slightly slower than helicopters(hybrids about the same), and between 1/4 and 1/5 as fast as a jet airliner. The world flight endurance record is held by a Cold War
-era military airship called Snowbird,
which stayed aloft with a crew of 13 for ten and a half days, and crossed the Atlantic twice in that time. Even small blimps are efficient enough to stay aloft for up to 24 hours at a time.
Altitude is an extremely important factor when it comes to lift; because air becomes increasingly rarefied at higher altitudes, the relative lift of helium is reduced drastically. Compounding these restrictions is the "pressure height" of airships. The air ballonets that regulate hull pressure(and in Zeppelins, the space the gas cells have to expand) are also a limiting factor. The helium gas expands as the airship rises, gradually filling out the hull. To go beyond this point, gas must be vented, but this is extremely dangerous, as when the airship descends again, air equalling the vented helium will reenter the hull and weigh it down. In practice, this means that most advertising blimps have a flight cieling of 10,000 feet, Zeppelins can reach 5-25,000 feet, depending on the type, and specially-designed high altitude airships with tiny payloads, huge ballonets and little helium can reach 60-110,000 feet. How much an airship can lift depends greatly on its maximum altitude.
Airships are often portrayed in the media as being Made of Explodium
, which is somewhat justified, as there were dozens of hydrogen-related airship crashes, but oftentimes even helium blimps will be shown exploding in flames for no reason.
The public at large seems to stereotype airships as ruinously expensive, disaster-prone, obsolete aircraft, with top speeds in the single digits, and that can be shot down with one shot from a BB gun.
Oh, and the helium is running out.
These stereotypes are all gross exaggerations, but interestingly it's rather hit-or-miss if there's even a kernel of truth to them. Most of these stereotypes are born out of a warped sense of scale, or simple ignorance, so it's no surprise that their accuracy is spotty.
As for cost, airships are almost always cheaper than comparable aircraft, due to their mechanical simplicity and low power requirements. However, the costs associated
with airships can be quite expensive. More primitive models of airship still require mooring masts, ground crews and hangars for storage; these are all expensive, but may or may not counterbalance the low cost of the airship. Hybrids, hot airships and some advanced airships avoid these altogether, as they are such a nuisance.
The durability of an airship is hard to explain. Counter-intuitively, airships are actually incredibly resistant to attacks because
they are fragile. Artillery shells, rockets, bullets, even missiles pass straight in one end and out the other; they don't detonate against fabric. The resulting holes are so tiny in relation to the sheer size of the craft, and the gas is under so little(if any) pressure, it's almost negligible. Even hydrogen airships did not explode when shot with ordinary munitions, or even incendiary bullets — fire inside thousands of cubic feet of hydrogen, but without oxygen
, is useless. Fighters equipped with special explosive-incendiary bullets to combat them had to concentrate on one spot and empty one or two drums of ammunition before enough hydrogen would leak out to mix with atmospheric oxygen and ignite. An airship's durability is proportional to its volume, and whether it can fly using aerodynamics like a plane. It will take around 500 bullets two hours to put a small blimp in danger of crashing; midsize Zeppelins can endure thousands of holes.
Even non-hybrid airships can lose a large quantity of helium and still fly; a military K-class blimp once had its gas vent stick open at sea, and it managed to fly all the way back to base despite losing 25% of its helium. British airship R33 could be flown back to base after being blown for a night by a storm over the North Sea with first 2 gas cells broken in April 1921. The Zeppelin LZ-39 was ambushed by flak cannons and artillery fire twice
over the Ukraine, had all aft gas cells breached, had the forward gondola and engines blasted off the hull, yet still managed to slowly fly hundreds of miles back to Germany. Part of airships' durability stems from their loads of redundancies — lots of gas cells, many engines, several steering gondolas, etc. Some new hybrid airships
are even capable of flying with no lift gas at all.
Airships have a reputation for being disaster-prone. Whilst this was certainly true for hydrogen airships 90 years ago, it should also be noted that these were, well, hydrogen airships 90 years ago. Modern airships are actually quite safe, and compare favorably to helicopters. It's hard to make generalizations, though, because airships are just like airplanes when it comes to safety: an ultralight plane is less safe in inclement weather and crash situations than a 747. In the same way, some hot airships are blown backwards in a 10 mph wind, but certain hybrids can maintain a level flight path in a sustained 70 mph tropical storm, or brave blizzards at the North Pole.
There are basically three determining factors to the safety of an airship: speed, control and structure. The speed of airships determines how much wind they can withstand. As a rule of thumb, wind exceeding the top speed of the ship in flight puts it in danger, and wind exceeding half its top speed makes landing dangerous. Control is a function of power and maneuverability. Power is relative: the AS-300 hot airship and the Zeppelin NT have nearly the same volume, but the NT has six times the horsepower. Complicating matters is the Square/Cube Law
- the Hindenburg
has as a sixth as much horsepower per volume as the NT, but is faster, because volume increases exponentially. In terms of maneuverability, airships can be divided into two categories: ones with vectored thrust, or the ability to direct the force of the engines up and down, and those that lack it. Structure is simply the design and materials an airship is made of, and how many aerodynamic stresses and loads they can endure.
Lastly, there is indeed a helium shortage — but that is often mistaken for the helium running out.
Rather, the current helium crisis is due to problems with delays with new production facilities, reserves being abandoned, existing outdated production facilities breaking down, and increasing demand. Waste factors in as well; the overwhelming majority of helium — which is used for things like industry and medicine — is perfectly recyclable, but is instead discarded. The United States alone has enough proven
helium reserves in natural gas to last sixty years, and the country's unproven reserves are estimated to be 1,000 times that — not accounting for improvements in extraction methods, recycling or additional reserves. Furthermore, the other noble gases krypton and xenon are commercially extracted from the atmosphere; helium is more than 5 and 65 times as abundant than them in the atmosphere, respectively. Helium is constantly escaping the atmosphere into space, but it comprises a stable, significant percentage of it because it is constantly seeping from the ground due to radioactive decay. It is more expensive to distill helium from the atmosphere with current methods, but not enough to jeopardize certain competitive airship operations. Natural gas helium is currently around $.07 per liter, and if extracted from the atmosphere, it is estimated to be roughly three times as energy-intensive to produce.
Flying an airship, or flying in an airship, is said to be quite bizarre. Small blimps tend to gently rock from side to side in the breeze like a small boat, while large Zeppelins are preternaturally still and quiet. Passengers and crew are simultaneously struck by the sheer size and weightlessness of the craft. Piloting these vessels is said to be akin to yachting- for any input you give, there is a delay before the action is carried out. Modern hybrid airships eagerly take to the sky after a quick surge of power or a short take-off run, after which they behave quite like a normal airship, but more fast and controllable. In the past, airships were kept in trim by carefully venting lift gas and releasing ballast. Nowadays, there is a much greater degree of control over lift, by flying slightly "heavy," altering the aerodynamic lift, or by altering the density or temperature of the gas; this is done to conserve expensive helium. Direction is changed either by thrust vectoring, or by steering with the fins, which only works when the airship is moving.
The inside of a large airship is unlike any other aircraft. Because airships are both much larger and much less structurally dense than other aircraft, combined with the fact that they can carry larger payloads than any other type of aircraft, they must have very large, spacious interiors
in order to facilitate proper weight distribution throughout the hull. This is the primary reason why the Hindenburg
stands to this day as having the most interior space of any aircraft, just the A deck alone had more floor space than all 3 decks of the world's largest passenger jet, the Airbus A380. On military and commercial craft, this space is dedicated to long corridors with fuel, crew accomidations and supplies, interspersed with aircraft hangars
and cargo bays, respectively. On luxury craft like the Graf Zeppelin ll
and the Hindenburg,
this space was devoted to promenades, staterooms, dining rooms, lounges, bars, and so on and so forth. The gondolas
of large airships were quite amazing, they were large, wrapped with windows from floor to cieling. The airship would be controlled with a spoked helm and circular engine telegraphs, just like on a nautical ship,
and the officers and The Captain
would be dressed in full naval regalia - justified
, as they were usually recruited from the surface fleet.
In contrast, the interior of a small airship or blimp is anything but luxurious, particularly for military blimps. Because the engines of a blimp are typically mounted to the gondola, it is noisy and uncomfortable. The severe restrictions on weight meant for military airships that food was sometimes cooked over hot exhaust pipes, and latrines were simply a can, a curtain, and a rubber hose. The interior was either too hot, or too cold. Bunks were a luxury, hammocks were the norm. On the bright side, like large airships, small blimps do have spectacular views, being fitted with huge panorama windows.
The Origin of Airships
Airships were a dream of early aviators even before the first manned balloon flew in 1783. In 1852, Henri Giffard first flew in a tiny 113,000 cubic foot blimp powered by a 3-horsepower steam engine which weighed several hundred pounds. It had a less-than-impressive top speed of six miles per hour. Airships would then go on to be powered by electrical motors and eventually gas engines. By 1897, David Schwartz invented the first rigid, metalclad airship. But it was not until the 1900 flight of Count Zeppelin's LZ-1 that airships began to move out of the experimental stage. At first, they were used by the military for surveillance purposes, until Zeppelin founded the world's first passenger airline, DELAG, in 1909. During World War One
, Zeppelins, blimps and semirigids were used by many nations. They enjoyed much success in naval patrol and surveillance niches, but German attempts to use Zeppelins as high-altitude heavy bombers rapidly became too costly when the British defenders, after many failures, finally came up with a successful countermeasure- the incindiary bullet. They were replaced by fleets of Gotha planes. The development airships experienced during the war was vital for their later commercial service.
Dawn of the Golden Age of Airships
After the war, the military and the public at large became fascinated with airships. This ushered in the "Golden Age of Airships," which began in the mid 1920s and ended by 1940. In the interim, militaries successfully experimented with creating true airborne aircraft carriers
. Advertisers found small blimps useful for carrying brand logos, and the Russians used them to carry cargo to far-flung, remote regions. But the most famous and popular use was as luxury transportation. The Graf Zeppelin,
the most successful airship in history, become a beloved international icon. It circumnavigated the world many times faster than the airplanes before it. She traveled to the north pole, visited great cities and monuments, and eventually settled into a transatlantic route, becoming the world's first transcontinental airliner. Her safety record was perfect, and she flew over one million miles. Many other airships saw success during this time, but all was not well...
The Fall of Airships
Though the Graf Zeppelin
and the Zeppelin airline in general became known as an icon of safety, like all aircraft of the time, there were still safety problems. The size of airships had increased rapidly, but the materials, design, flight procedures and technology of the early 20th century were all still extremely primitive. Even the Americans, who had switched to Helium instead of hazardous Hydrogen, were met with crushing tragedies due to the loss of their two sister aircraft carriers Akron
Both were lost in storms at sea, the Akron
due to crew error and a malfunctioning altimeter, and Macon
due to a flawed post-design modification to the tail fins, combined with improper handling. Meanwhile, the British unsuccessfully attempted to bring their "Imperial Airship Scheme" to fruition. The British government's bid for the project was the R101, which was the world's largest and most luxurious skyliner to date. However, due to appalling build quality, flying headfirst into a storm in spite of warnings, insufficient testing and egregious
leadership incompetence, the R101 crashed on her maiden voyage (hold on, this sounds extremely familiar...
) The competing design, R-100, despite being very well-built, was subsequently scrapped. After this rather inauspicious series of events, the wreckage of the doomed R-101 was collected and reforged into a brand-new airship, this one surpassing even the doomed R101 in sheer size and luxury: the LZ-129 Hindenburg
. These events marked the beginning of the end. The demise of the Hindenburg
brought an extremely abrupt end to the rigid airship. Its explosion was literally the penultimate flight of any passenger Zeppelin, and by 1940 not a single one remained.
After the devastating tragedy that ended rigid airship travel just as it was beginning, Helium blimps continued on, defending Allied convoys from Axis submarines with stunning success during World War II
. During the war, they escorted over 89,000 ships, losing only one to a submarine attack; as convoys that weren't protected were sunk left and right by U-Boat wolf packs. American blimps enjoyed the highest mission readiness of any aircraft during the war. After the war ended, American blimps continued to be used for a few decades as airborne early warning radar relays and sub-hunters, but that niche was driven into obsolescence with the adoption of nigh-undetectable nuclear submarine and ICBMs. In the meantime, Goodyear had continued operating a handful of blimps to advertise its brand. This stability- or some might say stagnation- went relatively undisturbed until the invention of the hot air airship in the 1970s, and their subsequent rise in advertising popularity, but even then, it was limited to the advertising niche. Many times during this fallow era from the mid-40s to the late 90s, there were attempts to revive the airship beyond its advertising role. These attempts generated a little press, but few generated any flying prototypes. One that did reach prototyping stage was the disastrous Forest Service Helistat, which consisted of four chopped-up, obsolete helicopters affixed to a spindly frame and a Cold War-era blimp envelope. The helicopters destabilized, and it fell apart and burst into flames and shrapnel within seconds of taking off, killing the pilot. Another attempt was the Aereon project, which was the subject of the popular book The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed,
by John Mc Phee
. It flew, and was a sound concept, but it failed to get funding. With each attempt at a revival never getting off the ground, airships became increasingly associated with Vapor Ware
, and few regarded them seriously anymore.
By the 1980s, airship technology had atrophied to such an extreme, even advertising was proving to be complicated for airships. Then, a British company called Airship Industries introduced the next generation of airships. Their successful "Skyship" series of airships are in use to this day, and employ advanced composite materials, ducted fans, and vectored thrust. These airships were vastly more competent all-around than their World War 2
-era Goodyear counterparts, and could do more than simply advertise- they can carry tourists in their spacious cabins, conduct research, and perform long-range scouting duties. Soon after, the Zeppelin Company, which had expanded into other markets following the Hindenburg
crash, reentered the airship business with the advanced semi-rigid Zeppelin NT. The NT, which has recently been updated and adopted by Goodyear to replace their aging blimps, also employs vectored thrust and composites, which drastically cut the crew and maintenance costs while increasing performance.
Shortly after this mini-revival of the 80's and 90's, the Pentagon became keenly interested in airships during the 00's. The major airship project of that decade, ultra-heavy-lift WALRUS program, was cancelled and subsequently revived in a different iteration by DARPA working with NASA and the Worldwide Aeros Corporation. During late 00's and into the 10's, the two primary airship developments, Blue Devil II and LEMV, were both cancelled. However, the private market is producing far more flying prototypes than any previous revival schemes were ever able to. This can be attributed to an influx of practicality: airship startups that had gone defunct, such as Cargolifter, attempted to build gigantic, impractical airships weighing in the millions of pounds from scratch, with next to zero experience or prototyping. Now, however, established companies such as Lockheed Martin, Hybrid Air Vehicles and Worldwide Aeros Corporation are developing hybrid airships in the smaller, more economical 20-50 ton capacity range. Solar Ship, a Canadian company, has set their sights even smaller- they've produced three prototypes of a very small, solar powered flying wing hybrid airship that competes against small helicopters and bushplanes. After entering the market with these, then
those companies will work on scaling the designs up for efficiency.
Because they were available for far longer and were much more forgiving in terms of structure, aerodynamics and payload than airplanes, airships were experimentally used for a wide variety of niches- sometimes with the same ship. While some of these applications took off quite well, others went over like a lead Zeppelin.
Here's a brief summary of the uses that airships saw, as well as their performance.
Possibly the most lucrative and famous commercial use for airships, nearly as old as airships themselves, one which has sustained them in periods of obsolescence in other fields. Hot air airships in particular are incredibly cheap and profitable for advertising; for $80-$200,000 you can buy
a hot airship, and advertise very effectively with little continual investment compared to far more expensive conventional ads and commercials.
• Luxury Liner-
While the ships themselves were astonishingly luxurious, to a degree unmatched to this day, in practice the results were decidedly mixed, thanks to hydrogen.
was profitable, a first for the Zeppelin Company, but unfortunately they were all scrapped due to the fire hazard before any could be used with nonflammable helium, so it's unknown how they would have fared in that niche.
• Heavy Cargo-
First done successfully with the Soviets on a limited scale, airships have not been very suitable for heavy cargo operations. They can carry very heavy loads, but their landing sites are a limiting factor- they require a large ground crew, large specialized infrastructure(hangars, masts, etc.), and delicate ballast exchange so their buoyancy doesn't make them uncontrollable during offloading. However, hybrids are completely the opposite; they're actually now being sought after
because they require little to no infrastructure to take off, land, and offload cargo. In addition, they're fuel-efficient(which translates to long range), 1/3 the cost of similar airplanes and 1/10 the cost of similar helicopters, and are able to carry up to 500 tons of cargo for Hindenburg
• Science and Research-
Airships have consistently shone in research applications. They are quiet, cheap relative to other aircraft, stable, slow, and perhaps most importantly, can stay up in the air for extended periods. Blimps were even used to test atomic bombs. The US military currently has an airship, MZ-3A, designated as a "flying laboratory," and the European PEGASOS Zeppelin is currently conducting atmospheric tests. The AS-300 also proved hot airships could conduct research; it carried around huge detachable study platforms with teams of scientists that could be deposited directly on the jungle without harming it.
Airships have been used for surveillance ever since they were adopted by the military over a hundred years ago, and today they show no signs of slowing down. Aerostats- essentially kite blimps- remain the most dirt-cheap, low-risk surveillance system around, and the go- to for the US and Israeli militaries. Helicopters are expensive, have zero loitering ability, and are often shot down. Jets are even more expensive, though they have better endurance and less vulnerability. Satellites have an ungodly price tag, and are literally incapable of remaining over an area. It's no wonder the 19th century option is preferred.
• Offensive military- Death from Above
meets the Cool Airship
, in theory. In World War One
, the Germans in particular were gung ho on using Zeppelins to crush the Entente's will by bombing cities like Paris and London. Airships proved poorly suited for the task. A Zeppelin can take an immense amount of punishment, but that was rendered moot once the British- after many, many failures and a depressing 0% success rate- finally devised a method to shoot down a Zeppelin: the incendiary bullet. By war's end a third of the armada had been shot down, thanks to this invention- even though airships of the time carried as many as twenty-four AA guns
and an autocannon,
they were rarely able to drive away the squadrons of fighters and their incendiary bullets
. It didn't help that Zeppelins couldn't be produced in as great of numbers as planes, and their hangars were giant bombing targets to the enemy.
• Defensive military-
Airships used in a defensive strategy proved vastly more effective than using them as an offensive weapon. In World War II
, American anti-submarine blimps escorted 80,000 ships, and only lost one
of their protected vessels. In World War One
they were used for the same thing, but the records are fuzzier on their exact success rate. However, defensive airships became obsolete in the 1960s after the Soviets switched from bombers and diesel subs to ICBMs and nuclear subs.
• Airborne Aircraft Carrier-
An unorthodox combination of the above two, and in some ways superior to both. Invented in 1917, the aircraft carrier airship was originally intended to use its parasite fighter airplanes as a diversion or protection so that the then-lightened airship could ascend out of range and escape. Eventually, the carriers evolved from Zeppelins launching airplanes hanging off the keel to a launch-and-recover "trapeze" system connected to an internal hangar bay. The rationale evolved as well: the airship would use its immense range and endurance to serve as a kind of flying airbase to the aircraft, by proxy extending their range and endurance. Famously, two sister carriers, the Akron and Macon, crashed in separate storms, but both were due to human error, rather than being a poor concept. Still, as aircraft's ranges grew, the carriers were no longer necessary to fly sorties out at sea, and they became obsolete as well.