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  • Farewell to America’s Only Passenger Dirigible

    Posted by David Foster on December 31st, 2012 (All posts by )

     

    I’ve long been intrigued by airships, and was pleased when several years ago it was announced that the German company Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH had developed an advanced-technology dirigible design…the Zeppelin NT…and was offering it for sale. I was even more pleased when one of these aircraft, named Eureka, was acquired by an American startup, Airship Ventures, with the intent  of putting it in commercial service for sightseeing rides. And a bit later, I discovered that Airship Ventures was offering a zeppelin pilot experience program, which allowed  licensed pilots to attend a 2-day training program culminating in actually flying the zeppelin (with an instructor, of course.)

    I participated in this program earlier this year: it was a lot of fun and I’d been intending to write a blog post about it. But I got a lump of coal in my Christmas stocking when I was flipping through an aviation magazine and learned that Airship Ventures has suspended operations for financial reasons. The problems are (a) the general economy, (b) lack of economies of scale, as AV is operating only one ship, and (c) the greatly increased price of helium. (The Zeppelin NT is designed to minimize helium loss, but some such loss in unavoidable.)  Attempts to locate a major sponsor who would provide enough funding to keep the airship in business were unsuccessful, and Eureka (which was apparently acquired by AV under a lease arrangement) has been dismantled and is on its way back to the manufacturer in Germany,

    I’d have thought that there would have been a number of firms that could creatively take advantage of the uniqueness and great visibility offered by the zep, and am really surprised that no sponsor surfaced: AV CEO Brian Hall put the cost of sponsoring the airship for a year at about the same figure as the cost of a one-minute Superbowl ad.

    In response to my inquiry about the ship’s status, the company did indicate that if a major sponsor should appear at this point they would be able to restart operations, albeit obviously with delays and higher costs than would have been the case had they been able to maintain continuous operations of Eureka.

    Three Zeppelin NTs are being acquired by Goodyear as replacements for their blimp fleet, so Americans will still be able to enjoy the sight of zeppelins in our skies…but it is unlikely that rides will be offered to people not closely connected to the Goodyear company.

    Very sad. Hopefully, at some point an improving economy, combined with adequate sponsorship and an ability to achieve sustainable scale, will allow AV to bring passenger zeppelins back to the United States.

    In the meantime, Zeppelin NT rides are still available in Germany…I see that 11 different routes are now available.

    Some additional links:

    Mercury News articles here and here

    LosGatosPatch

    Eureka photos at Mashable

    Some nice pictures of Eureka over the Sonoma coast

    Airship Ventures site

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    13 Responses to “Farewell to America’s Only Passenger Dirigible”

    1. Jonathan Says:

      Bummer. But if Goodyear starts using them it will at least be possible to seem them in flight.

    2. Bill Brandt Says:

      I would love to attend the museum at Friedrichshafen. I think they charged something like $300 for atrip around the Bay but on a clear day what a spectacular trip that would have been.

    3. VSSC Says:

      Speaking of which, the NYT is abandoning the pretense of a Constitution.

      Presenting Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/31/opinion/lets-give-up-on-the-constitution.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&ref=opinion

    4. Bill Brandt Says:

      VSSC – after all the current people we have are so much wiser than the Founding Fathers

    5. David Foster Says:

      Zeppelin-based airline service began in 1909 with the formation of DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, or German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd)

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/travel/news/2009-10-28-zeppelin-air-travel_N.htm

      …it appears that most of DELAG’s business was sightseeing flights, although there apparently was some scheduled intercity service.

      Contrary to a statement at the above link, it appears that there *was* a brief post-war activation of DELAG passenger service prior to the 1927 introduction of the Graf Zeppelin…the airships Bodensee and Nordstern provided domestic and some international air service (to Sweden) between 1919 and 1921, at which time they were taken as reparations by the Inter-Allied Commission

      http://www.airships.net/delag-passenger-zeppelins

      …some nice pictures of zep passenger arrangements.

    6. Bill Brandt Says:

      One has to wonder what the world would be like today without the Hindenburg accident. I remember reading an account of Louis Zamperini ‘s account of survival in WW2 – but one of the opening passages describes the visit of a German Zepellin over Los Angeles – and he 800′ long craft blocking out the sun for a bit over his house

    7. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Bill, it wasn’t just the loss of the Hindenburg. It was just the last of a series of horrible disasters involving dirigibles: the Akron and the Macon, the Shenandoah (all US Navy dirigibles) the British R101…
      I wrote about some of that here, at the Brief a couple of years ago:
      http://www.ncobrief.com/index.php/archives/sky-sisters/

    8. Bill Brandt Says:

      Thanks Sgt – I will read those – it really was a glorious age – I think they found – a few years ago – the wreckage of a navy airship – complete with the biplanes – off the Pacific.

      I wish you & Blondie – and all the CB commenters – and readers – a Happy New Year.

    9. David Foster Says:

      There’s a good book about the history of dirigible, by John Toland: The Great Diribiles

      http://www.amazon.com/Great-Dirigibles-John-Toland/dp/0486213978/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1357068118&sr=1-1&keywords=toland+dirigibles

      I have a copy around here somewhere, but can’t find it at the moment

    10. Bill Brandt Says:

      Sgt – good write up – like you I have a trace of acrophobia – couldn’t stand even looking over the edge of the Empire State Bldg – can’t imagine going down some gangplank swaying 1000′ off the ground – with the airship just held by the 1 mooring post (which as an aside I did not realize that was its original purpose).

      2 largely forgettable movies about this era – but give a wonderful feeling for the times – are Disney’s The Rocketeer and The Hindenberg

      David – thanks for the reference – it was truly a glorious time of air travel set when much of the world was out of work and hungry.

    11. Percy Dovetonsils Says:

      Harumph – I’m still waiting for my autogyro.

    12. David Foster Says:

      Seems like quite a bit is happening in the autogyro world. Here’s one (they actually call it a gyroplane rather than an autogyro) which has an FAA Type Certification rather than the more common experimental-category authorization, uses a standard Lycoming aircraft engine, and cruises at 110 mph:

      http://www.pegasusrotorcraft.com/

      Lots of kits are available. Here’s an overview of some industry trends:

      http://www.eaa.org/lightplaneworld/articles/1102_gyroplanes.asp

      Note the discussion of “power pushover.” Autogyros can potentially be very safe, given their extremely short landing distance, but it sounds like some of them have been designed with stability problems which can be very dangerous.

    13. Bill Brandt Says:

      New airship being tested…

      http://articles.latimes.com/2012/sep/01/business/la-fi-0902-cover-nextgen-airship-20120902