dirigible


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Related to dirigible: Hindenburg

airship

airship, an aircraft that consists of a cigar-shaped gas bag, or envelope, filled with a lighter-than-air gas to provide lift, a propulsion system, a steering mechanism, and a gondola accommodating passengers, crew, and cargo. All extensions, like the fins and the gondola/control car, are attached to the envelope; the propellers are attached to the gondola/control car.

Soon after the hot-air balloon was invented in 1783, attempts began to control the balloon's flight. Although sails, paddles, and flapping wings were tried, propellers proved to be the most suitable form of propulsion. The French inventor Henri Giffard built a steam-power-driven airship as early as 1852. However, it was not until the invention of the gasoline engine in 1896 that airships became practical. The Brazilian Alberto Santos-Dumont was the first to construct and fly (1898) a gasoline-powered airship.

For more than a century the principal lighter-than-air gas for both balloons and airships was hydrogen, the lightest of the elements, despite its being highly dangerous because of its extreme flammability. Helium (which although somewhat inferior to hydrogen in lifting strength will not burn or explode) began to be used in the United States in 1917, when a means of extracting it cheaply in large quantities from the natural gas in which it is found was developed. Helium was subsequently adopted as the preferred gas worldwide.

There are three types of airships. In a nonrigid airship, also known as a blimp, the shape of the gas bag is maintained by the internal pressure of the enclosed gas. In a semirigid airship, also known as a keel-airship, internal gas pressure acts in conjunction with a longitudinal keel to maintain the form of the gas bag. In a rigid airship, the form of the gas bag is determined by a rigid framework, usually made of aluminum or a special aluminum alloy called Duraluminium; the framework is formed of longitudinal girders and cross-rings, also made of girders. The whole structure is covered with fabric for aerodynamic purposes. The rigid airship is often called a zeppelin in honor of its inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. It is also often referred to as a dirigible, a shortening of dirigible balloon, from the French ballon dirigeable, meaning steerable lighter-than-air craft. Hybrid airships may have a modified body with a broader, elliptical cross-section that provides a large portion of the airship's lift, a rotorlike source of vertical thrust, or other features that combine the characteristics of heavier-than-air craft with those of a lighter-than-air one.

In 1910 the rigid Deutschland became the world's first commercial airship. Between 1910 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, German zeppelins flew 107,208 miles and carried 34,028 passengers and crew entirely without injury. During World War I, the Germans used rigid airships on both the Eastern and Western Fronts as bombers although airships never became effective offensive weapons. Airships did excel as defensive weapons, and the British used nonrigid airships to patrol their coasts and rigid airships for convoy protection. The U.S. navy operated nonrigid aircraft during the war, as did the French and Italian armies and navies. The U.S. navy continued operating nonrigid airships during and after World War II, the only service in the world to do so. In addition to convoy protection, the airships conducted search-and-rescue, photographic, and mine-clearing missions.

Rigid airships rose to the peak of their commercial success between World War I and World War II. The best-known rigid airships were the Graf Zeppelin, which traveled 20,000 mi (32,000 km) around the world in 1929; England's R34, which crossed the Atlantic in 1919; and the Hindenburg, which burst into flames while preparing to dock at Lakehurst, N.J., in 1937, killing 36 people. No fully rigid airship has been built since the 1930s.

In 1997 the Zeppelin NT, which uses modern technologies and design innovations to realize a more maneuverable and efficient semirigid airship, made its maiden flight and testing began in the hope of putting airships into commercial service once again. Several have been built; they are usually flown in a slightly heavier-than-air condition and use engine power to attain lift, and are typically used for tourist flights and advertising. Other than the Zeppelin NT, the airships flying today are of the nonrigid variety. No nonrigid airships are used to carry passengers or cargo; they serve a number of utilitarian functions such as military surveillance, flashing advertising messages, and providing “bird's eye” television images of sporting events.

Bibliography

See L. Gerken, Airships, History and Technology (1990); H. G. Dick and D. H. Robinson, The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships (1992); D. H. Robinson, The Zeppelin in Combat: A History of the German Naval Airship Division, 1912–1918 (1993); W. A. Althoff, Sky Ships: A History of the Airship in the United States Navy (1998); G. H. Khoury and J. G. Gillette, ed., Airship Technology (1999).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Dirigible

 

a controlled lighter-than-air craft (aerostat). The main parts of a dirigible are the long gas-filled body (ordinarily filled with hydrogen or helium), which is blunt in the nose section and pointed at the tail for better streamlining; the empennage, which consists of horizontal and vertical crossed fixed surfaces (stabilizers and fins) and movable horizontal vanes for vertical and horizontal control; and one or more gondolas for housing the crew, passengers, motors, and equipment.

A distinction is made among nonrigid, semirigid, and rigid dirigibles. In the nonrigid and semirigid systems (Figures 1 and 2, respectively), the cloth body of the dirigible also serves as an envelope for the gas. Semirigid dirigibles have a metal truss in their lower part to prevent deformation of the envelope. In nonrigid and semirigid dirigibles the outer shape is retained by excess gas pressure, which is constantly maintained by ballonets into which air is forced. In rigid dirigibles (Figure 3), the shape is usually maintained by a metal frame; the gas is contained within the metal frame in sacks made of

Figure 1. Diagram of a nonrigid dirigible: (1) body envelope, (2) upper and lower stabilizers, (3) elevator, (4) side stabilizer, (5) rudder, (6) towlines for anchoring and moving dirigible on land, (7) pneumatic shock absorbers, (8) propeller-motor assembly, (9) gondola, (10) gondola guy ropes, (11) air-filled ballonet to maintain constant outer shape of body envelope during ascent, descent, and flight (the boundary of the volume occupied by the ballonet is indicated by the dotted line)

Figure 2. Diagram of a semirigid dirigible: (1) nose reinforcing, (2) bands, (3) outer envelope, (4) internal suspension cables, (5) diaphragm (partition) dividing the volume filled with gas or air into sections, (6) observation window, (7) side stabilizer, (8) upper and lower stabilizers, (9) elevator, (10) rudder, (11) motor gondolas, (12) fin mount, (13) gasoline tanks, (14) ballonets, (15) passenger gondola, (16) shock absorber

Figure 3. Diagram of a rigid dirigible: (1) gas shafts to draw off gas released Through valves, (2) into the atmosphere, (2) gas valves, (3) rings, (4) stringers, (5) outer envelope, (6) main control gondola, (7) passenge- decks, (8) crew quarters, (9) side motor gondola, (10) upper and lower stabilizers, (11) side stabilizer, (12) rudder, (13) elevators

gas-impermeable material. Nonrigid dirigibles vary in volume from 1,000 to 7,000 cu m; semirigid dirigibles, from 8,000 to 35,000 cu m. Rigid dirigibles may be as large as 200,000 cu m. The speed of a dirigible usually does not exceed 100-135 km/hr.

Dirigibles have been used for communications and for supplying remote, inaccessible regions, for reconnaissance and convoying ships at sea, and to search for submarines and minefields.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

dirigible

[də′rij·ə·bəl]
(aerospace engineering)
A lighter-than-air craft equipped with means of propelling and steering for controlled flight.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

dirigible

A large, steerable, self-propelled, and lighter-than-aircraft. Also called an airship
An Illustrated Dictionary of Aviation Copyright © 2005 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved
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The elderly narrator in the title story is, somewhat improbably, pitching the idea of a play about the doomed dirigible Shenandoah to the principal of Sam Houston Middle School.
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The dirigible, which had been invented by Zeppelin thirty-seven years earlier, came to an end as a major aeronautic device in May 6, 1937, when the German dirigible Hindenburg, the largest ever built, exploded and burned at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
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