By Rod Ward
The story of the airship from the beginning, with Count Zeppelin, to modern days. Anglophone readers may be disappointed to know that neither Britain nor the USA were pioneers in airship technology or development in any real sense. Most of the credit for the early development of non-rigid airships goes to France, and all of the credit for rigid airship development goes to Germany. Italy pursued the semi-rigid type of airship, but few other countries found it interesting. Britain and the USA obtained all their technical data on non-rigids (blimps) from France, mostly by purchasing French airships, then copying them. The great advances in rigid airship design in Germany before the Great War left everyone else behind, so Britain had to send spies to Germany to try to catch up. It was only when German airships downed in the War could be measured and analysed that any true British rigid airship construction programme began, though the war had ended before any of their copies flew. Airship development in Germany had been intensive during the First World War, and the Allies were quick to capitalise on it by taking the latest Zeppelins as war reparations in 1919. They got little benefit from this activity, however, and it was only when Germany re-entered airship production that classic commercial airships reached their peak in the 1930s. The well-documented disasters to rigid airships of the major nations in the 1930s brought a halt to their development Every decade, however, seems to see a revival of airships as a commercial concept. The classic interwar era came to an end with a series of airship disasters in the 1930s, so the main part of the history only lasted little more than a third of a century.