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Home > Fact Sheets > Controllable Balloons: Dirigibles


Posted 4/3/2009 Printable Fact Sheet
Dirigibles Exhibit
DAYTON, Ohio -- Dirigibles are of three types: non-rigid, semi-rigid and rigid. Non-rigid dirigibles, often called blimps, rely on the gas pressure in the envelope to maintain their shape. Semi-rigid dirigibles have a keel that runs along the bottom of the envelope. Rigid dirigibles have an internal structure inside the envelope. This exhibit in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force shows models of the Giffard airship (non-rigid dirigible), the "La France" (semi-rigid dirigible), and the "Zeppelin LZ-1" (world's first rigid dirigible, first flown in 1900). (U.S. Air Force photo)
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From the beginning, the usefulness of the balloon depended upon giving it "dirigibility" or directional control -- without it, balloons could only drift with the wind. Although the U.S. Army did not buy its first dirigible until 1908, the technology had existed for more than 50 years.

In 1852 Henri Giffard, a French engineer, mounted a 3-hp steam engine beneath a 143-foot long hydrogen balloon. Although the craft was underpowered, Giffard flew a semi-controlled 17-mile course in just under three hours, thus making the first powered human flight.

In 1884 two French army captains, Charles Renard and A.C. Krebs, built a 165-foot long dirigible, christened the La France, powered by a 9-hp electric motor. The La France became the first air vehicle to make a full circle and return to the place from which it was launched.

Click on the following link to learn more about dirigibles.

Baldwin Dirigible: U.S. Army's First Airship

Click here to return to the Early Years Gallery.

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