United States

The Army airship Roma was built in Italy and was a "semi-rigid" design. It had a rigid keel which supported the engines, control car, etc... while the envelope was supported by gas pressure and ballonets like a blimp. She was lost in 1921 apparently when a structural failure jammed her controls and sent her crashing into power lines near her base near Hampton Roads Va. Filled with hydrogen; she exploded in flames, killing thirty-four crew. The disaster was a major reason for the movement from hydrogen to helium in American airships..

America’s first home-grown rigid airship, the Shenandoah was based on German designs from World War One. She was ripped in two in a severe thunderstorm over Ohio in 1925. The lower drawing shows suggested modifications. One was a revised control car connected to the hull instead of suspended below it. Most of those killed in her crash were in the control car which fell off in the disaster. It was also proposed to give her more powerful engines, reducing them in number from five to three, and there were also plans to carry aircraft.

ZR-2 never received a name, being lost before even reaching the United States. Intended for high altitude flight, this British built airship broke in two, exploded, and crashed in 1921 while undergoing trials. For the purposes of an alternate history sim I take part in, I named her Susquehanna since in the sim she survives to enter US service. In the sim she undergoes a refit similar to the Shenandoah in the late 1920’s. Her control car is enlarged, new engines installed, and she is equipped to carry an airplane.

The Los Angeles was America’s most successful and longest lived rigid airship. Built in Germany by Zeppelin, the L.A.served in one capacity or another for nearly fifteen years, though she was grounded from 1933 until her scrapping in 1939.During her construction it was suggested that she be lengthened, but it was not done for financial reasons.

The relatively tiny ZRC-2 is hard to classify. While it had an internal structure to its envelope, it also used gas and air pressure to hold its shape. Its main claim to fame is that it was the only all-metal airship ever to fly in the U.S. However, the Navy had little interest in the design and produced no follow ons. This picture is at twice the scale of the other airships on this page.

The Army airship RS-1 was the only American built "semi-rigid" airship built. Parts were fabricated by Goodyear in Akron, then shipped to Scott Field Illinois for final construction. She suffered from some structural problems with her nose that limited her speed. After being disassembled for repairs, it was decided instead to scrap her.

The first drawing is of the Akron design as planned. The main difference between it and the final ship as built is the tail fin design. It was decided that it was necessary to be able to see the ventral fin from the control car, so the fins were modified. This was probably a fatal mistake since it was later determined that the new fin design was structurally weak and was blamed for the loss of the Macon in 1935. The Akron crashed in a storm in 1933, possibly due to faulty altimeter readings that let her get too low and strike the water. It was suggested that the Macon be lengthened while under construction. This would improve her range considerably. It was considered too expensive and was not done.

The Charlotte is my hypothetical design for an Akron/Macon follow-on based on the civilian version shown below. It could carry up to ten aircraft based on information about converting the civilian ship to military use.

A hypothetical training ship to replace the Los Angeles in the early 1930's.

The “Sacramento” is my name for a Navy ZRS design from the late 1930’s. It was intended as a true flying aircraft carrier, with the ability to carry nine bombers, rather than as a reconnaissance platform.

This is a design for a Navy training airship from the late 1930’s. It would have been able to carry three aircraft.

A military version of Goodyear's 1939 Passenger airship proposal.

The Long Island is from Rowan Partridge’s novel ZRS, an alternate history story set during the opening months of World War Two in the Pacific. The Long Island, and her sister, the Mercer Island, are enlarged, Metalclad descendants of the Akron and Macon.

A totally hypothetical high-speed, Metalclad carrier. The control car retracts into the hull to lower wind resistance. The bow planes are from a Goodyear patent from the early 1930’s. They would aid maneuverability, especially at low altitudes and in rough weather where they could serve as dampers. At low altitude they could be used to lift the bow instead of pushing down the stern like normal tail planes do when an airship wants to climb. Such a device may well have saved the Akron since it is believed that she struck the ocean with her tail while trying to climb from very low altitude.

A hypothetical civilian version of the Long Island. Something this big could easily carry well over 100 passengers.

Goodyear had several plans for passenger airships both before and after World War Two. The top drawing is loosely based on a picture in a Goodyear advertisement from the late 1940’s. The second is simply an American version of the LZ-131 (stretched Hindenburg), while the third drawing is of a planned civilian variant of the Macon capable of carrying 80 passengers. My thanks go to Mark Foxwell for providing information on the design so I could revise the drawing. The markings are purely fictional. The DC-1’s hanging underneath the Spirit of California and the Pan Am ship would not be carried internally. My idea was to use them for transferring passengers and cargo to facilities that might not be able to handle a large airship or for priority deliveries and such. The last drawing is of a proposed Goodyear airship from 1939 for the New York to Rio route.


Zeppelin’s most successful passenger airship, the Graf Zeppelin sailed around the world and made numerous crossings of the Atlantic from Germanyto North and South America. It was finally scrapped at the start of World War Two.

Probably the most famous and infamous airship ever, the Hindenburg was the largest airship ever built but was destroyed in 1937 while landing at Lakehurst. New Jersey. The cause of the accident was never absolutely determined. Theories include leaking hydrogen igniting, a fuel leak, ignition of the flammable outer skin, and outright sabotage.

The Graf Zeppelin II was to replace the original Graf Zeppelin in the Zeppelin airship fleet. Like the Hindenburg, she was intended to use helium, but the U.S. refused to sell it to Nazi Germany. Completed after the loss of Hindenburg, the Graf Zeppelin II was never used as a passenger ship, but did conduct espionage flights around England and Poland.

“Peter Strasser” is my name for the planned follow-on to the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin II. It was basically just a stretched modification of the earlier ships. Construction of some structural components began in the late 1930’s, but was soon cancelled.

United Kingdom

Built by Vickers, the R100 was clearly the superior design in a design competition for a passenger airship. She flew only one passenger flight, to Canadain 1930. After the R101 disaster, she was scrapped. The middle drawing shows a proposed modification to the passenger accommodations and the control car. Some cabins would be moved into the control car from the hull. The lower drawing shows the ship lengthened, which was proposed after her flight to Canadaand before the R101 crash.

Built by the British government, the R101 was clearly inferior to the R100. She was so overweight that not only was she lengthened to add a gas bag, but the rigging securing the bags in place was loosened to allow them to hold more hydrogen. This allowed the bags to chafe against the structure. The outer cover was also of poor quality. While on her maiden passenger voyage to India, she crashed and exploded in France. It is believed that the covering over her forward gas bags tore loose in the storm, allowing the bags to be damaged and causing her to crash. The lower drawing shows her in an alternate timeline from the novel “ZRS” by Rowan Partridge. In the book, R101 is lengthened and converted to helium. During the Japanese attack on Singapore, she serves as a hospital ship. Suffice to say, the Japanese simply considered the red crosses to be large targets and she does not survive long.


Built by Italian designer Umberto Nobile (designer of the Roma and also helped design the RS-1), the Norge flew across the Arctic in 1926 from Norway to Alaska. It was the first undisputed crossing of the pole by aircraft, since there remains controversy about Byrd's flight a few days earlier. The later, similar, airship Italia was lost in 1928 while making a similar flight.


Airship Links

Airship An excellent reference site with pages on various nations’ airship efforts, bibliographies, links, and a plethora of other information.

Zeppelin A sister site to the one above dealing strictly with designs from the Zeppelin Company.

Airships Online The site of the Airship Heritage Trust of the United Kingdom. The site is a comprehensive look at the airships of the British Empire. An absolutely tremendous site!

Lakehurst Historical Society Covers the history of the airship base in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Excellent photo galleries, especially of the Shenandoah and Los Angeles.

Moffett Field Museum Deals with Moffett NAS in Sunnyvale, California, home to the Macon. Excellent photo gallery.It also has a small store.

The Naval Historical Center has pages dedicated to each of America’s rigid airships: The Shenandoah, ZR-2, Los Angeles, Akron, and Macon.

A website on German Airships. It’s mostly in Polish, but has excellent graphics.

The Airship Image Library. An excellent series of galleries, many of them postcards.

The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen. The main museum in the world when it comes to airships, and specifically Zeppelins. The museum includes a full sized reproduction of part of the Hindenburg’s passenger cabin.