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Airships

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Since the 1850s, engineers have been experimenting with powered lighter-than-air flight, essentially balloons with steering and propulsion. Like other early aeronautical experiments, the trial-and-error period was lengthy and hazardous. Dirigibles (with internal support structures) and blimps (powered balloons) were filled with lifting gases like hydrogen or helium, intended for many uses, from military and research to long-distance passenger service. The growth of the airship suffered numerous setbacks, including the famous Hindenburg disaster in 1937, and never developed into a major mode of travel. Despite the challenges, more than 150 years later, a number of airships are still in use and development around the world as cargo carriers, military platforms, promotional vehicles, and more. (See also 75 Years Since the Hindenburg Disaster). [38 photos]

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The German zeppelin Hindenburg floats past the Empire State Building over Manhattan, on August 8, 1936, en route to Lakehurst, New Jersey, from Germany. (AP Photo)
The German zeppelin Hindenburg floats past the Empire State Building over Manhattan, on August 8, 1936, en route to Lakehurst, New Jersey, from Germany. (AP Photo)
In 1905, pioneering balloonist Thomas Scott Baldwin's latest airship returns from a flight over the City of Portland, Oregon, during the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition. (Library of Congress) #
An airship flies above the White House in Washington, D.C., in 1906. (George Buck, Library of Congress) #
The Baldwin airship at Hammondsport, New York, in 1907. Thomas Scott Baldwin, second from left, was a U.S. Army major during World War I. He became the first American to descend from a balloon by parachute. (Library of Congress) #
French military dirigible "Republique" leaving Moisson for Chalais-Mendon, in 1907. (Library of Congress) #
Zeppelin airship seen from water, August 4, 1908. (Library of Congress) #
A Clement-Bayard dirigible in shed, France, ca 1908. The lobes on the tail, meant for stability, were removed form later models, as they were found to slow the craft in the air. (Library of Congress) #
Wellman airship "America" viewed from the RMS TRENT, shown dragging her anchor, ca 1910. (Library of Congress) #
Boats, airplane, and airship, ca. 1922. Possibly the U.S. Navy's SCDA O-1. (Library of Congress) #
Luftskipet (airship) "Norge" over Ekeberg, Norway, on April 14, 1926. (National Library of Norway) #
The giant German dirigible Graf Zeppelin, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on August 29, 1929. (AP Photo) #
The Graf Zeppelin flies low over Tokyo before proceeding to Kasumigaura Airport on its around-the-world flight, on August 19, 1929. (AP Photo) #
A pair of Gloster Grebe fighter planes, tethered to the underside of the British Royal Navy airship R33, in October of 1926. (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) #
British M.P.s walk onto an airship gangplank, in Cardington, England, in the 1920s. (Library of Congress) #
The U.S. Navy's dirigible Los Angeles, upended after a turbulent wind from the Atlantic flipped the 700-foot airship on its nose at Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1926. The ship slowly righted itself and there were no serious injuries to the crew of 25. (AP Photo) #
Aerial view of the USS Akron over Washington, D.C., in 1931, with the long north diagonal of New Jersey Avenue bisected by the balloon and Massachusetts Avenue seen just beneath the ship. (Library of Congress) #
Passengers in the dining room of the Hindenburg, in April of 1936. (OFF/AFP/Getty Images) #
Interior hull of a U.S. Navy dirigible before gas cells were installed, ca. 1933. (National Archives) #
The Graf Zeppelin over the old city of Jerusalem, April 26, 1931. (Library of Congress) #
The mechanic of the rear engine gondola changes shift climbing inside the mantle of the airship, as the Graf Zeppelin sails over the Atlantic Ocean in a seven-day journey from Europe to South America, in August of 1933. (AP Photo/Alfred Eisenstaedt) #
The German-built zeppelin Hindenburg trundles into the U.S. Navy hangar, its nose hooked to the mobile mooring tower, at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 9, 1936. The rigid airship had just set a record for its first north Atlantic crossing, the first leg of ten scheduled round trips between Germany and America. (AP Photo) #
The Hindenburg flies over Manhattan, on May 6, 1937. A few hours later, the ship burst into flames in an attempt to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey. (AP Photo) #
The German dirigible Hindenburg crashes to earth, tail first, in flaming ruins after exploding at the U.S. Naval Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6, 1937. The disaster, which killed 36 people after a 60-hour transatlantic flight from Germany, ended regular passenger service by the lighter-than-air airships. (AP Photo/Murray Becker) #
The airship USS Macon, moored at Hangar One at Moffett Federal Airfield near Mountain View, California. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) #
The USS Akron launches a Consolidated N2Y-1 training plane during flight tests near Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 4, 1932. (U.S. Navy) #
The USS Los Angeles, moored to the USS Patoka. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive) #
The wreckage of the naval dirigible USS Akron is brought to the surface of the ocean off the coast of New Jersey, on April 23, 1933. The Akron went down in a violent storm off the New Jersey coast. The disaster claimed 73 lives, more than twice as many as the crash of the Hindenburg. The USS Akron, a 785-foot dirigible, was in its third year of flight when a violent storm sent it crashing tail-first into the Atlantic Ocean shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933. (AP Photo) #
Sunset over the Atlantic finds a United Nations convoy moving peacefully towards it destination during World War II. A U.S. Navy blimp, hovering overhead, is on the lookout for any sign of enemy submarines, in June of 1943. (Library of Congress) #
The USS Macon sails over lower Manhattan, on October 9, 1933. (AP Photo/U.S. Navy) #
At a Nevada nuclear test site test Site, on August 7, 1957, the tail of a U.S. Navy Blimp is photographed with the cloud of a nuclear blast in the background. The Blimp was in temporary free flight in excess of five miles from ground zero when it collapsed from the shock wave of the blast. The airship was unmanned and was used in military effects experiments. Navy personnel on the ground in the vicinity of the experimental area were unhurt. (National Nuclear Security Administration) #
A small zeppelin airship flies through the air above the men's downhill race of the Alpine skiing World Cup, in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, on February 24, 2007. (Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images) #
Stephane Rousson pedals his airship over the English Channel on September 28, 2008 off Hythe, England. Rousson failed in an earlier attempt to make the 34-mile (55km) journey across the English Chanel in a pedal powered airship. On his second attempt, he made it only halfway before deciding to give up. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) #
The MetLife blimp soars above the course during the third round of THE PLAYERS Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, on May 8, 2010. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images) #
Lower Manhattan, viewed at night from the DIRECTV blimp, on September 13, 2009. (Mario Tama/Getty Images) #
A dog sniffs the airship of French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, that was to have flown a mission to measure the thickness of north Polar ice, but which was seriously damaged on January 22, 2008, when fierce winds ripped it from its moorings and slammed it into a house in Tourettes, southern France. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau) #
An airship advertising a resort in Dubai passes the London Eye Ferris wheel in London, on November 9, 2006. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) #
The Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle approaches the landing area above Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, during its first flight, on August 7, 2012. The LEMV is intended to provide sensors capable of persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in a forward combat environment. (U.S. Army/Jim Kendall) #
Bradley Hasemeyer uses his smartphone to photograph the Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, outside a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, California, on January 24, 2013. Work is almost done on the 230-foot rigid airship prototype inside the blimp hangar in Orange County. The huge cargo-carrying airship has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. The prototype is half the size of the planned full-scale version, which will be designed to carry up to 250 tons of cargo. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) #

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