Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127)
The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was a large dirigible, or more specifically, a rigid airship in the early 20th century. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who held the rank of Graf or Count in the German nobility (in German usage the "von" in a name is omitted when a title such as "Graf" is employed). It flew for the first time on September 18, 1928 and, with a total length of 236.6 m (776 ft) and volume of 105 000 m³ (3,708,040 ft³), was the largest airship up to that time. It was powered by five Maybach 550 hp engines that ran on Blau gas and could carry a payload of 60 metric tonnes.
Initially it was to be used for experimental and demonstration purposes to prepare the way for regular airship traveling, but also carried passengers and mail to cover the costs. In October 1928 the first long-range voyage led the craft to Lakehurst, New Jersey, in the United States, and the crew was welcomed enthusiastically with confetti parades in New York and invitations to the White House. Later Graf Zeppelin toured in Germany and visited Italy, Palestine and Spain. A second trip to the United States was aborted in France due to engine failure in May 1929.
In August 1929, LZ 127 departed for another daring enterprise — a complete circumnavigation of the globe. The growing popularity of the "giant of the air" made it easy for Zeppelin company chief Dr. Hugo Eckener to find sponsors. One of these was the American press tycoon William Randolph Hearst, who requested the tour to officially start at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, NJ. As with the October 1928 flight to New York, Hearst had placed a reporter, Grace Marguerite Hay Drummond-Hay, on board, who thereby became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air. Starting there on August 8, Graf Zeppelin flew across the Atlantic back to Friedrichshafen. She stopped there to refuel before continuing across vast Siberia to another stop in Tokyo. Dr. Eckener believed that some of the lands they crossed in Siberia had never before been seen by modern explorers. From Japan, the Graf Zeppelin continued across the Pacific to San Francisco, before heading south to stop at Los Angeles. This was the first ever nonstop flight of any aircraft across the Pacific Ocean. The ship continued thence across the United States, over Chicago and back to Lakehurst NAS on August 29. The entire voyage took 21 days, 5 hours and 31 minutes. Including the initial and final trips from Friedrichshafen to Lakehurst NAS and back, the dirigible travelled 49,618 km (30,831 miles). The distance travelled between departure from Lakehurst NAS and return to Lakehurst NAS was 31,400 km (19,500 miles).
In the following year, Graf Zeppelin undertook a number of trips around Europe, and following a successful tour to South America in May 1930, it was decided to open the first regular transatlantic airship line. The ship pursued another spectacular destination in July 1931 with a research trip to the Arctic; this had already been a dream of Count Zeppelin twenty years earlier, which could not, however, be realized at the time due to the outbreak of war. In October 1933, the Graf Zeppelin made an appearance at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Despite the beginning of the Great Depression and growing competition by fixed-wing aircraft, LZ 127 would transport an increasing number of passengers and mail across the ocean every year until 1936. Eckener intended to supplement the successful craft by another, similar Zeppelin, projected as LZ 128. However the disastrous accident of the British passenger airship R101 in 1931 led the Zeppelin company to reconsider the safety of hydrogen-filled vessels, and the design was abandoned in favor of a new project. LZ 129, which was to eventually be named the Hindenburg, would advance Zeppelin technology considerably and was intended to be filled with helium. After the Hindenburg disaster the story arose that an embargo imposed by the United States because of the looming war prevented German access to the required large quantities of helium, leading to the conversion of the Hindenburg to a hydrogen design. However it is now known that Eckener was successful in lobbying the U.S. government for the purchase of Hydrogen but ruled it out on financial grounds.
End of an Era
After the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, public faith in the security of dirigibles was shattered, and flying passengers in hydrogen-filled vessels became untenable. LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was retired one month past the disaster and turned into a museum. The end for the Graf Zeppelin came with the outbreak of World War II. In March 1940, Hermann Göring, the German Air Minister (Reichsluftfahrtminister), ordered the destruction of the remaining dirigibles, and the aluminium parts were fed into the German war industry.
During its career, the ship flew more than one million miles and made 144 ocean crossings (143 across the Atlantic, one across the Pacific) with a perfect passenger safety record, making it the most successful rigid airship ever built.