FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany--The blimp is so 20th century. Just ask Goodyear. Known around the world not just for its tires but also for its famous grey blimps, the company is said to be moving on from its traditional airships in favor of the modern version of a very old design.
The old design? Zeppelins, the airborne specialty of this town on the edge of Lake Constance that is in fact home to the Zeppelin Museum. And while they first flew in 1900 and became the most famous--and most infamous aircraft in the world--for a time, Zeppelins eventually faded away. Until recently, that is, when a company based here began making the airships again.
Known as Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik (ZLT), the company produces what is known as the Zeppelin NT, a new take on the venerable airship. Currently, three of the company's Zeppelins are making their way through the skies of the world, and with what it says is Goodyear's purchase of three Zeppelin NT model 101s, meant to replace those famous but aging blimps, it would have six airborne.
As part of CNET Road Trip 2011, reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped by ZLT in Friedrichshafen and got a first-hand look at the hangar where the company keeps the zeppelin that it uses to take passengers on flights, and where it is slowly building new airships.
This is the Zeppelin NT flown by Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei, a ZLT subsidiary.
This is the rear rotor of the Zeppelin NT. Because of its internal airframe and flexible rotors, it is able to take off much like a helicopter, unlike a blimp, which has much less maneuverability. Rotors on the side of the Zeppelin can rotate up to 120 degrees, while the rear rotor can rotate 90 degrees. According to ZLT, "The capabilities of a vertical take-off, a precise landing, hovering on one spot and a backward flight are the unique flight characteristics enabled by the swivelling propellers."
This is artist Josef Hawle's painted Zeppelin, "Luftschiff-Bodensee," created for the Zeppelin Parade exhibit in Friedrichshafen, Germany, and currently on display outside the offices of ZLT, in Friedrichshafen.
Seen here, against the wall of the giant Zeppelin NT hangar, are struts and internal parts for a new Zeppelin that is being constructed inside the hangar. The parts are actually from a decommissioned Japanese Zeppelin and the new airship is scheduled to fly in April of 2012.
This is a ZLT archival photograph of the interior structure of a Zeppelin NT. One of the major differences between a Zeppelin and a blimp is that the Zeppelin has an interior structure, while a blimp doesn't.