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Airships live on, 75 years after Hindenburg disaster

The golden era of zeppelins may long since be over, but airships are once again plying the skies. Today, CNET got a ride aboard the Eureka, and a priceless view of the best of San Francisco.

The Airship Eureka, seen in the air above Oakland, Calif.
Daniel Terdiman/CNET

OAKLAND -- Last week marked the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster, and the end of the golden era of zeppelin passenger travel.

But anyone who lives in or around the San Francisco Bay Area is no doubt aware that these days, zeppelin travel is alive and well. That's thanks to Airship Ventures, a company run out of the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., which operates one of the world's three airships, all of which were build by Zeppelin NT, a company located in Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Today, during an event hosted by the cloud storage company SugarSync, I got a chance to ride aboard the Airship Eureka, and fly 1,000 feet above some of the most picturesque parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. During the hour-long ride, we coasted above the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge -- which will be the world's largest self-anchoring suspension bridge when it's completed next year -- as well as Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and of course, San Francisco itself.

Zeppelins may not be the behemoths they once were -- the Hindenburg was longer than the U.S. Capitol -- but they are still huge. The Eureka is longer than a 747, making it the world's largest passenger aircraft, according to Airship Ventures. But unlike an airplane that flies more than 500 miles an hour at 38,000 feet, an airship travels at a leisurely pace less than a quarter mile above the ground, meaning that passengers -- each of whom get their own window seat -- have world-class views.