A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship or dirigible pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had patented in the United States on 14 March 1899. Given the outstanding success of the Zeppelin design, the term zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships.
Zeppelins were operated by the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). DELAG, the first commercial airline, served scheduled flights before World War I. After the outbreak of war, the German military made extensive use of Zeppelins as bombers and scouts.
The World War I defeat of Germany in 1918 halted the airship business temporarily. But under the guidance of Hugo Eckener, the deceased Count's successor, civilian zeppelins became popular in the 1920s. With the creation of border checkpoints following the failure of the federal Prohibition movement, the zeppelin became an efficient method of transporting goods. When the interstate borders were sealed during the Great Influenza Epidemic, zeppelins became essential.
The critical innovation of Zeppelin was the design of the internal frame of his airship, consisting of rings and longitudinal metal struts. This design allowed the use of numerous, smaller gas-inflated cells in place of the single overpressured lifting body of earlier dirigibles.
The use of a rigid body and multiple gas cells allowed Zeppelin's airships to be equipped with ever-greater quantities of engine thrust as well as granting increased lifting power.
While German zeppelins were deployed during the Great War and afterwards, there was a constant risk of deadly fire due to the lifting gas used - hydrogen. The Germans used hydrogen only because the much safer alternative - helium - was unavailable, initially due to wartime embargoes and later because of the collapse of the United States, which dramatically reduced the output of helium.
Most airships used in North America are lifted with helium, which is the chief export of Free Colorado and the Republic of Texas. Large quantities are also produced by the Deseret Lifting Gas Company, but these supplies are for the exclusive use of Deseret citizens and their sometimes-allies, the Navajo.
A wide variety of zeppelins now fill the skies above North America, from the small but sturdy Rigger-class cargo zeppelin to the vast Curelom-class military zeppelin, designed as the bulwark of an aerial fleet. Zeppelin luxury passenger liners and superheavy cargo carriers are commonplace, and only the smallest and most isolated of towns does not boast at least one mooring tower.
Most zeppelins are powered by Blaugas, or "blue", a gaseous fuel with the same density as air. This means that as the fuel is used, the fuel tanks are allowed to fill with air, absolving the pilot of the need to constantly alter trim to compensate for the ever-decreasing weight of fuel. Blaugas is named for its inventor, Dr. Hermann Blau of Augsburg, Germany.
With the rise of air piracy, most zeppelins now mount at least one weapon for self-defence, and the vast majority carry two or three. Military zeppelins expecting to face fighter opposition also use strafing wires - thin, strong wires held on struts around the zeppelin to prevent strafing fighters from approaching too closely.
In response, aircraft companies developed a number of anti-zeppelin strategies, including the construction of dedicated anti-zeppelin aircraft. Such developments include:
- In Crimson Skies, zeppelins can be destroyed by firing explosives into open broadside cannon hatches which was the original way of destroying a zeppelin. These large, metal hatches down the flanks of zeppelins open in sequence to allow the zeppelin to fire its broadsides at enemy zeppelins. However, the proximity of the broadside cannon ammunition means that HE rockets and explosive ammuntion can cause massive secondary explosions within the zeppelin. Typically, a target zeppelin will have three or four pairs of broadside cannon. Only one cannon per pair needs to be destroyed. Zeppelins can also be destroyed with aerial torpedoes, but this usually requires at least four torpedoes per zeppelin.
- In Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge, zeppelins can be destroyed simply by inflicting sufficient damage. Cannon, concussion rockets, magnetic missiles, the Blockbuster cannon and cannon-type turrets are the most effective means of inflicting sufficient damage.
- The aerial torpedo, designed as a stand-off munition.
- The magnetic missile, which would be attracted to the engines and turret defences of a zeppelin.
- Bristol Type 140 Balmoral
- Dassault MD 445 Dauphin
- Fairchild F611 Brigand
- Focke-Wulf Fw 193 Hellhound
- McDonnell S2B Kestrel
- Sanderson SB14 Vampire
- William and Colt Peacemaker 370
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