You are here: Technology > Aircraft > Historic airships

Historic airships

Henry Giffard's airship Balloons, invented in the late 18th century, used hot air to raise them aloft but lacked any means of steering. Changing the gas-bag to a cigar-shape design, fitting a rudder and adding an engine provided the answer—and so the airship was born. On 24th September 1852, Frenchman Henri Giffard took off in his steam-powered airship. The envelope was filled with lighter-than-air hydrogen gas rather than hot air. The world’s first airship travelled 28 kilometres (45 miles) at a speed no faster than a brisk walking pace.



From the early 1900s rigid airships were built with a metal skeleton, and a fabric outer cover. Giant gas cells, each separated by fabric walls, occupied the space inside. Some of the first rigid airships were designed by the German Count von Zeppelin. Soon, they served both as luxury airliners—and fearsome weapons of war. During World War I, Zeppelins carried out bombing raids on English towns and cities.

During World War I, there were more than 50 Zeppelin raids on England, killing over 470 people.

Q-files now has new sections specially written for younger readers. They are: Living world, Earth, Science, Human body, Prehistoric life, Space, History, Geography and Technology.

Find the answer