The early development of airships, spanning from 1670 to 1910, saw a gradual evolution from theoretical concepts to practical, powered vessels capable of controlled flight.

This period was marked by key milestones, including the first descriptions of airship design elements, initial attempts at powered flight, and the construction of the first rigid airships.

By the end of this era, airships had transitioned from experimental craft to viable modes of transportation, setting the stage for their widespread use in the early 20th century.


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1670 — The Aerial Ship

Father Francesco Lana de Terzi publishes a description of an "Aerial Ship" supported by copper spheres with evacuated air, a theoretical precursor to the vacuum airship.

However, such a craft was unrealizable at the time.

1709 — Bartolomeu de Gusmão

Brazilian-Portuguese priest Bartolomeu de Gusmão demonstrates a hot air balloon before the Portuguese court.

1783 — Elements of an Airship

French Academy is presented with a memorandum by Jean Baptiste Marie Meusnier describing an elongated balloon with internal ballonets for regulating lift.

This is considered the first description of the basic elements of an airship.

1784 — English Channel Crossing

First recorded use of a hand-powered propeller for propulsion, when Jean-Pierre Blanchard fitted one to a balloon.

In 1785 he crossed the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion.

1851 — Atmotic Airship

British engineer William Bland sends design for his "Atmotic Airship" to the Great Exhibition in London.

It featured an elongated balloon with a steam engine driving twin propellers suspended underneath.

1852 — Steam-Powered Airship

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Henri Giffard becomes the first person to make an engine-powered flight, flying 17 miles (27 km) in a steam-powered airship.

1863 — Aereon

Solomon Andrews flies his "Aereon", one of the first dirigible airships in the United States.

1872 — Dupuy de Lome

French naval architect Dupuy de Lome launches a large navigable balloon, driven by a propeller turned by eight men.

1883 — First Electric-Powered Flight

First electric-powered flight made by Gaston Tissandier who fitted a Siemens electric motor to an airship.

1884 — Controllable Free-Flight

First fully controllable free-flight made by Charles Renard and Arthur Constantin Krebs in the French Army airship La France.

1895 — Rigid Airship

David Schwarz makes the first flight of a rigid airship, using an aluminum frame.

1897 — Count Zeppelin

First flight of a rigid airship by Count Zeppelin.

1900 — LZ-1 Graf Zeppelin

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The Graf Zeppelin airship LZ-1 makes first flight.

1901 — Number 6

Alberto Santos-Dumont flies his airship "Number 6" around the Eiffel Tower.

1902 — Leonardo Torres Quevedo

Spanish engineer Leonardo Torres Quevedo flies his airship, which features an innovative internal-bracing system.

1910 — First Commercial Passenger-Carrying Airship

The Zeppelin LZ7 Deutschland, the world's first commercial passenger-carrying airship, is launched.


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1914-1918 — WW1

During World War I, many European countries utilize airships for reconnaissance, surveillance and bombing missions.

Germany, France, Italy and Britain all operate airships.

1919 — First Transatlantic Crossing

British R34 airship makes first transatlantic crossing, taking 108 hours to fly from Scotland to New York.

1923-1924 — US Army Airships

US Army TC-3 and TC-7 non-rigid airships used for parasite fighter trials.

1928 — First Transatlantic Passenger Flights

First transatlantic passenger flights made by the Graf Zeppelin airship.

1936 — Flights to Africa

The Zeppelin Hindenburg inaugurates passenger service between Germany and North America.

1937 — The Hindenburg Disaster

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The Hindenburg disaster occurs, marking an abrupt end to the era of passenger-carrying rigid airships.


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1940s-1950s — Blimps

Blimps are widely used by the US Navy for reconnaissance, surveillance and anti-submarine warfare during World War II and the early Cold War era.

Classes of blimps used include the K-class and M-class.

1960s-Present — Advertising and Futuristic Designs

Blimps continue to be used for advertising, sightseeing, surveillance, and research purposes, with companies like Goodyear operating iconic advertising blimps.

New technologies and designs are experimented with, but airships do not regain the prominence they held in the early 20th century.