Gas-filled airships were once the fastest and easiest ways to travel around the world – until a series of tragic air disasters brought their golden age to an end. Continue reading
Image: Murray Becker
Imagine being thousands of feet above the ground, passing through the clouds at a relatively gentle pace – floating as much as flying. This was the reality of air travel during the golden era of the great airships. In the early 20th century, these behemoths ruled the skies – and yet they will forever be associated with calamity.
It all began in 1852, when French engineer Henri Giffard attached a small steam-powered engine to a propeller. This was later followed by the first gasoline-powered airship, built by Brazilian aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1898. However, the trend for airships brought on a series of tragic accidents – most memorably, the Hindenburg disaster, and the fate befallen by the USS Akron, which resulted in the highest death toll.
Airships played a vital part in the First World War and early commercial passenger travel. Nevertheless, the combination of flammable gasses, faulty design and difficult maneuverability meant that all too frequently they became flying deathtraps. We list the ten worst airship crashes of all time.