its career, the D-LZ127 Graf Zeppelin flew more than one and half million kilometres
over 590 flights, and made 144 ocean crossings, carrying 13,110 passengers with
a perfect passenger safety record, making it the most successful rigid airship
Graf Zeppelin was the designated registration of D-LZ127 (Deutsche
Luftschiff Zeppelin number 127) the 127th designed Zeppelin, was
originally planned to exploit the latest technology in airships,
building on the advances of the earlier commercial operational ships.
After the First World War, Germany was limited by the treaty of
Versailles to the size and capacity of ships which they could build.
The Zeppelin Company had created two ships within this limited size
parameter, the Bodensee and Nordstern, for small inter city passenger
services. It was with a contract with the United States Government
that enabled the company to exceed the regulation laid down on the
size limitation, and thus designated and constructed the D-LZ126,
later re-christened on delivery as the "Los Angeles".
Much of the lessons learnt in the design of this ship, was carried
forward and improved in to the design of the LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin".
Hugo Eckener, whose experience and work with Count Zeppelin had
lead the company for the years following the death of the Count,
had to campaign to the German Government for its construction
and assisting funding, and only after two years of lobbying did
that proceed at the Zeppelin works, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, at
Friedrichshafen in Germany.
of the ship began on the enhanced design of the LZ126, and when
finally complete, the ship flew for the first time on 18 September
1928. With a total length of 236.6 metres (776 ft) and volume
of 105,000 cubic metres (3,700,000 cu ft), was the largest airship
up to that time.
D-LZ127 was powered by five Maybach 550 horsepower (410 kW) engines
that could burn either Blau gas or gasoline. The ship achieved
a maximum speed of 128 kilometres per hour (80 mph, 70 knots)
operating at total maximum thrust of 2,650 horsepower which reduced
to the normal cruising speed of 117 km/h (73 mph).
D-LZ127 had a usable payload capacity of 15,000 kilograms for
a 10,000 kilometres cruise.
it was to be used for experimental and demonstration purposes
to prepare the way for regular airship travelling, but also carried
passengers and mail to cover the costs.
and general passenger gondola layout
the front command cabin through a door lay the map room, with
two large open access hatches to allow the command crew to communicate
with the navigators. From the map room ascending a ladder allowed
access to a keel corridor inside the hull. The map room had two
large windows, one on each side. A rear door led from the map
room to a central corridor with the three-man radio room to the
left and the electric kitchen to the right, and a short passage
to the main entrance-exit door on the right.
corridor ended at a door that opened into the main dining and
sitting room, with four large windows. At the rear of this room
a door opened into the long corridor to access the passenger's
cabins and washrooms and toilet facilities. Each passenger cabin
was designed in the "Pullman" style as enjoyed on luxury
train travel. By day was set with a sofa which by night the crew
would convert to two beds, one above the other. The crew's quarters
were inside the hull reached by a catwalk. The kitchen was equipped
with a single electric oven with two compartments and hot plates
From its first flight on 18 September 1928 and operated successfully
until its last flight on 18 June 1937, the Graf saw nearly nine
years of uninterrupted service, totalling nearly two years in
the air and travelling some 1.7 million kilometres. Its seventh
flight was its first Atlantic crossing, thereafter it made regular
flights across the South Atlantic to Brazil, one round the world
tour, a polar expedition, two roundtrips to the Middle East, and
a few within Europe including visits to Cardington and London.
While the Graf Zeppelin only visited the United States five times
(twice during the "Round the World Flight"), the airship
made a total of 64 flights to South America.
intercontinental passenger airship flight
Dr. Eckener commanded the "Graf Zeppelin" on its first
intercontinental trip, a transatlantic crossing which left Friedrichshafen,
Germany, at 07:54 on 11 October 1928, and arrived in the United
States at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, on 15 October after having
travelled 9,926 km in 111 hours. Notwithstanding the heavy headwinds
and stormy weather that slowed the journey, Eckener had nevertheless
repeated the success of his first transatlantic crossing made
four years earlier in October 1924, to deliver the D-LZ126 (renamed
the USS Los Angeles) to the U.S. Navy. Eckener and the crew were
welcomed enthusiastically with a "ticker tape" parade
in New York the next day and a subsequent invitation to the White
This first transatlantic trip was not without its difficulties,
however, as the airship suffered potentially serious damage to
its port tail fin on the third day of the flight when a large
section of the linen covering was ripped loose while passing through
a mid-ocean weather front or squall line. With the engines stopped,
the ship's riggers attended to repairs the torn fabric to the
framework and sew blankets to the ship's envelope. Fortunately
the riggers finished just before Dr. Eckener had to restart the
engines when the ship had dropped to two hundred feet of the ocean's
surface. The Graf crossed the U.S. coast at Cape Charles, Virginia,
around 10 AM on 15 October, passed over Washington, D.C., at 12:20PM,
Baltimore, MD, at 1PM, Philadelphia, PA, at 2:40 PM, New York
City at 4 PM, and landed at NAS Lakehurst at 5:38 PM.
addition to the passengers and crew, there was also a stowaway
on the fight, 19-year old Clarence Tehune, who had secreted himself
onboard the Graf Zeppelin at Friedrichshafen and working for his
passage in the airship's kitchen. Terhune was returned to Europe
on the French liner SS Ile de France along with a number of airship
The "Interrupted Flight"
While the "Graf Zeppelin" would eventually have a safe
and highly successful nine-year career, the airship was almost
lost just a half a year after its maiden flight while attempting
to make its second trip to the United States in May 1929. Shortly
after dark on 16 May, the first night of the flight , the airship
lost two of its five engines while over the Mediterranean off
the southwest coast of Spain forcing Dr. Eckener to abandon the
trip and return to Friedrichshafen. While flying up the Rhône
Valley in France against a stiff headwind the next afternoon,
however, two of the remaining three engines also failed and the
airship began to be pushed backwards toward the sea.
Dr. Eckener desperately looked for a suitable place to put down
the airship, the French Air Ministry advised him that he would
be permitted to land at the Naval Airship Base at Cuers-Pierrefeu
about ten miles from Toulon to use the mooring mast and hangar
of the lost airship Dixmude (France's only dirigible which crashed
the Mediterranean in 1923) if the Graf could reach the facility
before being forced out to sea. Although barely able to control
the Graf on its one remaining engine, Eckener managed to make
a difficult but successful emergency night landing at Cuers. After
making temporary repairs, the Graf finally returned to Friedrichshafen
on May 24. Mail carried on the flight received a one-line cachet
reading "Due to mishap the flight was delayed for the first
America trip" and was held at Friedrichshafen until 1 August
1929, when the airship made another attempt to cross the Atlantic
for Lakehurst arriving on 4 August 1929. Four days later, the
"Graf Zeppelin" departed Lakehurst for another daring
enterprise - a complete circumnavigation of the globe.
The growing popularity of the Graf made it easy for Zeppelin company
chief Dr. Hugo Eckener to find sponsors for a "Round-the-World"
flight. One of these was the American press tycoon William Randolph
Hearst, who requested the tour to officially start at Lakehurst
Naval Air Station, NJ. As with the October 1928 flight to New
York, Hearst had placed a reporter, Lady Grace Drummond-Hay, on
board, who thereby became the first woman to circumnavigate the
globe by air.
there on 8 August, Graf Zeppelin flew back across the Atlantic
to Friedrichshafen to refuel before continuing on August 15 across
the vastness of Siberia to Tokyo (Kasumigaura Naval Air Station),
a non-stop leg of 6,988 miles (11,246 km), arriving 3 days later
on 18 August. Dr. Eckener believed that some of the lands they
crossed in Siberia had never before been seen by modern explorers.
From the ship, the first ever sighting of the aftermath of the
meteorite at Tunguska, Siberia in 1908. After staying in Tokyo
for five days, on 23 August, the Graf Zeppelin continued across
the Pacific to California flying first over San Francisco before
heading south to stop at Mines Field in Los Angeles for the first
ever non-stop flight of any kind across the Pacific Ocean. The
Pacific leg was 5,998 miles (9,653 km) and took three days. The
airship's final leg across the United States took it over Chicago
before landing back at Lakehurst NAS on 29 August, taking two
days and covering 2,996 miles (4,822 km).
flying time for the Lakehurst to Lakehurst legs was 12 days and
11 minutes. The entire voyage took 21 days, 5 hours and 31 minutes
including the initial and final trips between Friedrichshafen
and NAS Lakehurst during which time the airship travelled 49,618
km (30,831 miles) whereas the distance covered on the designated
"Round the World" portion from Lakehurst to Lakehurst
was 31,400 km (19,500 miles).
The Polar Flight
The ship pursued another spectacular destination in July 1931
with a research trip to the Arctic; this had already been a dream
of Count Zeppelin 20 years earlier, which could not, however,
be realized at the time due to the outbreak of war.
July 1930, Hugo Eckener had already piloted the Graf on a three-day
trip to Norway and Spitsbergen, in order to determine its performance
in this region. Shortly after Eckener made a three day flight
to Iceland, both trips completed without technical problems.
initial idea was to rendezvous with the submarine Nautilus, the
ship of polar researcher George Hubert Wilkins, who was attempting
a trip under the ice. This plan was abandoned when the submarine
encountered recurring technical problems, leading to its eventual
scuttling in a Bergen fjord.
instead began to plan a rendezvous with a surface vessel. He intended
funding to be secured by delivering mail post to the ship. After
advertising, around fifty thousand letters were collected from
around the world weighing a total of about 300 kilograms. The
rendezvous vessel, the Russian icebreaker Malygin, on which the
Italian airshipman and polar explorer Umberto Nobile was a guest,
required another 120 kilograms of post. The major costs of the
expedition were met solely by sale of postage stamps. The rest
of the funding came from Aeroarctic and the Ullstein-Verlag in
exchange for exclusive reporting rights.
1931 polar flight took one week from 24 June 1931 until the 31st.
The Graf travelled about 10,600 kilometres, the longest leg without
refuelling was 8,600 kilometres. The average speed was 88 km/h.
Middle East flights
"Graf Zeppelin" made two visits to the Middle East during
its career. The first took place over four days in April 1929,
without landing but during which mail was dropped to the large
German colony at Jaffa in Palestine. The second flight took place
in 1931 beginning on 9 April with a flight to Cairo, Egypt, where
the airship landed less than two days later. After a brief stop
the "Graf Zeppelin" proceeded on to Palestine before
returning to Friedrichshafen on 23 April, just an hour over four
days after departure. The trip took 97 hours, covered 9,000 kilometres
and crossed 14 countries on three continents.
The Graf Zeppelin undertook a number of trips around Europe, landing
at both Cardington and also at Hanworth aerodrome (a future Heathrow
a successful tour to South America in May 1930, it was decided
to open the first regular transatlantic airship line, travelling
mainly from Germany to Brazil (64 such round trips overall) with
occasional stops, among them Spain, Miami, London, and Berlin.
At one of the Berlin visits a glider that was released from under
its hull performed a loop in front of cheering crowds, and on
one of the Brazil trips British Pathé News filmed on board.
every flight had a reporter on board, who would radio a report
to the ground via Morse Code. Such articles made Lady Drummond-Hay
famous, and she would be pictured in advertisements featuring
October 1933, the Graf Zeppelin made an appearance at the Century
of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, after circling over the fair,
then landing and relaunching 25 minutes later. Despite the beginning
of the Great Depression and growing competition by fixed-wing
aircraft, D-LZ127 would transport an increasing number of passengers
and mail across the ocean every year until 1937.
and cargo provided most of the income for operating the Graf.
In one transatlantic flight the Graf would carry 52,000 postcards
and 50,000 letters, and by its last flight it had carried 53 tonnes
of mail. Since 1912, Zeppelins were allowed to postmark and sort
mail onboard and the Graf managed to deliver South America-bound
about a week faster than by ship. When the Hindenburg entered
service in 1936 prospects became better and a profit was expected
for 1937 by delivering mail on both it and the Graf, but the Hindenburg's
loss in May 1937 put an end to all commercial Zeppelin service.
Eckener intended to supplement the successful craft by another,
similar Zeppelin, projected as D-LZ128. However the after the
loss of the R101 in 1930 led the Zeppelin company to reconsider
the safety of hydrogen-filled vessels, and the design was abandoned
in favour of a new larger project. D-LZ129, which was to eventually
be christened the Hindenburg,
of an era
the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, all Zeppelin flights were immediately
grounded. After review it was agreed that the Graf Zeppelin would
have been incapable of flying with helium, was retired one month
past the disaster. The ship was brought in to the airship shed
at Frankfurt and deflated. The ship was then placed on stocks,
and formed part of a museum exhibition. The ship stood in the
hanger attracting many visitors in it's final days.
end for the Graf Zeppelin came with the outbreak of World War
II. In March 1940, Hermann Göring, the German Air Minister,
ordered the destruction of the remaining dirigibles, and the duralumin
parts were fed into the German war industry.
name fame of the Graf Zeppelin is still known today as the most
successful operational airship of it's time