Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Miracle of Echterdingen

Count von Zepplin, 59 years old and a retired army officer, had reached the age when many people retire. This did not deter him from his big ambition. It was a huge decision for an aged man with no knowledge of mechanical engineering.

The Count wanted to develop airships for military purposes and made a careful study of the engineering involved. The Count was interested in building rigid airships which would consist of cylinders charged by smaller vessels containing hydrogen-gas. He began his company in 1895 and started work at Friedrichshafen on the shores of Lake Constance.

He was able to make test flights over the Bodensee of his first Zeppelin which was 420 feet long and 38 feet in diameter. The first ascents were unsuccessful - the airships had several breakdowns. One descended rapidly and its envelope was ripped on a piling. However, the Kaiser and the King of Wurtemberg were interested in the Count's achievements so the Count was able to build larger airships capable of aerodynamic flight. He undertook further flights in 1905 and 1906.

By 1908 Count von Zeppelin had developed a very large craft containing two motors which could develop 170 horse-power. The King of Wurtemberg and his wife, Queen Charlotte, even flew in the Zeppelin in July 1908.

The LZ-4 flew over the Alps to Zurich and Lucerne and back to Lake Constance at 35 miles an hour. This was a trip of 235 miles. The Kaiser was very impressed and promised the Count much support if he could keep the Zeppelin in the air for 24 hours.

The Count's dream was almost wrecked soon after this. After staying aloft for several hours the Zeppelin was struck by a sudden squall and caught fire at Echterdingen.

The Kaiser and the King of Wurtemberg sent letters of sympathy. Luckily, the public support for the Count was so great that a public appeal raised more than six million marks for his company within a few weeks. Count von Zepplin could continue achieving his dream.

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