An airship or dirigible is a lighter-than-air craft that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust.
Airships were the first aircraft to enable controlled, powered flight, and were widely used before the 1940s but their use decreased over time as their capabilities were surpassed by those of airplanes. Their decline was accelerated by a series of high-profile accidents: the crash of the British airship R101 on 5 October 1930, the storm-related crash of the American airship USS Akron on April 4, 1933 and the burning of the hydrogen-filled German Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg on 6 May 1937.
In the 21st century, airships have been used in advertising, tourism, camera platforms for sporting events, geological surveys, and aerial observation, applications where the ability to hover in one place for an extended period outweighs the need for speed and maneuverability.
Airships are also a common trope in "steampunk" literature and design.
Airship in The Two Georges
Airships were the preferred method of long-distance travel in the British Empire, which included the North American Union, in the late 20th Century. Passengers traveled in luxury and comfort aboard the massive liners. Non-flammable Coronium had replaced the temperamental hydrogen as the lifting agent, making the vehicles much safer. Airships, by 1995, had enjoyed unchallenged status as the dominant long-distance form of air travel for nearly a century, offering sightseeing opportunities available aboard no train or passenger ship.
Aeroplanes were much faster, but also much less comfortable. Their speed, while of great use to the military, was widely regarded as vulgar and not worth the trouble for any respectable citizen. As a result, no aeroplane transport lines existed and in peacetime sightings of aeroplanes were rare apart from the occasional patrol.
- The Two Georges, Chapter i.
- Ibid., pgs. 6-7.