So here is my long-delayed post on the Leviathan-researching Zeppelin ride.
To ride a Zeppelin, one must travel to Friedrichshafen, Germany. That’s the very town where Count Ferdinand Zeppelin set up shop about 100 years ago, having decided to blow his retirement fund on building giant airships full of hydrogen. (Coincidentally, this is what I plan to do with my retirement fund.) As you saw from two posts ago, this town is Zeppelin-themed to the max. The museum there is amazing, and I took loads of photos for the artist I’m working with on Leviathan, but let’s skip that and go straight to the Zeppelin ride.
The day started with a wake-up call from Zeppelin HQ. The weather was crappy, so they’d canceled our flight (heart stops in chest) but were putting us on an earlier one (heart restarts).
We only had a few hours to have breakfast and attack the Zeppelin Museum before showing up at the airfield.
Of course, the moment our taxi came within sight of the hangar, I started geeking out, and thus many photos were taken:
This hangar is big, by the way. The Zeppelin itself is 75 meters (240 feet) long. That’s less than a third of old-school Zeps like the Hindenburg or Graf Zeppelin, but the hangar is still an impressive sight.
As we drew nearer, every little sign made me happy:
Zeppelin Fluge! I’m about to fluge in a frickin’ Zeppelin!
The place where you wait for your flight is a sort of tent-like temp building with a cafe inside:
It was far superior to the average airport lounge, I assure you. For one thing, the outside cafe had a view of the giant doors of the Zeppelin hangar:
Perhaps I will move ahead, skipping past the next roughly twelve hundred photos to the part where we see the actual ZEPPELIN.
But first: they gave us a quick wave of a metal-detecting wand for regulations’ sake. (You know, in case one of us were to hijack the Zeppelin with, say, our fingernail clippers and fly it—oh, so slowly—into a crowd of innocent people where its deadly load of the dreaded element helium would make them all talk funny . . . um, you get the idea.) Then we had a quick run-down on safety procedures; as the only English speakers, Justine and I had a private session.
Finally, we were taken out onto the airfield to await the return of the airship from its previous flight . . .
Yes, that’s it. Circling around to land straight into the wind. (And no, those cranes are not Zeppelin-related. They just made a nice composition.)
In this next shot you can see how small the gondola is compared to the rest of the ship. That’s the thing about Zeppelins: it takes lots of helium, or hydrogen, to lift one person. So, yes, those kids’ books in which handfuls of toy balloons lift people off their feet? Damnable lies!
This 75-meter Zep carries only 12 people—plus the flight gear, engines, and fuel, of course.
As it comes in quite close, check out the tilt rotors on the side. Those two engines (and two more at the rear) can angle in whatever direction the pilot wants.
Here, as you can see, they’re tilted up to slow the airship’s descent:
Then the airship “landed,” sort of. Being aerostatic (the same density as the air around it) a Zeppelin never really settles on the ground. It just bounces to a stop on its single wheel, balancing there and pirouetting with the wind like some graceful, ballet-loving whale.
To keep it steady, one guy holds a rope hanging from its front end.
(Yes, that’s a really short movie. But I’m in a hotel room where the internets are slow.)
At this point, they asked me to please put my camera away and maybe pay attention, because we were about to board. Switching out passengers is a bit tricky, because you have to keep the airship aerostatic. So the de-Zepping passengers can’t just walk off all at once. For every two people who get off, two have to get on, keeping the weight the same throughout the procedure.
So no more pictures for, like, sixty seconds, until we were aboard.
Here’s what it looks like from the inside:
I’m in the last row, so that’s about everyone: ten passengers and two flight crew. (The woman standing was both tour guide and co-pilot.) Every seat is an aisle and a window seat, and those windows are huge. Basically, you’re flying in a big wrap-around picture window, which bubbles out so you can look straight down if you want to:
By the way, we’re flying over Lake Constance, between Germany and Switzerland.
Here’s the Zeppelin’s flight control panel, covered with what are technically known as das blinken-lightz:
Love that little Zep silhouette at the bottom. This control panel would totally pass muster in a James Bond movie.
Okay, so I have to pause in the blogging now. I’ll be showing you more of this flight later, revealing the many wonders seen from the air (not to mention the cool landing protocols). But uploading all this stuff on hotel wi-fi is, like, a total waste of Paris-time.
So one more aerial vista, and I’m out of here:
Beautiful, yes? But rest assured, the best is yet to come . . .