623: Airship by John Swinfield

by Gerard


623.74309041: Swinfield, John. Airship: Design, Development, and Disaster. London: Conway Maritime, 2012. 352 pp. ISBN 978-1-8448-6138-5.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 600: Technology
  • 620: Engineering
  • 623: Military and nautical engineering
  • 623.7: Communications, vehicles, sanitations and related topics
  • 623.74: Vehicles
  • 623.743: Airships (dirigibles)
  • +09041: Early 20th Century

John Swinfield’s Airship is a wonderful exploration of the history of airships, dirigibles, and zeppelins as they were beginning to become a fixture in history. While there is a large gray area between when a flying vessel goes from a hot-air balloon to an airship, the qualifying characteristic seems to be the inclusion of an engine to power propellers and guide the vehicle properly. William Bland’s 1851 flight with a steam engine and twin propellers fits the bill. And from there, things only got bigger and more dangerous.

Many different models were tried and abandoned in the late 19th century, but after the Wright Brothers mastered powered flight, many companies throughout Europe though they had the answer to sustained dirigible flight were vying to monopolize the airship market. Combine this with the military’s fervent interest in incorporating airship technology into their forces and you get a recipe for a veritable arms race. In an interesting parallel to the space race of the 1960’s, the airship race was one to find out who could make their vessels faster, lighter, and bigger. World War I saw the use of airships in armed campaigns on both sides of the fighting. Germany used zeppelins to bomb London and British blimps were used as scouts to find German submarines and mines. The golden age of airships, of course, ends with the highly memorable Hindenburg disaster of 1937.

Swinfield’s writing is as close to exhaustive as one can get on the topic. He details the politics, construction, and service records for just about every airship built in the early 20th century. There are commercial blimps, fighter vessels, and now blimps over major sporting events. Enthusiasts of early war air vehicles will find an immense amount of information here. Luckily for us, too, the information is also interesting. There’s good stuff in this one for historians as well as aeronautic engineering buffs; this conpendium includes a sizable list of airship teminology as well as a handy catalogue of all those involved in the early days of blimp construction. A longish but thorough book.