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a modern airship

Airships are kind of aircraft. Airships stay in the sky by floating. This is different from aeroplanes that stay in the sky by moving. An airship floats like a balloon. But an airship is different from a balloon. An airship has an engine for power and a way to control its direction of movement. A balloon does not have an engine or a way to control its direction of movement.

Some people may use the word "airship" to mean any kind of aircraft. This is not exactly correct. Technical people use the word "airship" only to mean a aircraft that floats and has both an engine and a way to control its direction of movement.

Kinds of Airships

There are three kinds of airships. The difference is the amount of structure in the airship.

  • Rigid airships - Rigid airships have big structures in them. The biggest airships were rigid airships

made in the 1920s and 1930's. Big rigid airships were also called dirigibles.

  • Semi-rigid airships - Semi-rigid airships have small structures in them. There are only a few semi-rigid airships.
  • Non-rigid airships - Non-rigid airships have no structures in them. Non-rigid airships are also called blimps. Most airships are non-rigid airships.


Blimps were used by the United States in WWII to fight against submarines. Blimps are now used mostly for advertising.

The Hindenburg

The Hindenburg, on a postcard from 1936

The most famous airship was the Hindenburg. The Hindenburg was a rigid airship made by the Zeppelin airship company. It burned when it was landing on May 6, 1937. There were 97 people on the airship when the fire started. The fire killed 35 of these people and one person on the ground. There is a very famous movie of the airship fire.