Yeah, this is pretty far from my usual reporting. I’m not talking about an aircraft purchase in this story but I will tell you about a genuine piloting experience you might find intriguing.
UPDATE May 17, 2023 — Regarding the “Pilot Experience” opportunity to actually fly and log time as pilot of a Zeppelin, the company responded that no such opportunities will be available in 2023 for “a variety of reasons.“ They did provide an email for the head of operations and I will contact him to see if the future holds any better news. —DJ
Simply going aloft in an airship is relatively affordable, costing $300 for a half-hour flight. In my mind it was worth every penny. Of course, you can’t do this many places so you’d have to add the cost of getting to Friedrichshafen, Germany.
So, flying a Zeppelin. Cool, yes, but you’re only a passenger. Sure, the visibility is fantastic through panoramic (and German-clean) windows, and every seat is a window seat. But aren’t you stuck in that one seat the whole flight? Nope.
Once we exceeded 300 meters (about 1,000 feet), the seat belt sign went off and 14 passengers plus our flight attendant were up and moving about. Throughout the flight, I could sense no aircraft response to 15 people constantly moving around.
You fly around 35 knots (max is 67 knots). It feels remarkably like many ultralights I’ve flown, where the ground drifts by underneath. We flew around at about 1,000-1,500 feet so the sight was familiar to any recreational pilot.
Viewed from the far south of Germany, mountain peaks in Switzerland and Austria can be seen just across Lake Constance (or Bodensee). This region offers breathtaking views from the ground. Aloft in Zeppelin, the scenery was magnificent. Even the video below doesn’t do it justice.
I was surprised that they let me open a window and stick my phone outside to take a picture of my wife and friends. I kept a pretty tight grip but it produced some interesting shots.
Our pilot was extraordinarily generous in explaining anything another pilot asked. She’s flown airships all over the world and maneuvered the enormous ship with great dexterity.
With its three swiveling engines, Zeppelin NT is surprisingly agile. It appeared more like maneuvering a large houseboat on water (the closest vehicle I can relate to), but one with thrusters to nudge the beast around. She made a very precise landing.
Naturally, two LSA pilots, myself and Scott Severen of US Sport Planes, the American Jabiru importer, asked if we could sit in the unoccupied right seat. No, insurance did not allow, but… get this!
Pilot Flight Experience
On select occasions — limited for obvious reasons — Zeppelin does offer a Pilot Flight Experience. We were told this includes 40 minutes of stick time and two takeoffs and landings. I’ve asked for confirmation and will update this article when I learn the exact details.
This special offering is only available in the off-season. At Germany’s southern border, Friedrichshafen is a popular tourist destination in the summer months. Flights on Zeppelin are booked solid then but in the early spring and later fall, this program operates.
“I doubt we charge what it costs,” speculated pilot, Kate Board. We didn’t ask her the price.*
Think about what a solo Zeppelin pilot manages: three articulating engines, each with highly flexible pitch to allow forward and aftward movement (remember, it’s just floating), a 250-foot-long, 65-foot in diameter aircraft with air ballonets and helium volume plus 15 passengers in your charge. Not your recreational pilot workload.
Certainly, would it be rare to have some airship time in your logbook. I’d enjoy the experience but I’ll have to ponder the cost. Nonetheless, I thought it was fantastic that Zeppelin even offers we normal pilots a shot at the controls.
Why Does It Say Goodyear?
Aren’t They Competitors?
The truth is that Goodyear and Zeppelin have a very long history working together, dating one hundred years to 1923. World War II ended their cooperation in 1939.
Subsequently, Goodyear built 347 of their non-rigid blimps but when the last one operated to the end of its service life, Goodyear restored relations with Zeppelin and the aircraft in which I flew is one of three NTs built at Goodyear’s Akron, Ohio facility under the direction of Zeppelin using their semi-rigid construction.
Aluminum and carbon are used in an internal structure composed primarily of nose-to-tail longerons and 12 large triangular supports tensioned by aramid ropes. You can envision the structure inside by looking where the engines and tail empennage surfaces connect to the envelope.
On prior years at Aero, I’ve seen several other corporate markings on Zeppelins. The Zeppelin NT is approved in Europe and the USA for passenger hauling, the first airship to be so licensed since the era of airships that ended with the Hindenburg disaster. Zeppelin NT uses nonflammable Helium, of course.
ZF Corporation is a large $35-billion-dollar company with 150,000 employees. The Zeppelin Group is also large but clearly, airship operations are modest compared to car subassemblies and other high-end technical work. I’m pleased Zeppelin keeps alive this fascinating aspect of aviation. I was enormously pleased to fulfill a long-awaited delight… to go aloft in an airship.
Flying in Zeppelin was even more delicious than the superb white asparagus Germany produces in April of the year.
Click or tap this link or click/tap image below to see the video posted to my personal account.
- Because the video above was originally intended only as a personal project, it was posted to my personal channel.
- Readers who want more aircraft coverage should go to the ByDanJohnson Affordable Aviation Channel on YouTube.
- More yet (about 1,000 videos) are found on Videoman Dave’s Light Sport and Ultralight Flyer YouTube Channel.
Thanks for reading, watching, and sharing.
* With 14 passengers on board at about $300 for a half-hour flight, this yields $4,200 per 30-minute flight. Even with efficient loading and unloading, they cannot make two flights an hour. Providing a small group of pilots 40 minutes and two takeoffs and landings each — plus some ground school and preparatory training — starts to sound expensive. I don’t have better information at this time but presumably they have a way to handle this. I’ll let you know.