On the shores of Lake Constance—which straddles Germany, Austria and Switzerland—the whales are not found in the water. They are found floating above it in the form of the massive whale-like zeppelin, the world’s largest commercial flying machine.
Note that zeppelins are different from blimps. Both have bulbous tops filled with a gas that’s lighter than air. But a blimp’s top has no internal structure; blimps are essentially steerable balloons. Zeppelins use a metal frame, which makes them more stable, agile, durable and quiet for passengers (since the engine can be placed further from the cabin).
The German Count von Zeppelin designed his eponymous flying machine in the 1890s. Zeppelins played a large role in World War I and were even used to bomb London. In 1929, the largest zeppelin ever built circumnavigated the globe. Hitler used zeppelins as propaganda machines during his rise to power, though that came to a sudden stop in 1937 after the Hindenburg burst into flames, giving zeppelins everywhere a bad rep.
The experience of flying in a Zeppelin is almost nothing like that of flying in an airplane. The gentle hum of the motor and the squawk of the seagulls are the only sounds around. As soon as a zeppelin reaches a height of 300 meters (1000 feet) passengers are free to move around in the cabin. While cruising at a leisurely pace of 70km per hour (44 mph) you have spectacular views of the landscape drifting by beneath you. You can take photos from over sized windows and enter the cockpit and watch over the pilot’s shoulder. Although the entire Zeppelin is huge, the cabin portion only holds 12 passengers, making it an intimate, luxurious experience. (And, yes, there is a toilet on board).
Unfortunately, the experience of riding in a zeppelin doesn’t come cheap:
• In Friedrichshafen, Germany prices start at €200 per person for a 30 minute flight. For €745 per person you can fly once around the whole Lake Constance, taking a good 2 hours.
• In California, a 45-minute flight will set you back US$375. The zeppelin there alternates between flying out of the Bay Area and touring the southern part of the state.
Oh, in case you were wondering, the Hindenburg was filled with highly combustible hydrogen—the United States military embargo prevented Nazi Germany from using anything else. Today’s zeppelins float using non-flammable helium. So you’ll not only get an incredible flight, you’ll survive to tell of the experience.
Zeppelin flight info
When: Zeppelin flights run year round.
If you go: Check the night before and then again the day of your zeppelin trip to make sure it is still operating. It is semi-common for flights to be cancelled or delayed due to weather.
Family friendly? Absolutely, though children younger than two years old are not allow on board.
For your bookshelf: When Giants Roamed the Sky
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