Arago: Developmental Period (1919-1945)

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Developmental Period (1919-1945)

Aviation's Development Period is most dramatic and important for its great advances in aviation and its related technologies. This is especially true of airplanes. There were parallel developments with airships that met with mixed success, some great and some less so. The period spans 1918 to 1945.

In the aftermath of the Great War, the Zeppelin Company sought to resume commercial airship operations. Germany was, however, severely restricted in what it was allowed to do in aviation and, at the same time, burdened with onerous reparations obligations. The upshot was its loss of zeppelin airships to the victors. A large new zeppelin airship was constructed for the United States Navy, the ZR-3, and delivered (with considerable mail) to the United States by a sensational transatlantic flight to New York in 1924. It was then christened the 'Los Angeles'. With the cooperation of the Zeppelin Company, Goodyear undertook the construction of additional airships for the U.S. Navy. In spite of some spectacular operational successes, even as an aircraft carrier, loss of airships during inclement weather doomed the naval airship program. American airships rarely carried significant amounts of mail.

Meanwhile, the German zeppelin airship program regained its footing in 1928 with the LZ127 Graf Zeppelin. Intended to prove the zeppelin a capable, reliable, and safe means of inter-continental air transport for passengers, mail, and freight, the LZ127 was a great success. After a series of spectacular demonstration and proving flights, including flights to North America, South America, the North Polar region, and a flight around the world, it began scheduled seasonal commercial flights to South America in 1932. These flights continued into 1937. The Graf Zeppelin made a total of 590 successful flights.

The success of the Graf Zeppelin on the South America route prompted the completion of the largest zeppelin—the LZ129 Hindenburg—for commercial service to North America. It made ten trips to the United States and seven to Brazil in 1936. On its first flight to the United States in 1937, the Hindenburg caught fire while landing and was destroyed. The small amount of salvaged airmail from this disaster is a memorial to the event and marks the end of the zeppelin era.

The airmail flown by the zeppelins was very popular at the time and has remained so over the years. Over sixty countries sent airmail via Graf Zeppelin. Much of it prepared by or for collectors, it is highly attractive and colorful. Many flights used special cachets, lending attractive design and color to the mail. There are many different ways to collect zeppelin airmail, including origin, flight, destination, year, or mail posted on the airship by passengers, to name a few.


Glossary