Zeppelin vs. Blimp: Inflate Your Knowledge Of Both Words’ Meanings

zeppelin, blimp clouds blue filter

Quick summary

Zeppelins and blimps are two types of airships. Both are self propelled with lighter-than-air gas and are steered by pilots. Zeppelins are rigid airships that use an internal framework to maintain their shape. Blimps are nonrigid airships that rely on internal air pressure to maintain their shape, just like a balloon. 

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a blimp! Or, no, wait, is it a zeppelin?

Is there really any difference between these oversized balloons? 

In this article, we will prove we aren’t full of hot air by breaking down the difference between a zeppelin and a blimp and explaining what airships and dirigibles are, too.

zeppelin vs. blimp

Zeppelins and blimps both propel themselves in the air because they’re filled with lighter-than-air gasses (typically hydrogen or helium). Both also use engines and other machinery to allow them to move, and both have a pilot who controls their flight direction.

The difference between a zeppelin and a blimp is what’s inside. A zeppelin is what’s called a rigid airship. That means that it has a framework inside, typically made of metal, that maintains its shape. A blimp is what’s called a nonrigid airship. It doesn’t have a framework inside. Instead, it relies on its internal air pressure to maintain its shape. If air is removed from a blimp, it will deflate like a giant balloon.  

A famous example of a zeppelin is the LZ 129 Hindenburg, whose crash in 1937 caused a worldwide aversion to airships as passenger vehicles. Well-known examples of blimps are the Goodyear Blimps, which are flown over sporting events. 

Historically, both zeppelins and blimps were used as passenger and military vehicles. Today, they’re very rarely used (because they’re very expensive, they’re much less practical than drones, and few people are trained to fly them).

What about airships and dirigibles?

An airship is a self-propelled aircraft that uses a lighter-than-air gas to maintain flight. A pilot can control its speed and direction. The word dirigible is a synonym of airship. Both words are often used interchangeably to refer to the same aircraft. 

The terms airship and dirigible are generally used to refer to the category of aircraft that zeppelins and blimps are part of. In other words, zeppelins and blimps are types of airships or dirigibles. 

Airships (dirigibles) can be separated into three types: rigid airships (such as zeppelins), nonrigid airships (such as blimps), and semi-rigid airships, which use a framework but still rely on air pressure to maintain their shape. Some of the Goodyear Blimps are actually semi-rigid airships.

Speaking of flying objects, do you know what distinguishes a meteor, an asteroid, and a comet?

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