The Anatomy of an Airship

Lately I’ve had a huge interest in steampunk and a huge part of steampunk is airships.  Today we shall learn all about the parts of an airship. It’s been a while since I’ve done a glossary post so here it is!


Steampunk Airship

First the three classes:

Rigid: This include ships like the Hindenburg and have an internal frame that holds a series of gas-filled bags. They are usually long and bullet shaped, often greater than 360 ft.

Semi-rigid: Instead of an internal frame, a semi-rigid airship uses a long metal keel that runs the length of the inside belly of the envelope.  The Norge Italia is a good example and if you look closely in the picture you can see where the keel is attached to the envelope.

Non-rigid: Now the most common modern airship, this class includes the blimps, like the Goodyear blimp. These are less expensive than the other two classes because of the lack of rigid internal structure in the envelope.


Rigid: The Hindenburg


Semi-rigid: The Norge Italia


Non-rigid: The Goodyear Blimp

Now, what all the little bits do:

Gondola: The structure that holds both passengers and crew below the envelope. Usually the engines are anchored here although it’s not uncommon on rigid and semi-rigid ships for them to be placed further aft to help with balance. On rigid ships, because the gas is contained in smaller bags, the crew can also work and store equipment within the envelope itself.

Engine: Powers the propulsion on the airship, which are usually large propellers on either side of the craft.

Stabilizers: These are the fins that keep the ship from rolling side to side and up and down.

Ballonet: Smaller balloons within the larger envelope that hold air and are used to displace the lifting gas to gain or lose altitude.

Ballonet air valve: Controls intake of air into the ballonet to control altitude.

Air Scoop: Used to fill the ballonets with outside air to adjust altitude.

Nose Cone battens: These are the flexible but sturdy ribs that extend from the front of the the nose cone in a non-rigid airship that prevent the front of the ship from caving in on itself if there is a headwind.

Blimp: Another name for a non-rigid airship

Dirigible: Another name for a rigid airship

Aerostat: Another name for lighter-than-air aircraft

Envelope: The main “balloon” of the airship that holds in the lifting gas.

Lifting gas: Today mainly helium is used, but in earlier years hydrogen was the gas of choice. It is lighter and less expensive.  It’s only drawback is the tendency to explode in the right conditions. Heated air doesn’t have enough lift for these ships, but it works for hot air balloons.

Catenary Curtain: In blimps there are two of these curtains that are sewn into the envelope and then attached to the gondola with suspension cables.  These help support and shape the envelope as well as hold up the gondola.

Zeppelin: A name given to rigid airships after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin who pioneered their use.




Additional Resources:


How Stuff Works: How Blimps Work



I have a book release coming up on January 31st! “The Toll of Another Bell” is a fantasy anthology from Xchyler Publishing. You can pre-order a copy on Amazon today. There will also be a release party on Facebook with lots of great prizes. Check out the links for more details!


About Jodi

Jodi L. Milner is a writer, mandala enthusiast, and educator. Her epic fantasy novel, Stonebearer’s Betrayal, was published in November 2018 and rereleased in Jan 2020. She has been published in several anthologies. When not writing, she can be found folding children and feeding the laundry, occasionally in that order.
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