Take to the Skies in a Transport of Days Past

At the beginning of the 20th century, it seemed rather plausible that travel by zeppelin would be the way of the future. These large airships, distinguished from blimps by the solid framework that existed within their inflatable structures (or “envelopes”) seemed destined to claim the skies, and many cities began preparing for the inevitability by adapting their infrastructure appropriately. The famous art deco spire that crowns the Empire State Building, for example, was originally designed as a docking station for airships.

Airship Los Angeles over Manhattan in 1930

Great distances were no match for the mighty zeppelin, which during the early half of the 1930s, shuttled scores of passengers between Frankfurt, Germany across the Atlantic to Recife, Brazil in a mere 68 hours. And although Charles Lindbergh is famous for his transatlantic flight, the airship U.S.S. Los Angeles made the nonstop haul from Germany to New Jersey three years before Lucky Lindy.

“The prophetic vision of Jules Verne has been realised [sic],” boasted one brochure for zeppelin travel. “The new experience of a voyage across the ocean above the clouds can be added to others in this age of wonders.” Zeppelin travel was also perceived as more glamorous and civilized, due to its “safety, comfort, freedom from sickness, and tranquility in motion,” the brochure explained.

The zeppelin’s brief golden age came to horrific end, however, with the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, in which nearly a third of the passengers perished when the hydrogen in the ship’s envelope caught fire. The public’s confidence in airship travel could not be revived, and commercial business soon waned so much that the once popular routes were soon taken over by winged aircraft.

Now, nearly 70 years after the last zeppelin flew American skies, the familiar silhouette has returned. As one of only two true zeppelins in the world, the German-built Eureka operates mainly out of San Francisco’s Moffett Field but makes occasional visits to the Los Angeles area. Limited to six passengers, these southernly journeys offer the rare opportunity to travel via a bygone mode of luxury travel – and bypass the pat-downs at airport security.

© Gary Yost

The Eureka is the largest zeppelin in the world, measuring 15 feet longer than a Boeing 747 and filled with non-flammable helium, the same gas used for children’s balloons. With two lateral engines, the airship boasts amazing maneuverability, including the ability to hover in place and turn 360 degrees on its axis. Minimal vibration provides additional comfort, and cruising speeds generally range between 35-40 miles per hour (which is often faster than the 405). A cockpit open to the passenger area allows passengers to converse with the crew, who are among a rare breed of only 22 zeppelin pilots on the planet.

As Eureka makes it way down from the Bay area, large windows provide panoramic views of California’s famed coast and, unlike in a plane, passengers enjoy the freedom to walk from one side of the gondola to the other. Even the restroom offers a window with a view. You’ll fly over land and sea, experiencing the state’s famed scenery as you never have before, over 8-10 hours of smooth gliding.

© Jenna Rose Robbins

If you’re unable to book space on the trip down from San Francisco, there’s still the opportunity to explore Southern California by air with tours ranging from 45 minutes to two hours. White-sand beaches and a bird’s-eye view of area icons such as Dodger Stadium, the Queen Mary, and the Hollywood sign await.

Zeppelins are a vestige of the past, a vision of what might have been. To book your San Francisco to Los Angeles flight, contact Airship Ventures.