Around the World by Zeppelin

At about this time in the Summer of 1929 the German Airship Graf Zeppelin started on a voyage around the world.

In case you’re wondering what’s the difference between a Zeppelin, a Dirigible and a Blimp, I will tell you that only one of them is an easy word for Americans to say and to spell. Other differences are explained here, at a very thorough website called

As you read about them, it becomes clear how Zeppelins are like Windex and Jello. The name is proprietary – only lighter-than-air ships made by a certain manufacturer can be called Zeppelins.

Another surprising fact – the German aristocrat who developed them, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, had his first flight and received his inspiration for creating his namesake airship as a young man traveling far from home in … where else?.

St. Paul Minnesota, naturally.

Graf Zeppelin over the U.S. Capitol.

I know the Hindenburg disaster gave zeppelins a bad name with the floating-in-midair public, but I’m entranced by the details of the Graf Zeppelin’s planetary circumnavigation.

It took three weeks. THREE WEEKS! Who gets three weeks off for a vacation? And of those 21 days from Lakehurst, New Jersey to Lakehurst, New Jersey, 12 days were spent airborne.

With all the rushing about that we do from day to day, imagine going around the globe at roughly 72 miles per hour, seeing everything pass about 650 feet below you. That’s low enough and slow enough to actually see things. What a luxurious way to spend your late summer!

Sure, there might have been some slight concerns about suddenly plummeting out of the sky, but this was 1929 and the Roaring 20’s were at full throttle. A profound drop was coming, but not until October. In New York. On Wall Street. In the meantime, why not live it up? About 65 stories up!

What’s the most interesting sight you’ve seen from the air?

54 thoughts on “Around the World by Zeppelin”

  1. 4th of july fireworks from minneapolis to bozeman montana was cool for a couple hours (the sun goes down in minot north dakota about 11:30 that time of year the way the time zones are set.
    the north pole is something i could look down at for hours and hours, clouds have the ability to blow me away. flying through the tunnels they leave you is a trip if you ar ein a little plane with a willing pilot, the flying ride in epcot in disney world is a top attraction for a reason. i have enjoyed flying into the old honk kong airport where the runway was the equiilant of downtown new york city. you had to drop over the buildings, hit the brakes and hold your breath while looking out the windows at people hanging laundry on their balcony an arms reach from your 747. but i agree that 650 feet off the ground for 12 days out of 21 would be an experience to remember. is there a hot air balloon option to the blimp version of this trip?


  2. Good morning. As the plane gained altitude leaving La Paz, Bolivia I got a clear view of the mountains with narrow roads winding past small villages all over mountain sides. I had been on some of those roads, or similar ones. Somehow, it seemed like a perfect picture of the landscape of Bolivia where small farms and villages are scattered about in the mountains that are covered with lush tropical and semitropical foliage.


  3. ot
    yesterdays pain is tomorrows joke, you will always end up laughing if you dont slit your throat.
    quote from angls over broadway on turner classic movies this morning. philosophy at 7am is what this world needs


  4. R and S Baboons!

    Like tim, I witnessed fireworks on July 4, 2009 from a plane headed from Charlotte, NC MSP. fascinating sight. That is joined by the rainbow our plane flew into last March in San Fransisco.


  5. According to my husband’s Ohio relatives, Sarahsville Ohio High school sports teams are called the Zeps, after a zeppelin that crashed there.


  6. G’morning, baboons. I haven’t flown much except in dreams. Several times I’ve been up over the Canadian wilderness in float planes, and that was interesting. Two of those trips were above the treeline, so the landscape below us was unique. We could see how the oddities of the land and weather caused fires to burn in long smeary streaks.


  7. Morning all! Was busy all day yesterday preparing for our National Night Out Block Party so missed the fun on the trail. I really love the Blurt-o-Meter concept.

    I’ve flown over Greenland a couple of times, one of them at a low enough altitude on a cloudless day to tell you that “Green”land is the wrong name. Such expanses of white – mile and mile after mile – Whiteland would be a more appropriate name.

    I’ve also had the good fortune to ride in an open-air bi-plane in Kenya. I could probably write a whole blog about the experience, but it was AMAZING!


  8. For my dad’s 75th birthday we were trying to think of something unique to give him, and hit on a small plane ride, piloted by our nephew. Dad wanted to see the Mille Lacs Lake area, where he’d done a lot of fishing, from the air. Although I didn’t personally go up, I can see it all in my mind’s eye from the descriptions he gave later – he was SO thrilled to be able to see it all.

    My own memories include flying into the SF Bay Area at deep dusk – just breathtaking – and looking down on spectacular cloud formations…


    1. Flying over big cities at night, with all the lights spread out for miles, is a wonderful experience. I love to fly into Copenhagen during daylight hours; the red tile roofs and green copper spires and domes of the various landmarks I know so well never fail to excite me.


  9. For Mother’s Day, I once treated my erstwife to a plane trip over the Apostle Islands and our cabin. Some woman had a tiny banana-yellow plane, the kind that seats two but they sit inline. The whole trip would have been fun, but especially seeing our own cabin from the air.


  10. Whenever I fly, I try to get a window seat; I just love to look at earth from above. Oftentimes you can’t see anything because of clouds or because you’re flying over an ocean at night, but I’ve been lucky enough to see some really thrilling vistas over the years. I too have seen the vast, white expanses of Greenland along with the glaciers that you can almost perceive flowing toward the ocean. I’ve also had the privilege of a helicopter ride up the west coast of Greenland flying over colorful villages nestled along the rugged coast, herds of caribou, ice bergs and the shimmering aqua ocean in which they float.

    I’ve seen Grand and Bryce Canyon as well as Monument Valley on a clear day. Last time I flew to Seattle I saw huge circular fields of crops created by center pivot irrigation in Montana and Idaho. As we entered the air space over Washington and flew over the Cascade Mountains we had a spectacular view of Mount Rainier. I always try to take pictures and some of them have turned out remarkably well. It amazes me that more people don’t appear interested in looking out the window of an airplane, it never fails to thrill me.

    Flying over the St. Croix River valley on a misty and crisp autumn morning in a hot air balloon was a magical experience. As the sun gained height and burned off the mist, the trees along the river emerged in all their fall splendor. I need to do that again.

    Perhaps the single most memorable sight from an airplane was the first time I flew to Greenland in the spring of 1965. En route we flew close enough to the southwestern coast of Iceland to clearly see the glowing lava and massive plume of steam, smoke and ash emitting from Surtsey.


  11. Oh goodness. I just don’t like to fly at all. The sensation of soaring is even hard for me to watch in movies. I remember, however, leaving England by plane in 1976, during a drought that left the country dry and brown, and flying over and landing in Ireland, which didn’t have the drought and which was an intense green like I had never seen before.


    1. I take it that you don’t like most of the IMaX films which inevitably feature a lot of shots taken from the perspective of flying in a helicopter? I LOVE those films, but they are not a good idea if you’re hung over. Don’t ask me how I know.


      1. Did you ever see the one PJ that was all about gliders? No motors at all. All you got was these IMaX films of fabulous landscapes that these gliders were whooshing through. The film gave you the feeling of flying. I think that film ran in the 1980s.


  12. I haven’t flown much and certainly not to some of the interesting places some of you describe. However, in 2008 we had a chance to go visit our daughter who was spending a school year in England. We went in March and Great Britain was beautiful – forsythia was blooming and the weather was lovely. When we were flying back to MSP, we were surprised to discover how white everything was. The snow had been melting when we left, but during the week we were gone there was an enormous snowstorm. It was all fresh snow, so it was a very clean landscape!


  13. A few memories…
    Flying over clouds that were sending lightning down to the ground. There wasn’t complete cloud cover so I could see the individual clouds and the stabs of lightning going to the ground. Amazing.

    A vacation-of-a-lifetime when I was sixteen included a helicopter ride above the Na Pali coast of Kauai (the cliffs used as scenery for South Pacific). Even better than seeing the cliffs and beaches was landing at one of the beaches and spending the day. The only way to get to the beach was by helicopter so we had it to ourselves. Could have been very romantic if I had been with someone other than my dumb old family (16 year old girl speaking there).

    Third memory was returning from my first and only trip to Arizona. I hadn’t expected to like the southwest and I was somewhat right. When we came back over green, green Minnesota, my eyes just drank it in, having been deprived of that color.


  14. A favorite performer of mine is Laurie Anderson, the odd little poet/musician of the avant garde in New York. Laurie has one album of nothing but stories, the album called “The Ugly One With the Jewels.” It contains this little story about seeing the world from an airplane:

    It was the night flight from Houston. Almost perfect visibility. You could see the lights from all the little Texas towns far below. And I was sitting next to a fifty-year old woman who had never been on a plane before. And her son had sent her a ticket and said:

    Mom, you’ve raised ten kids; it’s time you got on a plane.

    And she was sitting in a window seat staring out and she kept talking about the Big Dipper and that Little Dipper and pointing; and suddenly I realized that she thought we were in outer space looking down at the stars. And I said: You know, I think those lights down there are the lights from little towns.


      1. You’re like my daughter, Lisa. She will do anything to avoid spoiling someone’s fantasy. If some stumblebum drunk is convinced he is a chicken, Molly would never correct him. After all, he might need the eggs.


  15. On a couple of occasions I have had the treat of flying away from the sunset towards night – it’s lovely to watch. The reds and oranges and yellows of the sunset can be quite intense, especially in comparison to the darkness you are flying into.


  16. I haven’t flown very much in my life. I was fourteen years old the first time and I was allowed to go to Schenectady, NY by myself to visit my aunt and uncle. I was thrilled and amazed by the beauty of the clouds and the sunlight.

    In 2001 or 2002, I was returning from Zion National Park with a friend. We had an emergency landing in Rochester because the President was in Minnesota and no planes were allowed to land at MSP, or to be in the airspace over the Metro area. We sat on the asphalt for hours waiting to return (for GWB to leave ๐Ÿ™‚ ). When we finally took off we stayed very low over the south-eastern Minnesota landscape, an area that is dearly familiar to me. It was fascinating to see Faribault and Northfield from the air.


  17. Really lovely descriptions from up high, Kids. Like many here, I request the window seat on a plane. The first time I flew east to visit my son, it was out of Sioux Falls (I usually fly out of MSP & save $300) and got a great glimpse of IA Great Lakes just as the sun came up. Looked exactly like the map on our cabin wall. Another thing I remember about that flight was all the wind turbines. Taking a float plane into the Ontario resort on family fishing trips was a memory maker – especially the big moose walking near shore.


  18. Sometimes you hear unusual stories from people you ride with on planes. A guy I rode with told me that a pilot was able to safely land a large plane that completely lost power. He was able to land the plane by gliding. The tricky part was turning the plane with no power. The guy said the pilot told the passengers that they must not move at all so that he could keep the plane in balance as he turned to line up for landing.

    I hope Renne skips reading this comment. I am a little like Renne in that I am not a big fan of riding on planes. I always have the wish that I will not end up on a plane where the pilot needs to do any amazing maneuvers like landing a plane without using any power. I don’t have a big fear of flying, but I usually feel a little relieved when the plane I am on makes it safely back onto the landing field.


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