Airship is a lighter than air flying machine which flies because it contains gas bags full of very light gas (hydrogen or helium).
Passengers or freight are contained in ‘gondolas’ suspended under the ship, and forward motion is achieved by engines, also hung beneath the airship. The first airship flew in 1852, driven by a small steam engine, but it was only with the development of light weight internal combustion engines that airships became really practical.
One of the pioneers was the German, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, whose airships ran the first commercial services (in 1910) and carried out the first-ever bombing raids (on London in the First World War).
During the 1930s airships were the only practical means of long-distance air travel, and craft built by America, Germany, and Britain cruised the skies, crossing all the major oceans. Some of these were very large, over 240 m (787 ft) long.
The end of the airship era came with a few highly publicized crashes, notably the British R101 in 1930 and the German Hindenburg in 1937.
Both craft were burnt out because the hydrogen used to supply their lift was highly inflammable. The production of helium, which was far safer and offered much the same amount of lift, came too late to save the airship, because the public lost faith in the idea and turned their attention instead to heavier than air planes.
A few enthusiasts still believe in a great future for the airship, since it is cheap to run, and a number of modern helium filled designs are under development for freight carrying.