DELAG, acronym for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (German for "German Airship Travel Corporation"), was the world's first airline to use an aircraft in revenue service. It was founded on 16 November 1909 and operated Zeppelin rigid airships manufactured by the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin Corporation. Its headquarters were located in Frankfurt, Germany.
DELAG was founded at the suggestion of Alfred Colsman, the business manager of Zeppelin Luftschiffbau. The company was having difficulty in obtaining orders from the German army, so Colsman suggested exploiting the German public's enthusiastic interest by establishing a commercial passenger-carrying company. Count Zeppelin himself distanced himself from this commercialisation of his idea: as an aristocrat and ex-officer, he saw it as a vulgar tradesman's enterprise. Colsman, who became the airline's first general director, managed to secure the cooperation of Albert Ballin, the head of the Hamburg America Line who offered 100,000 Marks a year to promote the enterprise on the condition that his offices had exclusive rights to sell tickets, and Colsman, who became the airline's first general director, had little difficults in raising the necessary three million marks capital. Much of the initial capital came from the cities of Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, and a number of cities built airship sheds at their own expense.
The first Zeppelin to be constructed for the company was LZ 7, which was named Deutschland. First flown on 19 June 1910, it had a useful lift of 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) and had accommodation for 24 passengers. Cruising speed was 51 km/h (32 mph). Given this performance it was realised that scheduled inter-city services would not be feasible, and that the company would be limited to offering pleasure cruises in the vicinity of their bases. However, the Deutschland was destroyed on 28 June 1910 while taking a consignment of journalists on a trip intended to generate publicity. The airship was first prevented from returning to its base in Düsseldorf and then, caught by a thunderstorm, was first carried up to a height of 1,100 m (3,500 ft) and then, heavy from loss of hydrogen caused by the rapid ascent and from rainwater on the envelope, forced down into the Teutoburger forest. Fortunately there was only one injury. This left DELAG with only a single airship, LZ 6, which had been built the previous year with the hope of its being bought by the army and subsequently enlarged and modified for passenger-carrying purpose. Operating from Baden-Baden, successful flights were made almost daily between late August and mid-September, but on 14 September it was destroyed in a fire while in its hangar. Fortunately it was insured, and DELAG could complete its next ship, LZ 8 Deutschland II.
For the new season flights lasting between 90 minutes and two hours were offered for a price of 200 Dm. Deutschland II was completed on 30 March 1910, and arrived at Düsseldorf on 11 April, but after little more than a month of service was caught by a gust while being walked out of its hangar on 16 May: it was driven onto a 15 m (50 ft) high windbreak and broke its back. The passengers had to be rescued using fire ladders. Hugo Eckener, the captain, blamed the accident on his "weak-kneed" decision to let the eagerness of the passengers to fly overcome his reluctance to take the ship out in the existing conditions. The company's luck changed with the next ship, the ''Schwaben. Completed on 26 June and delivered to DELAG on 15 July, it carried 1553 paying passengers during its career. Initially based at Baden Baden, in addition to the pleasure cruises a number of long-distance flights were made, carrying passengers to Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and eventually to Berlin. LZ 11 Viktora Luise, named after the Kaiser's daughter, entered service on 4 March 1912. On 28 June 1912 Schwaben was destroyed in a hangar fire attributed to static electricity produced by its rubberised cotton gasbags, but was soon replaced by LZ 13 Hansa, which was completed on 30 July. These airships were also used by the Imperial German Navy for crew training, with the Navy crews operating passenger flights. In 1913 LZ 17 Sachsen was added to the fleet.
By July 1914, one month before the start of World War I, DELAG's Zeppelins had transported 34,028 passengers on 1,588 commercial flights; the fleet had flown 172,535 kilometres in 3,176 hours.
Impact of World War I
LZ 11, LZ 13, and LZ 17 were pressed into service for the German Army. After the war, however, DELAG's LZ 120 Bodensee and LZ 121 Nordstern helped reconnect the cities of Europe. LZ 120 flew between Friedrichshafen and Berlin-Staaken with a stopover in Munich, but both ships were surrendered as post-war reparations in 1921: LZ 120 went to Italy and was re-christened "Esperia", while LZ 121 became France's Méditerranée before it ever entered service for DELAG.
In September 1928, DELAG began operating the successful rigid airship LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, which made regular, nonstop, transatlantic flights possible before airplanes had flight ranges sufficient to cross the ocean in either direction without stopping. For DELAG's first transatlantic trip, Dr. Eckener commanded the Graf Zeppelin airship leaving Friedrichshafen, Germany, at 07:54 on 11 October 1928, arriving at Lakehurst Field, New Jersey, on 15 October. In 1931 the airship Graf Zeppelin began offering regular scheduled passenger service between Germany and South America which continued until 1937. During its career Graf Zeppelin crossed the South Atlantic 136 times. In 1936, the airship Hindenburg entered passenger service and successfully crossed the Atlantic 36 times before catching fire at Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937.
The Graf Zeppelin was the final airship flown by DELAG. In 1935, the successor to DELAG, the state-sponsored Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR) was founded. Its fleet included the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, LZ 129 Hindenburg and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin.
In 2001, a modern firm also by the name Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei was established as a subsidiary of Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT). It operates the Zeppelin NT airships from Friedrichshafen at Lake Constance, mainly for sightseeing flights around Germany.
Prior to World War I:
- LZ 6
- LZ 7 Deutschland
- LZ 8 Deutschland II
- LZ 10 Schwaben
- LZ 11 Viktoria Luise
- LZ 13 Hansa
- LZ 17 Sachsen
Following World War I:
- "DELAG: The World’s First Airline". airships.net. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
- Robinson 1973, p. 52
- Robinson 1973, p. 55
- Robinson 1973, p.56
- Robinson 1973, p.57
- Robinson 1973, p. 58
- Robinson 1973, p. 59.
- Robinson 1973, p. 61
- "Zeppelin-Wegbereiter des Weltluftverkehrs", 1966
- "Graf Zeppelin History". airships.net. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
- "The Hindenburg Disaster". Airships.net. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
- "Delag" Encyclopædia Britannica (2009). Retrieved May 5, 2009.
- Robinson, Douglas H. Giants in the Sky: History of the Rigid Airship. Henley-on-Thames, UK: Foulis, 1973. ISBN 978-0-85429-145-8.
- The Early Years of German Commercial Aviation
- Airships: A Zeppelin History Site
- Information about DELAG successor Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei
- This article incorporates information from the German Wikipedia.