The Real Lead Zeppelins

Dylan Thuras is a guest blogger on Boing Boing. Dylan is a travel blogger and the co-founder of the Atlas Obscura: A Compendium of the World's Wonders, Curiosities, and Esoterica, with Joshua Foer.


Paul Collins had a wonderful article in the Jan 09 issue of New Scientist describing the history of metal balloons, and inventor Edmond Marey-Monge who in 1844 planned to launch his "ballon de cuivre" – a brass balloon.

"While Parisians bought their tickets to watch the giant orb take shape, the project also captured imaginations abroad. The merits of metal balloons were debated at length by armchair aeronauts in Britain, including one who wrote to Mechanics Magazine to suggest an "iron balloon" 400 foot (120 metres) wide as "not contrary to the spirit of the times" – though, he allowed, it might "gambol about the Earth's surface with great danger to life and limb of the human race, as well as terror to animal creation generally".

The height of success for the floating, metal crafts was the ZMC-2, or "Tin Bubble", which "could reach a speed of 100 kilometres an hour, and it put in 2200 flight hours before it was decommissioned in 1941." Metal balloons made a short comeback in 1977 at "The Great Lead Balloon Contest." From one of the contest entrants

"The third balloon, the Lead Zeppelin took the prize. It too broke its tether and was last seen heading toward Logan airport – After some laughter on the part of the tower personnel, they began tracking our IFO (Identified Flying Object) and it was last spotted by a commercial aircraft out over the Atlantic Ocean headed toward Europe!"

We may in fact see metal Zeppelins again, as plans for futuristic blimp the "Turtle" are for a 200mph, solar powered, gigantic metal ballon.

Link to the wonderful Paul Collins article (his histories are practically reason enough to subscribe to the magazine), a post at the ADL Chronicles the 1977 "The Great Lead Balloon Contest" and a link to a youtube of the Mythbusters who, in 2008, created and floated their very own lead ballon, and to the "Turtle" a planned eco-friendly metal blimp.