Short for 'dirigible balloon'. Whilst not specifically different from a blimp (which might also be dirigible, in the Websterian sense), common usage usually denotes an airship with a rigid internal structure, whereas the blimp relies on the pressure of the buoyant gas to maintain its shape.

Every monocle-adorned supervillain should have one of these, allowing for a dramatic escape to a secret base in a far-off caldera, waiting for The Right Time To Return For Vengeance (also known as the sequel).

It should be noted that it probably was the fabric cover, and not the hydrogen that caused the Hindenburg disaster. Samples of the fabric cover were shown to be rather susceptible to an electric arc (mimicking the weather conditions at the time of the disaster) - the sample ignited and was completely consumed by fire in seconds, after sixty years of storage.

Source: Jacquelyn Cochran Bokow - Hydrogen Exonerated in Hindenburg Disaster, found at http://www.ttcorp.com/nha/advocate/ad22zepp.htm

Dirigibles and blimps probably aren't more widely considered useful because they hold the undisputed title of all-time least-power-to-surface area vehicle (except, trivially, kites). Most of their lives they cruise along like Dali's sky elephants, until a storm blows up behind that tips their nose strongly downward, or headbutts them and stalls them, or just generally flings them around until things start breaking. Like their seagoing sisters, airships take a long time to change heading or speed. Unlike the ocean, the air airships float in doesn't take nearly as much energy to move fast; so gusts can pitch the ship rapidly up or down despite the moveable ballast and the tailplanes on the rudder. Then, the stately cruising altitude of five hundred or a thousand feet becomes a hazard. The US Navy lost the Akron, Macon, and Shenandoah in the 1930's and many crew with them.

Unsuitable kinds of fabric on early ships might also have been susceptible to static electricity, which could be generated by dry air on the skin of the ship, or by internal flexing of the rigid airframe. Airships I've seen have rubberized Nylon/Dacron skins that probably resist static charges well, if only for burn and puncture resistance now that helium is more widely available again.

Dir"i*gi*ble (?), a.

Capable of being directed; steerable; as, a dirigible balloon.

 

© Webster 1913.

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