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Dirigible balloons, usually known as airships, were first suggested in the late eighteenth century but not until the invention of the internal combustion engine a hundred years later were they able to achieve controlled and directed flight. Although based on different principles from aeroplanes, airships were very successful in the early twentieth century and were used extensively by both sides in the First World War. However, the speed of aeroplanes improved rapidly so that within a few years airships were too slow to provide a challenge. The use of hydrogen also proved to be an unacceptable risk and with the burning of the Hindenburg in 1937 all development of large passenger-carrying airships ceased. The United States, with its monopoly of the safe gas helium, has continued to build and use small blimps while new developments in technology and a belated recognition of the virtues of airships have allowed Britain to return to their manufacture, in which it now leads the world.
Patrick Abbott has written The British Airship at War and Airship -The Story of the R34, and has contributed articles to various journals, mostly on aeronautical history.