The first trip by a motorised airship with a Daimler single-cylinder engine in August 1888.

125 years of flying high.

Wölfert and the airship.
  • 125 years of flying high.

  • From theology to airship construction.

    It was 10 August 1888. At that time Friedrich Wölfert had already invested a considerable amount in his dream of a steerable airship: both in terms of working time and financially. That left him almost penniless and dependent on the immediate success of his invention. Wölfert had always aimed for higher things. Originally a student of theology and now the publisher of a weekly journal, in 1879 Wölfert’s attention was drawn to Georg Baumgarten’s air balloon test flights.

    From theology to airship construction.

    The two of them pooled their resources. The result was the hand-cranked predecessor of the later “Bodensee” (Lake Constance) airship. The airship which was to make history.

    Lake constance in the air.

    Sooner or later, Wölfert realised: no airship would get off the ground just with a hand crank. At about the same time Gottlieb Daimler was dreaming of mobility on land, on water and in the air. He had already realised his vision of the motor boat and the automobile. The missing item was air travel. Even though the Frenchman Baptiste Henri Jacques Giffard had already powered an airship with a steam engine, Daimler was wishing for aviation with a gas engine and had applied for a patent in 1885. Impressed by Wölfert’s ambition, Daimler offered him his assistance. The result of this productive cooperation was an airship named “Bodensee”. It was seventeen metres long and five metres in diameter. It was driven by a two-hp single-cylinder engine produced by the Daimler company.

    The solution to Dr Wölfert's problem: the two-hp single-cylinder engine by Gottlieb Daimler.

    On 10 August 1888 the time had finally come: the “Bodensee”, the first motorised airship with combustion engine, rose into the air from the Daimler grounds on the Seelberg in Cannstatt.

    Outstanding engine performance.

    Outstanding engine performance.

    Up to his death, Wölfert made 142 successful flights. However, the maiden voyage of the “Bodensee” 125 years ago is considered the most significant. It marked the beginning of the history of air travel with many ups and some downs. In those days, two propellers on the underside and the rear of the gondola carried the “Bodensee”, the first steerable airship, up to the sky. Steerable even when descending, it landed safely in Kornwestheim, ten kilometres away. The two-hp single-cylinder engine went down in history, not only for conquering the road and water. Its new destiny was to spark off modern air travel.