On 15 0ctober 1928 the Graf Zeppelin made its first intercontinental trip, a 9,926 km (6,168 mi), 111 hour crossing from Friedrichshafen to Lakehurst with Dr. Eckener in command. Capt.Ernst Lehmann, who would be killed in the crash of the Hindenburg at Lakehurst eight and a half years later, served as First Officer on the flight and U.S. Navy LCDR Charles E. Rosendahl, commander of the ZR-3 USS Los Angeles (ex-LZ 126), made the westward journey during which he also stood watch as a regular ship’s officer.Despite encountering heavy headwinds and stormy weather, Eckener had repeated the success of his first transatlantic crossing four years earlier when he delivered the LZ-126 to the U.S. Navy in October 1924 and was welcomed enthusiastically then both with a “ticker tape” parade in New York and a subsequent invitation to the White House.On this first transatlantic trip the airship suffered potentially serious damage to its port tail fin on the third day of the flight when a large section of the linen covering was ripped loose while passing through a mid-ocean squall line at night With the engines stopped, the ship’s riggers did their best to tie down the torn fabric to the framework and sew blankets to the ship’s envelope while attempting not to fall to the raging seas just below. In the interest of safety, the riggers (including Dr. Eckener’s son, Knut) retreated back into the ship whenever it dropped to within a couple of hundred feet of the ocean’s surface. This allowed the engines to be restarted to maintain lift.The Graf crossed the U.S. coast at Cape Charles, Virginia, on October 15, passed over Washington, D.C., , Baltimore Philadelphia , New York City and landed at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station After a stay in the United States, during which time its damaged tail was repaired, the Graf left Lakehurst for Germany at 1:24 am on October 29 and arrived back in Friedrichshafen on November 1.
In 1929 the airship made two trips over the Mediterranean. On the first trip to the eastern Mediterranean in late March 1929, it carried 25 passengers and 16,000 letters to make four mail drops at Jaffa, Athens, Budapest and Vienna.The airship flew over Palestine, Egypt and Athens before returning to Friedrichshafen after completing a journey of 5,000 miles (8,000 km) in 81 hours.The second Mediterranean cruise took place in late April, flying over France, Spain, Portugal and Tangier. The airship returned to Friedrichshafen after flying north over Cannes and Lyons .Although the Graf Zeppelin ultimately had a safe and highly successful active career lasting nearly nine years, it also came close to being lost just seven months after its maiden flight while attempting to make its second trip to the United States in May 1929. Shortly after dark on May 16, the first night of the flight , the airship lost power in two of its five engines while over the Mediterranean off the southwest coast of Spain forcing Eckener to abandon the trip and turn back toward Friedrichshafen. Flying against a stiff headwind up the Rhône Valley in France the next afternoon, two of the remaining three engines also failed resulting in a loss of headway and the Graf being pushed backwards toward the sea.With Eckener desperately looking for a suitable place to force-land the airship, the French Air Ministry reluctantly advised him that he would be permitted to land at the Naval Airship Base at Cuers-Pierrefeu There the Graf Zeppelin would be kept in the hangar Although barely able to control the Graf on its one remaining engine, Eckener managed to make a difficult but successful emergency night landing at Cuers.After temporary repairs, the Graf finally returned to Friedrichshafen on May 24 where the engines were completely overhauled. it wasn’t until August 1, 1929, when the airship made another attempt to cross the Atlantic for Lakehurst, arriving on August 4. Four days later, the Graf Zeppelin departed Lakehurst for its most daring and famous trip — a four-leg complete circumnavigation of the globe.
The Graf’s “Round-the-World” flight in August 1929 officially began and ended at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. As with many of the airship’s other flights, however, its expenses were also heavily offset by the carriage of souvenir mails to and/or from Lakehurst, Friedrichshafen, Tokyo, and Los Angeles. As with the October, 1928 flight to New York, Wealthy newspaper magnate Randolph Hearst ‘s correspondent Lady Grace Drummond-Hay was on board making her the first woman to circumnavigate the globe by air. Also representing Hearst among the passenger complement were Karl von Wiegand and Australian Arctic explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins, and photographer/newsreel cameraman Robert Hartmann. The US Government was represented by Naval airshipmen LCDR Charles Rosendahl and LT Jack C. Richardson A semi-documentary film entitled”Farewell” was released in 2009 which featured much of the newsreel footage of Lady Drummond-Hay shot by Hartmann during the flight. The film was later aired on the BBC under the title “Around The World by Zeppelin”.The Graf Zeppelin flew back across the Atlantic to Friedrichshafen to refuel before continuing across Eastern Europe, Russia, and the vastness of Siberia to Tokyo (Kasumigaura Naval Air Station) on a 101 hour, 49 minute nonstop leg covering 7,297 miles (11,743 km). Although the Soviet government had formally requested by radio to the “Graf” for the airship to overfly its capital, Moscow, Dr. Eckener declined because of the necessity “to take advantage of the tailwinds and remain on the straight airline without deviation or halt” necessary in order to reach Tokyo nonstop, a decision which resulted in considerable disappointment and annoyance on the part of the Russians. (To make amends for this perceived slight, a year later the “Graf” made a special two-day round trip flight from Friedrichshafen to Moscow on September 9–10, 1930 landing briefly to collect souvenir mail at Moscow’s “October Field” Crossing the inadequately mapped Stanovoy Mountains in Siberia proved to be a precarious venture with the Graf eventually being forced to climb to 6,000 feet in order to clear the range through a high mountain canyon with barely 150 feet to spare.After five days in Tokyo, the Graf continued across the Pacific to California crossing the coast at San Francisco before landing at Mines Field in Los Angeles thus completing the first ever nonstop flight of any kind across the Pacific Ocean, covering 5,986 miles (9,634 km) in 79 hours and 54 minutes
The 2,996-mile (4,822 km), 51 hour 13 minute transcontinental flight across the United States took the Graf over 13 states and such cities as El Paso, Kansas City, Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit before arriving back at Lakehurst from the west on the morning of August 29, three weeks after it had departed to the east on August 8. Flying time for the four Lakehurst to Lakehurst legs was 12 days, 12 hours and 13 minutes while the entire circumnavigation (including stops) took 21 days, 5 hours and 31 minutes and covered 33,234 km (20,651 mi).3RM Weltflug coin (1930A)Germany issued a special commemorative silver 3RM coin in 1930 in recognition of the Graf Zeppelin’s historic flight. Dr. Eckener’s personal accomplishment received acclaim as well when he became just the tenth recipient (third aviator) in 42 years to be awarded the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society which was presented to him on March 27, 1930 before a crowd of 5,000 at the Washington Auditorium in Washington, DC. The citation read that Eckener received the award “for his work in furthering the progress of airships, and to commemorate the first around-the-world flight of the Graf Zeppelin.”
In May, 1930 the LZ 127 made its first visit to South America as part of a triangular flight between Spain, Brazil, and the United States. Providing passenger, express freight, and air mail service between Germany, Spain and South America was one function which was an early consideration in the design of LZ-127. It was intended in 1928 to offer passage between Friedrichshafen, Germany, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, The 1930 flight began at Friedrichshafen on May 18 and stopped first in Seville before leaving Europe. The Graf arrived in Brazil first at Recife (Pernambuco) docking at Campo do Jiquiá on May 22 before preceding on to Rio de Janeiro. The airship then flew back north to Lakehurst, NJ, before heading east over the Atlantic on June 2 to return to Germany with another stop in Seville. As with so many of its major journeys, the Europe-Pan American flight was largely funded by souvenir mails franked with special stamps issued by Spain, Brazil, and the United States .With the US already in the depths of the Great Depression, however, only about 7% of the very expensive stamps that had been produced had been distributed when the issue was withdrawn from sale on June 30. The Graf Zeppelin also visited Palestine in April 1929 and a second flight to the Middle East took place on April 9 1931 with a flight to Cairo, Egypt, where the airship landed less than two days later. After a brief stop, the Graf Zeppelin proceeded on to Palestine before returning to Friedrichshafen on April 23, just an hour over four days after departure. The trip took 97 hours, covered 9,000 km (5,600 mi) and crossed 14 countries on three continents.
The Graf Zeppelin made another groundbreaking flight in July 1931 with a research trip to the Arctic. The idea of using an airship to explore the Arctic was one reason used to justify both the building of Graf Zeppelin, and the restoration of Germany’s right to build airships for commercial purposes.A year earlier Dr. Eckener had piloted the Graf on a three-day trip to Norway and Spitsbergen in order to determine its performance in this region. This was followed by a three-day flight to Iceland. Both trips were completed successfully.Plans were made to rendezvous with a surface vessel to be funded by exchanging souvenir mails to the ship. Around fifty thousand cards and letters were collected from around the world The rendezvous vessel, the Russian icebreaker Malygin, on which the Italian airshipman and polar explorerUmberto Nobile was a guest, carried another 120 kg (265 lbs) of mails to exchange. The major costs of the expedition were met largely by sale of special postage stamps issued by both Germany (as overprints) and the Soviet Union to frank the mails carried on the flight. The rest of the funding came from Aeroarctic and the Ullstein-Verlag in exchange for exclusive reporting rights.The polar flight took one week from July 24–31, 1931. The Graf Zeppelin traveled about 10,600 km (6,600 mi) with the longest leg without refueling being 8,600 km (5,345 mies).It was in its last five years of service that Graf Zeppelin proved that an intercontinental commercial airship service was possible. it operated regular scheduled services during the summer season between Germany and South America.The Graf Zeppelin was too small and slow for the North Atlantic service,yet because of the blau gas fuel, was just capable of carrying out the South Atlantic route. The onset of regular airline service also led to a drastic reduction in the number of flights being made by the airship which, having logged almost 200 flights in 1930-31, made fewer than 60. The two airships Graf Zeppeilin and Hindenburg were requested by the government to fly “in tandem” around Germany over the four-day period with a joint departure from Löwenthal on the morning of March 26. the Graf andHindenburg sailed over Germany for four days and three nights, dropping propaganda leaflets, blaring martial music and slogans from large loudspeakers, and broadcasting political speeches from a makeshift radio studio on board the Hindenburg while millions of Germans watched from below,
However The loss of the D-LZ 129 Hindenburg at Lakehurst on May 6, 1937 shattered public faith in the safety of hydrogen-filled airships making the continuation of their commercial passenger operations unsustainable unless the Graf Zeppelin and the still under construction LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II could convert to non-flammable helium, the only alternative lifting gas for airships. Unlike the relatively inexpensive and universally available hydrogen, however, the vast majority of the world’s available supplies of the much more costly, less buoyant, and harder to produce helium Since 1925, the exportation of helium had also been tightly restricted by Congress although there is no record that the German Government had ever applied for an export license for helium to use in its airships prior to the Hindenburg’s crash and fire. Although much safer than hydrogen, the greatly added expense, lack of availability, and overall degradation in lifting performance that converting to helium would impose on the Graf Zeppelin made its continued operation no longer commercially viable. That being the case, one day after the “Hindenburg” crashed in Lakehurst the nine-year-old LZ 127 was promptly grounded and withdrawn from service upon its arrival in Friedrichshafen after a flight from Brazil in 1937. Six weeks later the airship was ferried to Frankfurt am Main on what would prove to be its 590th and final flight. Upon arrival at its massive hangar at the Frankfurt airport, the airship was deflated and opened to the public as a museum. While the Graf Zeppelin had already been decommissioned and retired,
Shortly after the Hindenburg disaster President Roosevelt approved and forwarded a Cabinet report to Congress that supported the export to Germany of enough helium to permit the soon to be launched Hindenburg Class LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin II (which unlike the LZ 127 was designed to use either hydrogen or helium) to resume commercial transatlantic passenger service by 1939. By early 1938, however, firm opposition from the National Munitions Control Board, to a German request to purchase up to 10,000,000 cubic feet (280,000 m3) of helium made that impossible, the Board (which consisted of the Secretaries of State, War,Navy, Treasury, Commerce, and Interior), was vested with the ultimate authority to both prohibit the export to “belligerent states, or to a state wherein civil strife exists” of any type of “arms, ammunition, and implements of war” as well as restrict the transfer of any other “articles or materials” such as helium which the Government classified as having “military importance.” At a White House press briefing on May 11, 1938, President Roosevelt’s press secretary Stephen Early announced that as the Act required the “unanimous” consent of the Control Board to approve the export of helium to Germany, the President had concluded that he was “without legal power to override the judgment of any one of the six members and direct the sale of helium for export.” In response to this statement, Dr. Eckener commented later that same day that “should this decision be final, I am afraid it means the death sentence for commercial lighter-than-air craft.”
Although the Graf Zeppelin II made 30 test, promotional, propaganda and military surveillance flights around Europe between the airship’s launch in mid-September 1938 and its last flight 11 months later on August 20, made just 10 days before the formal start of World War II in Europe with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, the LZ 130 never entered the commercial passenger service for which it was built. The ultimate fates of both the original Graf Zeppelin (LZ 127) and the Graf Zeppelin II (LZ 130) were formally sealed on March 4, 1940, when German Air Minister Hermann Göring issued a decree ordering both to be immediately scrapped for salvage and their duralumin airframes and other structures to be melted down for reuse by the German military aircraft industry.