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Revived Zeppelin Delivered to First User
Associated Press Writer
FRIEDRICHSHAFEN, Germany - Makers of the revived Zeppelin airship delivered their first helium-filled craft to a commercial user Saturday, a Japanese company that plans to use the 12-seat craft for sightseeing trips and advertising.
The granddaughter of the original airship's inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was on hand as Japan's Nippon Airship Corporation took delivery of the 247-foot ship, destined for sightseeing and advertising flights in Japan and a starring role at the 2005 world's fair in the city of Aichi.
The new craft designed by Germany's Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik — named Zeppelin NT for "New Technology" — is filled with helium rather than the intensely flammable hydrogen that fueled the earlier generation of airships.
"This is an important day in the history of Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik — the very first time that a Zeppelin NT has been sold," Zeppelin manager Bernd Straeter said as some 1,500 people gathered for Saturday's ceremony at the company's huge airship hangar in Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany.
The original era of the zeppelin ended when the Hindenburg caught fire on landing at Lakehurst, N.J. in 1937 — killing 35 of the 96 people on board and dashing the dream of the airship as a means of transportation.
Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik started building the new dirigibles, which are about one-third the length of the Hindenburg, in 1996, but the sale to the Nippon Airship Corporation — sealed in March — was its first commercial deal.
Straeter said Saturday the sale price was "under euro9 million ($10.8 million)," but did not elaborate.
On Sunday, the cigar-shaped craft — with "Germany in Japan" painted in large black letters on its side — is to take off on its journey to Japan, where it should arrive by mid-August.
There's room for 12 passengers and two crew members in the new ship's gondola, but it won't be taking passengers as it zigzags across Europe and on to Asia.
Three pilots and three technicians for the airship's new owner were given a three-month course of intensive training in Germany to prepare for the voyage.