Luxembourg-based firm Cargolux plans to make cargo-carrying Zeppelins a more permanent fixture over Europe's skies.
Luxembourg-based firm Cargolux plans to make cargo-carrying Zeppelins a fixture in Europe's skiesReuters

Zeppelin airships are set to return to the skies almost a century after they first brought death and destruction to the streets of Europe in the first world war.

Luxembourg-based air freight company Cargolux has announced plans to revive the airships for more innocuous purposes. A new generation of Zeppelins will be created to carry cargo instead of bombs, with the first fleet of 22 airships expected to operate over Europe as early as 2016.

The rigid airship is typically associated with Germany, where it was pioneered by the German count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century.

The latest incarnations of the iconic wartime dirigible, however, are being built in California under a partnership with US firm Aeroscraft Corporation.

The airships, which can take off and land vertically, will be 554ft long and have a carrying capacity of 65 tonnes. There are plans for a version that can carry 250 tonnes. The Zeppelins will also have a cruising speed of up to 120 knots and a range of 3,100 nautical miles.

The new models will carry their cargo inside their massive hulls, as opposed to earlier versions that transported cargo via a gondola suspended beneath the aircraft.

Although Zeppelins are employed for advertising and surveillance and are also used for pleasure flights from a German base, efforts to use them for cargo have failed to take off in recent years, partly due to longstanding safety concerns.

Public confidence in the safety of the aircraft was shattered after the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when 36 people died when the German passenger Zeppelin exploded in a fireball as it docked in New Jersey.

In an effort to prevent similar disasters, the new Zeppelins will be filled with non-flammable helium rather than the hydrogen used in the Hindenburg.

Watch British Pathe footage of the Hindenburg disaster on YouTube, below: