German Parseval Type – Wills’s Aviation #15


History Behind The Card: German Parseval Type
Card #15 of 50, W.D. & H.O. Wills, Aviation series 1910

Name: Augustus von Parseval, 1861 – 1942, Frankenthal, Germany

The Parseval-Luftschiff (PL) series of non-rigid dirigibles were designed by Augustus von Parseval through the German firm Luft-Fahrzeug-Gesellschaft, in 1909. The Parseval-type is identical in design to the Lebaudy ships designed by the French (see Wills’s card #12).

Who is von Pareseval? He was a German airship designer. Self-taught, he studied aerodynamics, and developed observation balloons for the German military.

In 1901 von Parseval and partner Rudolf Hans Bartsch von Sigsfeld began to build their own dirigible airship. But, after Sigsfeld died during a free balloon landing in 1902, von Parseval halted work until 1905.

Augustus von Parseval

Augustus von Parseval

Luckily, by that time, the design of motors had improved greatly, and he was able to incorporate them into his dirigibles.

This Versuchsluftschiff (experimental) dirigible made its first flight on May 26, 1906 in Berlin, Germany.Piloted by Captain von Krogh, this experimental airship used a 62 kW Daimler motor that allowed it to achieve a maximum speed of 43.2 kilometers per hour.

The hull was completed by the balloon builder Riedinger and was later increased from 2300 to 2800 cubic meters, the length increased to 50 meters – meaning the end product and the initial design didn’t always match.

This experimental design was monkeyed with numerous time, and from 1909, it was named PL1.

The PL1’s initial flight was on September 21, 1909 (three tests over two days), and used the same Daimler motor to power a 4.25 meter propeller. At 60 meters long and a 9.4 meter diameter, the balloon’s volume was 3,200 meters cubed.

After these initial tests and a few improvements were made to the steering and hull, it was shipped by train to Zurich, Switzerland for the Gordon Bennet Balloon Races and additional tests.

In February 1910 was used as the “Kaiserliche Aero-Klub-Luftschiff” (Imperial air-club airship) and in Bitterfeld, Germany until its end of service – which wasn’t too far away.

Between its maiden flight on September 21, 1909, and a forced landing on April 21, 1910, the PL1 made a total of 20 flights.

Of interest to advertisers, it was during one of these flights that the PL1 was used as an experiment to project advertising images on it.

The PL2 was built for the Prussian Army. It was like the PL1, but its balloon volume was 4000 meters cubed, 10 meters long and 10.4 meters in diameter. Same motor and single propeller but only achieved a maximum airspeed of 45 kph. It flew from August 13, 1908 until 1912, when it was dismantled.


  • After seven flights, the hull volume was enlarged on 1909-03-23 from 5600 to 6600m³, refilling starts 1909-06-05, length remains at 70 m, diameter increased by one meter to 11.3 m, test flight 1909-06-28 in Bitterfeld
  • Regular passenger flights with up to seven passengers and four crew from the International air exhibition in Frankfurt from August 7, 1909 to the end of October 1909 for a total of 74 flights.
  • It’s last flight was on May 16, 1910 when it crashed into the sea.
  • Power plant: two 81 kW (110 PS) N.A.G. -motors, each driving a four-bladed airprop
  • max speed: 51 km/h

PL 4 was purchased by the Kaiserlich und königlich Military-aero-nautical institute and stationed in Fischamend, Austria. where it was renamed the “M I”.

First flying on November 26, 1909, it used Austro-Daimler motors from Wiener Neustadt, that could provide either 1x 62 kW or 2x 33 kW, each of which driving a single propeller.

Featuring a balloon volume of 2300 m³, it was 50 meters long and had a diameter of 12.5 meters.

Able to achieve a flying ceiling of 1,000 meters, it was able to hold seven people in total (between two and three crew, included).


The card’s data mentions that as of the printing of this 1910 tobacco card, four were built – those mentioned above, and two more were in the process of being built. One of those is extremely interesting – but mostly from a media point of view.

When it was finished in early 1910, the PL5 managed over 150 passenger flights before it was destroyed in a fire on June 11, 1911 while emptying its gas hull. It was stationed at Flughafen Klein Gandau in Breslau (Wroclaw, Poland).

It had a maximum speeds of 43 kph, and could fly for five hours while carrying up to four passengers. It’s balloon volume was 1350 m³, which makes it a fairly small airship.

The PL6 first flew on June 30, 1910, and could hold four crew and 12 passengers. It had a balloon volume of 6,800 m³. But… what makes this dirigible interesting, was that it was the first aircraft to utilize night air advertising, via a projector that splashed images on its hull.

The key to von Parseval’s designs was that it was easy to transport, and build up quickly – and only required the use of two horse-drawn vehicles to move it to its take-off spot.

With ease of transportability and construction, the military was interested in his design, and sold them to the German army.

Just before the advent of WWI, Parseval sold several dirigibles to the Great Britain government, and then licensed the design to the British Vickers Company.

All told, there were 27 Parseval airships built in Germany. However, while the earliest non-rigid blimp-like dirigibles were successful as scouts, later designs involving large semi-rigid (with keels) were not.

The wooden car became a standard size, and measured 9.14-meters (30 -feet) in length by 1.83-meters (6-feet) in width. The two propellers are collapsible with each driving a motor apiece, though in case of engine failure, a single engine could still drive the two propellers.

Von Parseval invented a highly efficient coupling device to attain this end, but to ensure that the propeller output is of the maximum efficiency in relation to the engine, the pitch of the propellers could be altered and even reversed while the engine was running. When a single engine was the driver, the pitch was lowered until the propellers revolved at the speed it would attain if both engines were in operation. This adjustment of the propeller pitch to the most economical engine revolutions was a distinctive characteristic, and contributed to the efficiency and reliability of the Parseval dirigible.

Steering in the vertical plane was carried out upon distinctive lines. There were no planes for vertical steering, but movement was accomplished by tilting the craft to drive gas from one end of the balloon to the other by manipulation of the air-ballonnets—one was placed at the prow and another at the stem of the envelope. To descend, gas was driven from forward to aft of the envelope by inflating the bow ballonet with air by means of a pump placed in the car. For ascent, the aft-ballonet was inflated to drive the gas to the dirigible¹s front to increase the buoyancy.

An interesting safety feature was the automatic operation of the safety valve on the gas-bag directly by the air ballonets. If these ballonets became empty because of gas pressure in the envelope, a rope system within the balloon and connecting the ballonets and the gas-valve at the top was stretched taut to open the gas-valve, allowing gas-pressure to lessen until the ballonets worked properly.

All in all, a wonderful design from von Parseval, who created the forerunner of today’s blimps.

About mreman47

Andrew was born in London, UK, raised in Toronto, Canada, and cavorted in Ohtawara, Japan for three years. He is married, has a son and a cat. He has over 35,000 comic books and a plethora of pioneer aviation-related tobacco and sports cards and likes to build LEGO dioramas. He has written and been an editor for various industrial magazines, has scripted comic books, ghost-written blogs for business sectors galore, and hates writing in the 3rd person. He also hates having to write this crap that no one will ever read. He works on his Pioneers Of Aviation - a cool blog on early fliers - even though it takes him so much time to do. He also wants to do more writing - for money, though. Help him out so he can stop talking in the 3rd person.
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5 Responses to German Parseval Type – Wills’s Aviation #15

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