A San Francisco start-up called Airship Ventures has raised US$8 million to launch its first Zeppelin this fall, for the purposes of tourism and research. The "flightseeing," as they're calling it, will cost a US$250 to US$500 for a spin around the Bay Area in a bonafide don't-call-it-a-blimp Zeppelin. What's the difference, you ask? Blimps are basically helium filled baloons with little cockpits attached. Zeppelins are usually rigid structures, larger and faster, achieving higher altitudes with better maneuverability. Before you airship nerds get all uppity, I will join you in saying that not all Zeppelins are Zeppelins (wha?)—it all boils down to the rigidity of your dirigible. Here's a rundown of this particular model, plus an actual photo of it:
The new Zeppelin NT—yes, capital Z because it's made by the Zeppelin company—is about 20% larger than a blimp, but it's still small by Zep standards, with just room for 12 passengers and a crew. It's "semi-rigid," meaning that it's got an internal framework but not a totally solid hull like the Zeppelins of old. It's also got a single gas chamber, rather than multiple cells. They also achieve lift with helium, which may make your voice sound funny, but won't go "boom" to the horror of radio announcers everywhere.
NTs have been in action since the 1990s, all over Europe and Japan. Fun fact: When a Japanese firm bought one in 2004, they wanted to re-enact a historic (pre-Axis) flight of the Graf Zeppelin, from Germany to Japan, but Russia said "Ix nay." [The Standard via Slashdot; More great pics from official Zeppelin site]