HITTING A WALL
AVIATION HAD BEGUN with the balloons of King Louis XVI, prior to the French Revolution. Hopes for successful heavierthan-air machines had flourished a century later, amid the work of Lilienthal, Pilcher, Penaud, Ader, Moy, and Maxim. Yet at century's end, these hopes lay dying. Faced with a crippling disease, Penaud had committed suicide; Lilienthal and Pilcher had died in crashes of their hang gliders. The well-financed Maxim had accomplished little, while Ader and Moy had withdrawn from attempting further experiments.
Still, while flight in heavier-than-air machines remained out of reach, the advent of new and relatively lightweight engines brought new hope for a different form of flight: dirigibles. The best and most memorable of them took shape as zeppelins. They stand to this day as emblems of Germany's technical prowess, and as one of the most romantic inventions of the twentieth century. Yet their creator, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was very much a man of an earlier time, when kings still ruled and noblemen held sway.