Zeppelin NT as Platform for Air Quality Research

How is air quality affected by the ongoing corona crisis? Atmospheric researchers from the Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany are investigating this question and have launched an unusual measurement campaign. A Zeppelin NT airship will fly over the Rhineland region (roughly the area around Cologne, Düsseldorf and Bonn) on different routes over several days. Instruments on board will measure trace gases and particulate matter.

Quarantine and travel restrictions, many factories on partial shutdown – the worldwide corona virus crisis turns out to have one very positive effect – air quality has improved notably, especially over large cities like Delhi or London.

To measure and quantify these changes in air quality, the Jülich researchers are planning to carry out several flights with their chartered Zeppelin. Each flight will take six hours and cover various altitudes of up to 1’000m (3’000ft) above ground.

So what exactly will be measured?

The newly developed sensors used in this campaign are designed for minimal power consumption and mounted inside an aluminium box just underneath the airship’s passenger cabin. The sensors measure and analyze the amount of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, ozone and particulate matter of the surrounding air.

In addition, the reseachers have installed an optical sensor to measure a multitude of trace gases relevant for climate and air quality.


Eventually, the sensor data gained from the flying platform will be compared with ground based measurements. These will be taken on the Institute’s campus, various other stations, and a dedicated measuring vehicle.

Why use an airship for this?

Researchers from Jülich’s Research Institute have already used the Zeppelin NT for similar campaigns in the past. The airship has very unique specifications that make it an ideal platform for their undertakings:

  • Its endurance (up to 24 hours) exceeds that of a helicopter by far
  • It is able to fly very slowly or hover above a certain position like a helicopter
  • Vibration levels are very low
  • It can operate at low altitudes at very low noise levels, so flying over densely populated areas is not a problem
  • It can climb vertically without moving laterally, if required by the measuring programme

Zeppelin NT – Fact Sheet

Dimensions & Specs
Capacity / Payload12 passengers / 1,900 kg (4188 lb)
Length75.00 m
Diameter14.16 m
Width19.50 m
Height17.40 m
Volume8,255 m3
Gross Weight10,690 kg (23,567 lb)
Powerplant3 × 149 kW (200 hp)
Maximum Speed125 km/h (67 kts)
Cruising Speed115 km/h (62 kts)
Range (in still air)900 km (486 nm)
Endurance24 hours
Service Ceiling2,600 m (8,500 ft)

Photo Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach (top & middle); Kiefer (bottom; from archive)

AviationXpert Crew