Most Schütte-Lanz airships were made of plywood rather than aluminum alloy. Despite this, Schütte-Lanz introduced many design innovations that were soon adopted by competitor Zeppelin. This is a late war example - probably 1918's SL22.
Silhouettes demonstrate the relative sizes of six SL airships.
Schütte-Lanz (SL) is the name of a series of rigid airships designed and built by the Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz company from 1909 until the last LS22 delivered in 1917. One research and four passenger airships were planned for post-war use, but never built. The Schütte-Lanz company was an early strong competitor of the more famous airships built by Ferdinand von Zeppelin.
When the Zeppelin LZ4 met with disaster at Echterdingen in 1908, Professor Johann Schütte started to consider the problems of airship design. He decided, with the co-operation of his students to develop his own scientifically designed, high performance airship. In partnership with Dr Karl Lanz, an industrialist and wood products manufacturer he started the Schütte-Lanz Luftschiffbau on April 22, 1909. The ships were successful at first, and introduced a number of highly successful innovations.]].
Twenty-four Schütte-Lanz airships were designed before the end of the First World War, most of which the company was not paid for due to the collapse of the German Monarchy. By the time the last eight ships were ready, most of them could not be operated due to the losses of trained crews and also the serious problems that had developed with their wooden structures. In the words of Führer der Luftschiffe Peter Strasser:
Most of the Schütte-Lanz ships are not usable under combat conditions, especially those operated by the Navy, because their wooden construction cannot cope with the damp conditions inseparable from maritime service...
The decision was made to compensate the company for the unusable wooden ships, and in response the company started work on a tubular aluminum framed ship which was probably not completed.
In the postwar period, Professor Lanz designed a series of very large advanced airships for transatlantic and transpacific passenger operations, as well as proposals for the US Navy’s rigid airships ZRS-4 and ZRS-5. However none of these were ever realized due to Allied objections.
If one studies this comprehensive list of Shutte-Lanz airships, one can get a very good idea of why the firm ultimately failed. Schutte-Lanz airships, until 1918, were composed of wood and plywood glued together. Moisture tended to degrade the integrity of the glued joints. Shutte-Lanz airships became structurally unstable when water entered the airship's impefectly water-proofed envelope. This tended to happen during wet weather operations, but also, more insidiously, in defective or damaged hangers.
Another problem is related to the first. The German Navy had bases closer to the sea, and thus more humid. They were reluctant to accept wooden composite craft. As a result the primary customer for Shutte-Lanz airships was the Germany Army. The German Army decided well before the German Navy that airship operations were futile in the face of land-based heavier-than-air opposition. Anyone perusing the list of SL airships below will notice that suddenly the customer disappeared.
The third was technical. Wood composites had a theoretical superiority as the structural material in airships up to a certain size. After that the superiority of aluminum (and later duralumin) in tension was more important than the superiority of wood in compression.
There are also political-economic factors to the failure of the company, which have yet to be fully researched. There is certainly evidence for a pro-Zeppelin lobby in the German military and government that wanted to exclude all other airship manufacturers, regardless of what superior technical innovations they proposed.
The Schütte-Lanz airship SL1 was the first of 20 airships built by the company. Construction was carried out in a large hangar at Rheinau near Mannheim. The ship was powered by four 125 horsepower (93 kW) Daimler-Benz engines installed in two ventral gondolas. A distinctive feature of the Schütte-Lanz ships was that the frame was constructed from special plywood which was (supposedly) waterproofed and protected from frost. The SL1 was constructed with a diamond lattice frame and had a highly streamlined shape, allowing it to achieve a record speed of 38.3 km/h. The structure of the SL1 is very evocative of the later "geodesic" structure of the Wellington bomber, or Buckminster Fuller's domes. It was only matched at the time by the structure of the MacMeecham airship designed and partially built in England in the first years of WW I. Fifty-three experimental flights were made between October 1911 and December 1912. The longest flight was over 16 hours. The ship was handed over to the German army on December 12, 1912 but destroyed soon afterwards when it was swept free of its temporary mooring in a storm.
The four engine gondolas hang under the hull in this image from the 1920 Lexikon der gesamten Technik.
The Schütte-Lanz airship SL2 surpassed the contemporary Zeppelin airships in performance. It adopted the Zeppelin ring-girder construction method, but retained the streamlined shape and plywood construction of SL1. SL2 was also the most significant airship to date in that it laid down two vital design innovations that were copied in almost all subsequent rigid airships. The first was the cruciform tail plane, with a single pair of rudders and elevators. The second was the location of the engines in separate streamlined gondolas or cars. A third innovation, for war service, was the mounting of heavy machine guns for defense against attacking aircraft in each of the engine cars. SL2 was built between January and May 1914 and transferred to Austrian military control. It carried out six missions in the first year of the war over Poland and France. After being enlarged in summer 1915, several more missions were carried out before SL2 was stranded at Luckenwalde on January 10, 1916 after running out of fuel and decommissioned. The SL2 was a perfect example why the advanced technology of Shutte-Lanz, and the advantages of wood in compression as opposed to tension allowed the Shutte-Lanz type of airship to be technically superior until a certain size had been reached.
Naval airship based at Seddin which flew 30 reconnaissance missions and one bombing mission over England. The highlight of SL3's career was its attack on British submarine E4 on September 24, 1915. The structure of the ship degraded because of atmospheric exposure and the ship was stranded near Riga on May 1, 1916.
Naval airship based at Seddin. SL4 flew 21 reconnaissance missions and two bombing raids again enemy harbors on the Eastern front. It was destroyed on December 14, 1915 after its hangar collapsed due to snow accumulation on the roof.
SL5 was an army airship, based at Darmstadt. The structure was damaged during the first flight, but repaired after several months work. During its second flight the ship was forced down by bad weather at Gießen and stricken from service on July 5, 1915
Naval airship based at Seddin. Flew six reconnaissance missions, but exploded due to unknown causes with the loss of all hands while taking off on November 10, 1915.
Army airship based at Königsberg. Carried out three reconnaissance missions and three bombing raids before suffering structural failure. Repaired and possibly enlarged before being decommissioned March 6, 1917 when the army terminated airship operations.
Naval airship based at Seddin. Carried out 34 reconnaissance missions and three bombing raids, carrying 4,000 kg of bombs each mission. Held the record for the greatest number of combat missions of any Schütte-Lanz airship. Decommissioned due to age November 20, 1917.
Naval airship based at Seddin. Carried out 13 reconnaissance missions and four bombing raids carrying 4,230 kg of bombs each mission. Crashed in Baltic, possibly after lightning strike on March 30, 1917.
Army airship based at Yambol, Bulgaria. Carried out a 16 hour reconnaissance mission. Disappeared during a subsequent attack on Sevastopol, possibly due to bad weather July 28, 1916.
Army airship based at Spich. Shot down over Hertfordshire by Lt. W.L. Robinson in a BE 2C with incendiary ammunition September 3, 1916.
Navy airship based at Alhorn. Obsolete in design before completion, this ship only flew reconnaissance missions. Badly damaged after hitting gasometer near hangar and deleted December 28, 1916
Army airship based at Leipzig. Considered unfit for combat duty and used for training only. Badly damaged when hangar collapsed because of heavy snow and stricken February 8, 1917.
Navy airship based at Seerapen and Wainoden. Carried out two reconnaissance missions and two bombing raids. A later attack on Riga was abandoned because of engine failure. Rebuilt February 1917 but later damaged before finally being scrapped on May 18, 1917.
Army airship based at Mannheim. No active service. Decommissioned August 1917.
Intended for the Army, this ship was never officially commissioned and was laid up at Spich. Scrapped August 1917.
Intended for the Army, this ship was never officially commissioned and was laid up at Allenstein. Scrapped August 1917.
Construction completed at Leipzig base, but ship destroyed by hangar collapse on February 8, 1917.
Never built due to lack of space at Leipzig base, due to hangar collapse on February 8, 1917.
Navy ship based at Alhorn. Burnt in huge hangar explosion and fire with four zeppelin airships on January 5, 1918 after only two missions.
Two-bladed props can be seen on two of the five engines
Intended for Army but never officially commissioned. Based at Zeesen and used for static testing. Decommissioned February 1918.
Intended for Navy but refused acceptance on grounds of insufficient payload. Based at Gegen and scrapped June 1920.
Never commissioned. First Schütte-Lanz ship with tubular aluminum frame. May have been complete at war's end but no further details are known.
Never commissioned. Second Schütte-Lanz ship with tubular aluminum frame. May have been completed after war, but no further details.
After the war, Schütte-Lanz came up with several peacetime airship projects which were never realized. Based on the metal framed SL23 and SL24, the first was the SL101. This was intended for a regular transatlantic service to New York or South America.
 SL102 Panamerica
This was intended for a regular transatlantic service to New York or South America.
 SL103 Pacific
This was intended for a regular transatlantic service to New York or South America, although the name indicates different aspirations.