An airship or dirigible balloon is a type of aerostat or lighter-than-air aircraft that can navigate through the air under its own power. Aerostats gain their lift from large gas bags filled with a lifting gas that is less dense than the surrounding air.
Dirigible airships compared with related aerostats, from a turn-of-the-20th-century encyclopedia
In early dirigibles, the lifting gas used was hydrogen gas, due to its high lifting capacity and ready availability.
Helium gas has almost the same lifting capacity and is not flammable, unlike hydrogen, but is rare and relatively expensive.
Significant amounts were first discovered in the United States and for a while, helium was only used for airships by the United States.
Most airships built since the 1960s have used helium, though some have used hot air