After the conclusion of the Battle for the Northern Air Temple, the Fire Nation was able to acquire a hot air balloon that had been lost by Avatar Aang and his friends in their defense of the temple. Despite losing the battle, War Minister Qin, the overseer of the Fire Nation's weapons development, proclaimed upon recovering the remains of the balloon that the defeat was "the gateway to many victories". His scientists reverse engineered the technology to produce both more war balloons and at least seventeen modified versions, called airships.
On the Day of Black Sun, after the Invasion of the Fire Nation failed, the Fire Nation released five of these zeppelin-like aircraft, alongside several war balloons, to bomb the invaders. Despite this, the entire force survived thanks to a quick defensive wall the earthbenders conjured up. Much to their horror, the airships did not turn around to bomb the invaders again, but kept going for the beach where they bombed the submarines the ragtag army had used to infiltrate the Fire Nation Capital, thus trapping the invaders on the Fire Nation mainland. Aang and the other younger members of the group managed to flee on Appa, but were forced to leave the adults behind as prisoners of war. The small group escaped just as Princess Azula's airship tailed them. She chose not to follow them since the bison was too fast, but she was certain that they would be back.
Upon learning of Zuko's imprisonment in the Boiling Rock, Azula, Ty Lee, and Mai went to the prison in one of these airships. After Sokka and Zuko managed to escape with Suki, Hakoda, and Chit Sang, they took control over Azula's airship and used it to return to the Western Air Temple.
Following the escape, Azula led a fleet of airships to attack the Western Air Temple. The airships now featured a cannon able to shoot bombs, and a command tower. Despite the attack, the Avatar's entire group managed to escape on Appa while their allies fled on the airship they stole at the Boiling Rock.
Prior to the Battle at Wulong Forest, Zuko revealed to the rest of Team Avatar that his father, Fire Lord Ozai, determined to wipe out all surviving rebel forces across the continent, commissioned in a war meeting prior to the Day of Black Sun that his entire armada should burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground when Sozin's Comet arrived. Using over a dozen warships and the enhanced powers granted to the firebenders by the comet, these airships commenced to burn down the Earth Kingdom. These plans were thwarted, however, when Toph, Sokka, and Suki hijacked one of these airships, and rammed it into the rest of the fleet. Meanwhile, Aang used his enhanced powers to destroy Phoenix King Ozai's personal airship, which was three times the size of a conventional airship and adorned in a more ceremonious manner. While Aang took care of Ozai, Sokka, Suki, and Toph continued their progress by forcing the remaining airships to crash into each other, effectively saving the Earth Kingdom.
Overall, only two airships survived the Hundred Year War in working condition, namely the one that Suki hijacked to save Sokka and Toph, and the one stolen at the Boiling Rock, both in possession of Team Avatar and their allies.
In contrast to the small, two-man crew war balloons, the Fire Nation airships are enormous vessels, comparable to Fire Nation cruisers in size, composition, and crew complement. The structure is made entirely of metal and can carry at least fifty crew members. These war machines are powered by hot air, and employ multiple propeller sets on the sides of their hulls for propulsion. They are extremely long and are adorned with an ornamental dragon's head to instill fear into enemy forces. They can carry dozens of bombs that they drop from the hatches on their underbellies in order to destroy ground targets. The airships can also be armed with rudimentary cannons that launch these bombs. They also support some sort of communication system, since there were crew members responsible for "communications". Catwalks hang from the ship's underside so that firebenders can fire projectiles at oncoming enemy air forces; for safety reasons, these troops are secured with harnesses.
Ozai had his own personal airship, which was noticeably larger than the others and featured a golden phoenix head on the front instead of a bronze dragon's head.
Airships are crewed by firebenders for defense, engineers for operation, and an airship captain. Normally the crew is composed of regular firebenders, but during the Battle at Wulong Forest the airships were manned by Imperial Firebenders. A standard crew also has a commanding officer.
Airships can carry at least fifty crew members. Apparently the engineers fulfill only a supporting role in the fueling of the airships and are not necessary for its running, as the one hijacked by Sokka's group was able to work long after its engineers were dumped with the rest of its crew.
The airships can be crippled by breaking the rotors that propel it. In addition, they are unable to keep up with other methods of transportation, such as a sky bison.
- The large airships are most likely based on the zeppelins of Germany used from the late 1800s to the 1940s, such as the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg.
- In The Legend of Korra, the Metalbending Police Force uses vehicles similar to these airships as a means of transportation and supervision in Republic City. The Equalists also have a fleet of unique airships.
- These airships were originally planned to be used during an attack on Ba Sing Se, however, the writers decided that they were better used to counter the attempt to invade the Fire Nation.