An Airship is a large, propeller and Rocket Engine-driven ship that can soar through the sky. Airships are most commonly equipped with cannons, Bullet Bills and Bob-ombs. One airship, featured in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Super Mario 3D Land, and New Super Mario Bros. U is commonly used by Bowser and the Koopalings, and Princess Peach is usually kept captive here until Mario and his friends storm the airship late in the game, at which point she gets taken away to Bowser's Castle.
Super Mario series
Super Mario Bros. 3
They first appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3, where several Airships are used by the Koopalings in their invasion of the Mushroom World. Mario or Luigi would need to avoid the various obstacles and the Rocky Wrench crew of an Airship to reach its main cabin, where the Airship's captain could be fought. If Mario or Luigi failed to conquer an Airship, it would fly away to another location on the world map. However, if the Airship was weighed down by an Anchor, it would be unable to do so. After the Magic Wand is secured, the Airship vanishes, and Mario falls down into the castle and gives the scepter back to the King. It may indicate the Airship is a creation of magic, although it is also likely that the wand transported him back to above the World's castle. In the original NES version, the Koopalings' Airships (and the Dark Land air force) and the sky backgrounds were given varying colors: brown with a light blue background for Larry and Roy, green with a dark blue background for Morton, blue with a yellow background for Wendy, gold with a light green background for Iggy, blue with a light blue background for Lemmy, turquoise with a yellow background for Ludwig, and brown with a black background for Bowser's air force. These were changed in the remakes, which depicted them with the standard brown color as well as a stormy background.
Bowser's air force was composed of either 18 aircraft (NES/SNES versions) or 15 aircraft (GBA version), including one cargo loader and a command ship manned by Boom Boom.
In the manual for Super Mario Bros. 3, Lemmy's character quote mentioned that he heard that his father, Bowser, was creating new weapons. It is likely that these weapons are the small Airships, the tanks, and battleships, although it wasn't specified, though it could've been the Koopa Clown Car.
Similar to Airships, Treasure Ships can be found in Super Mario Bros. 3 after finishing a level with a coin total that is a multiple of 11, the tens digit in the score matches this number, and the last digit on the timer is an even number, which will cause a Hammer Bro. on the world map to transform into a Treasure Ship.
The music used on these Airship stages is later remixed and used in Paper Mario, Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and Super Mario 3D Land. It is also an available track in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The tune appears to be based on "Mars, the Bringer of War" from Gustav Holst's "The Planets" suite, which is very appropriate for a warship.
Besides their appearance in the main game, the GBA remake of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario Advance 4, has them appear in four e-Reader levels: Airship's Revenge, Hikōsen wa Tomaranai!, Kuppa no Hikōsen Zenpen, and Kuppa no Hikōsen Kōhen, where they are piloted by Morton Koopa Jr., Lemmy Koopa, and Bowser, respectively. Of the four Airship e-reader levels, Airship's Revenge is the only one of the four that was playable in the English version after the e-Reader's discontinuation.
Super Mario World
In Super Mario World, a crashed, ruined Airship from Super Mario Bros. 3, named the Sunken Ghost Ship, can be explored in Soda Lake. It is haunted with Boos add filled with water. Completion of this sunken Airship is necessary to unlock the Valley of Bowser's entrance. There are a few Bill Blasters that are working.
Super Mario 64
In Super Mario 64 and Super Mario 64 DS, what may be an Airship appears in Rainbow Ride. Wind blows there, and a Lakitu, Bob-omb, and Goomba appear aboard it. In one mission, Wario needs to use his metal ability to grab a Star on this Airship (in the original the metal form wasn't necessary). This same ship was featured in the Super Smash Bros. series within the stage Mushroom Kingdom: Rainbow Cruise, a stage based on Raindow Ride. This Airship would also later be seen in Mario Party (housing the Luigi's Engine Room board). Its rather aberrant winged design appears to be based on a Japanese advertisement for Super Mario Bros. 3.
New Super Mario Bros.
There is an Airship that appears in a minigame called Bob-omb Squad that flies around and deliver Para-Bombs and it also appears in a minigame called Balloon Racing it appears to be the Goal for the Yoshis.
Super Mario Galaxy
In Super Mario Galaxy, Bowser and his Koopa Troop attack Princess Peach's Castle with Airships. Later in the game, Mario will have to fight enemies on Airships. There are three Airship stages. In the Good Egg Galaxy, two Airships are commanded by King Kaliente. In the Space Junk Galaxy, a larger group of Airships are led by Kamella. Finally, an entire fleet of Airships is commanded by Bowser Jr., who also rides one throughout the game. There are also Airships in the background of Gateway Galaxy and Bowser's Star Reactor, however these are not accessible without hacking. In this game and subsequent games, the Airships have been redesigned to resemble naval galleons, similar to how they appeared in the Super Mario Bros. 3 artwork. These galleons have few decks for Mario to explore, unlike the original sprawling, side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. 3 airship levels.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
An airship also appears at the beginning of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings carry off Princess Peach in it. This resembles the airships seen in Super Mario Galaxy. Oddly, the Airships in this game did not feature any Bullet Bills even though Bullet Bills are common enemies on Airships. Mario and his friends end up chasing it throughout the game, with the airship dropping one of the Koopalings off at the world's tower. Upon defeating the Koopaling at the castle at the end of each world, Mario and company walk outside to see Bowser Jr. boarding the airship and taking off, with Peach crying for help from the deck. In Worlds 4 and 6, however, Bowser Jr. gets left behind by the airship, and he gets chased back into it by Mario and the gang, who board it as well. Each time a battle ensued between Mario and Bowser Jr., after which Bowser Jr. destroys the floor and dumps Mario and his friends back outside to continue the pursuit. (NOTE: when an airship level is complete, an anchor will be left behind showing world World 6-anchor instead of World 6-Airship.)
Finally, at World 8, Kamek is sent out to the tower to stop the heroes while the airship flies to the end of the world by itself with no castle in sight. Upon his defeat, Kamek returns to the airship, which Mario and his friends subsequently board by themselves. After one last battle with Bowser Jr., Mario and friends finally find Peach on the deck, but Kamek intervenes and steals her away. Their goal now relocated to Bowser's Castle, Mario and company abandon the airship for the remainder of the game.
The airship's general appearance stays the same throughout the game, yet each time the heroes fight Bowser Jr., it's completely different on the inside.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Airships make a minor appearance in Super Mario Galaxy 2. In Bowser Jr.'s Fearsome Fleet, two Airships come out of Wormholes (the second of which has a Hammer Bro. and a Comet Medal). At the end of Fleet Glide Galaxy, Airships appear and shoot Bullet Bills at the player.
Super Mario 3D Land
Airships appear in the Nintendo 3DS game Super Mario 3D Land. One of these vehicles are owned by Boom Boom and Pom Pom. They come with new features such as Skewers added. After defeating Boom Boom or Pom Pom in the airship, the player has to keep walking to the Goal Pole instead of ending the level immediately after defeating the boss, as in previous games, as these bosses actually disappear, leaving their coins behind and a Warp Pipe will appear. In some of the levels of the secret worlds, the Airships simply require that the player reach the goal, with only one Airship level having Boom Boom and Pom Pom as mandatory bosses (although in another Airship level, the player can fight Boom Boom by accessing a pipe, the fight on that level is completely optional, and only acts as a shortcut to the other ship barring somersaulting through a brick barrier).
In a manner similar to the Airship's appearance in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the Airships in the starting cutscenes looked generally the same, but during the gameplay levels, they looked completely different.
New Super Mario Bros. 2
A single airship level appears in World 5 as a golden ship similar to the Treasure Ship in Super Mario Bros. 3. It is named World 5-A, and like every other level, it has three Star Coins and a secret exit reached via beanstalk. However, unlike other Airships in the series, this one does not end with a boss.
New Super Mario Bros. U
Airships return in New Super Mario Bros. U. This time, every Koopaling and Bowser himself has a personalized airship, with the former seven having their faces on the bow, and their shells on the top and each having specific designs (e.g. Morton's airship being the biggest airship of the seven, while Iggy's is the thinnest and fastest airship). The latter has the same airship featured in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, with painted Bowser faces on the bow and the stern as well as the addition of a large mechanical hand, which Bowser uses to throw Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad, and Blue Toad all the way to Acorn Plains.
The Koopaling's boss battles take place inside their airships (or in the case of Roy Koopa and Ludwig von Koopa, on the crow's nest of their airships), and the player must use a cannon to shoot their way in there. After the player defeats a Koopaling, Mario will jump on that Koopaling's airship, causing it to smoke, go out of control, and finally crash.
Bowser's flagship is used as a setting for two courses. Like in Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario 3D Land, they are auto-scrolling levels with Bowser Jr. fought in the end. The first time is in the beginning of Soda Jungle, in The Mighty Cannonship, which takes place on the deck, then the underwater cabin, and ends with a boss fight against Bowser Jr. in a submarine Koopa Clown Car. The second time is at the end of Meringue Clouds, right after Ludwig's Clockwork Castle. Unlike the other airship courses in the series, Boarding the Airship starts on the ground, working its way up to the bottom of the airship, to a boss fight with Bowser Jr. in his armed Koopa Clown Car. At the very end of this course, Bowser Jr. accidentally damages the flagship, and crashes it right outside Peach's Castle.
The flagship appears one more time in the ending, patched up and sputtering, as the Koopalings and Bowser Jr. use it to escape. It eventually crashes into a hill because of Bowser jumping aboard and his weight bringing it down, completely destroying it.
Super Smash Bros. series
The Rainbow Cruise stage featured in Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl included the Super Mario 64 airship; it is the beginning platform in these stages, and carries players left until it hits a platform-filled area and sinks, only to be generated again later as the automatically-scrolling stage loops back to its beginning. Of note is that this interpretation of the Rainbow Ride airship is actually more airship-like than the original one, while Super Mario 64 showed it to only have wings keeping it afloat. The Super Smash Bros. series also gives it the propellers common on traditional Airships. Additionally, a remix of the Super Mario Bros. 3 airship music can be selectable for the Luigi's Mansion stage in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, on the stage based off of the Super Mario Galaxy games, an airship from said games can be seen flying above the stage.
Mario & Luigi series
While airships are largely absent from the Mario & Luigi series, the Koopa Cruiser seems to be Bowser's personal airship in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. It is quite different from the other airships in the Mario games.
Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix
In Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix the S.S. Brass is an airship. Toad and Mario (or Luigi) travel around the Mushroom Kingdom searching for the Music Keys in it. It also doubles as a normal sea going ship in the second world.
Mario Kart series
Mario Kart DS
In Mario Kart DS, the race course Airship Fortress appears in the Star Cup and partially takes place on an Airship, which is in the midst of attacking a collapsing fortress. Like the Airships of Super Mario Bros. 3, the Airship portion of Airship Fortress track is filled with Rocky Wrenches, Bullet Bills and Rocket Engines. Also of note is that more of the inner workings of Airships are seen in this game; the Airship explored features, in addition to the deck, a storage room, boiler room, and a very large cannon.
Mario Kart 7
Mario Kart 8
A kart body named Landship, which is modeled after Bowser's airship, appears in Mario Kart 8. When used by the Koopalings, its stern and cannon lids change color to match their own airships in New Super Mario Bros. U. Airships also appear in Cloudtop Cruise, with one of them used as a part of the track.
Mario Hoops 3-on-3
In Mario Hoops 3-on-3, Black Mage, White Mage and Ninja's court, the Rainbow Ship, is a large Airship adorned with various statues and a large basketball court on it. It is based off the airships of Final Fantasy rather than the airships of Mario's World.
Mario Sports Mix
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
An airship is flown by Bowser Jr. and serves as the basis for Bowser Jr.'s Flotilla in Paper Mario: Sticker Star. It features Banzai Bills shot out from Bill Blasters, Rocky Wrenches, Hammer, Fire, Ice and Boomerang Bros as well as Bob-ombs.
Game & Watch Gallery 2
Appearances in other media
The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3
A single Airship, owned by Bowser and only ever referred to as the Doom Ship, appeared regularly throughout The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3; like its game counterparts, the Doom Ship was equipped with a large amount of artillery and also possessed a trait not seen in any game's featuring Airships, the ability to teleport to other locations. According to the bonus disc on the Shout! Factory DVD set, the Doom Ship was built by Kooky von Koopa.
Nintendo Comics System
In Nintendo Comics System, an Airship only ever made one appearance, in the issue Mutiny on the Fungi, which had Bowser and his crew of Koopa Troopas and Mushroom People using it to steal various treasures.
Nintendo Adventure Books
The Doom Ship reappeared in two Nintendo Adventure Books; in Double Trouble, Luigi is held captive on the Doom Ship by Roy Koopa, but he can be rescued by Mario, who can also hijack the Doom Ship, and use it to travel to Fort Koopa in the Koopahari Desert. In Leaping Lizards, Iggy has possession of the Doom Ship, and first appears with it after Morton signals him for backup after being confronted by Luigi, though upon sighting the plumber, the cowardly Koopaling abandons his brother out of fright. Luigi can choose to board the Doom Ship, and if he chooses to stay in hiding instead of trying to attack Iggy, will be taken to the Koopaling's secret laboratory.