The Zeppelin Hindenburg disaster and the end of the airship era

The German airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, named after the second president of the Weimar Republic, was one of the largest airships ever built. The May 6, 1937 caught fire while landing in the American town of Lakehurst. The incident had particular media coverage because it was broadcast live by a local broadcaster which immediately spread the news and the video throughout the world. After an initial hypothesis of sabotage, it was later ascertained (albeit partially) that the tragedy was triggered by a electrostatic charge in contact with the expelled hydrogen in the descent phase. In this accident they lost their lives 35 people of the 97 on boardeffectively marking the end of the era of airships as a means of aeronautical transport.

The story of the Hindenburg airship

In the 1930s, in parallel with the frenetic technological development of airplanes, a good portion of the aeronautical market was covered by airships, vehicles with greater autonomy than the planes of the time and certainly faster than transatlantic ships. Pioneer in the construction of this airship was the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbHwhich built over 100 airships until 1938, so much so that even today Zeppelin is synonymous with airship.

colorized hindenburg

The company, which was exploited by Nazi propaganda, designed and built the airship starting in 1931 LZ 129 Hindenburg which was the largest in size of its fleet and named in honor of the president Paul von Hindenburglast president of Weimar Republic before the dictatorship.

It made its first flight on March 4, 1936 and in July of the same year he created the first crossing oceanic. The Zeppelin designers had designed the airship to be filled of heliumbut, given that in those years there was an embargo by the United States on this gas, they had to fall back on hydrogen. It is a super flammable gas and therefore the designers themselves had to review the casing to avoid very dangerous ones electric charges And accidental gas leaks.

How the Zeppelin Hindenburg was made: the technology

The Hindenburg was agigantic airship, long 246.7 m (a few tens of meters less than the Titanic and more than three times longer than a B747) with a diameter of 41 mdriven by 4 piston engines which powered propellers that guaranteed a maximum speed of 135 km/h. The structure was the classic a aluminum trusswith 16 compartments which contained the lifting gas, all covered by a treated canvas to avoid gas leaks. The Hindenburg in particular had a double deck and the interiors were designed for maximum comfort, considering that on average a voyage lasted Three days.

The gondola hosted the cabin of pilotingthe passenger cabin and an area dedicated to the management of avionics behavior.


What happened on May 6, 1937: the story of the accident

That afternoon of May 6th the journalist was on the landing strip Herbert Morrison of the WLS station in Chicago who, together with many onlookers and ground staff, were waiting for the arrival of the airship that had left Frankfurt 3 days earlier. The arrival of this immense airship was a strong attraction for the citizens of Lakehurstwhich was plagued by a heavy storm that day, which is why the anchoring of the airship was delayed by a few hours.

When the weather seemed to calm down, the crew began to expel the gas to descend, until the lines were thrown to the ground crew for final docking at the anchoring pylon. It was at this precise moment that the stern of the airship was completely covered by a fire ball that in less than a minute it enveloped the entire structure which fell to the ground: they perished 35 people between passengers and crew.

The images of the disaster and the journalist’s report quickly spread across all American and European newsreels, leading public opinion to distrust this means of transport, shortly thereafter decreeing its end.