Oh the Humanity!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Hindenburg Disaster

On this day in 1937 the German rigid Airship LZ129, the Hindenburg, was destroyed by fire as she approached the mooring tower at the Naval Air Station near Lakehurst, New Jersey.

There is still much debate concerning the causes of the fire.  You can read  a good summary of the details here at Wikipedia.

There is also good discussion by Harold Dick in his "The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships" that I reviewed here.  Dick had flown on the Hindenburg as well as the Graf Zeppelin and had access to many German files and the employees of the Zeppelin Company itself.  His conclusion was that the fire was the result of a hydrogen leak caused by a broken stress wire near the stern frames holding the fins.

Whatever the cause the result of the fire was much bigger than simply the loss of  13 passengers and 22 crew, and the destruction of the most advanced airship ever built. The press coverage essentially destroyed the public's confidence in rigid airships. The technological advances in the capability of heavier than air aircraft brought on by WWII doomed any further commercial uses.

The safety record of the big German airships was impeccable prior to this disaster. The loss of all the big US built rigid airships was mostly a problem with structural strength. Every one was lost in bad weather. This has been attributed more to their being based on the extreme design of the German military's high altitude bombing airships from WWI. It is interesting to note that the USS Los Angeles, which was built by Zeppelin Company and turned over to the USA, as both war reparations and in the hope of future commercial deals, never had any structural issues despite being used in stress testing.

The disaster at Lakehurst changed the direction of civil commercial aviation for ever, but it was not because of technical limitations or safety problems but public perception.

A true "If only" moment in history.

Keep your sightglass full, your firebox trimmed, and your water iced.


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