Hindenburg LZ 129

It may be surprising to learn that Hindenburg is actually a class of airship and not just one zeppelin. There were two built and fully operated. By the end of 1936, Hindenburg class zeppelins had crossed the Atlantic 34 times, safely delivering a total of 3,500 passengers and an impressive 66,000 pounds of freight and mail!

The two Hindenburg-class airships were hydrogen-filled, passenger-carrying rigid airships built in Germany in the 1930s and named in honor of Paul von Hindenburg. They were the last such aircraft to be constructed, and in terms of their length, height, and volume, the largest aircraft ever built. During the 1930s, airships like the Hindenburg class were widely considered the future of air travel, and the lead ship of the class, LZ 129 Hindenburg, established a regular transatlantic service. The airship’s destruction in a highly publicized accident was the end of these expectations. The second ship, LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin, was never operated on a regular passenger service, and was scrapped in 1940 along with its namesake predecessor, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, by order of Hermann Göring.

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Hindenburg LZ 129
Credit: US Navy

The Hindenburg class represented the pinnacle of development, built at the tail end of a very successful airship industry. In the same way as the Airbus A380 today, it was designed to push the limits and capabilities of the era’s technology.

Fact is that DELAG – Deutsche Luftschifffahrts Aktiengesellschaft (translates as “German Airship Travel Corporation”), was the first airline in the world and flew more than 40,000 passengers using Zeppelins from 1910 to 1935 without a single casualty; it was later re-established as DZR – Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei in 1935. The fact is the safest way of travel today is by air.

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Hindenburg LZ 129 size comparison with United States Capitol

LZ-129 Hindenburg Statistics:

  • Length: 245 m / 803.8 feet
  • Diameter: 41.2 m / 135.1 feet
  • Gas capacity: 200,000 cubic meters / 7,062,000 cubic feet
  • Lift: 511,500 lbs
  • Cruising Speed: 125 km/h (76 mph)
  • Maximum Speed: 135 km/h (84 mph)
  • Main Powerplant: 4 Daimler-Benz 16-cylinder LOF 6 (DB 602) Diesels
  • Crew: 40 flight officers and men; 10-12 stewards and cooks
  • Passengers: 50 sleeping berths (1936); 72 sleeping berths (1937)
  • First flight: March 4, 1936
  • Final flight: Crashed, May 6, 1937
Hindenburg control car, plan view (click to enlarge)
Hindenburg control car, profile view. Drawing courtesy of David Fowler. SOURCE

Now, let’s start to explore the interior of this impressive ship. On our tour, the first images you’ll see are these beautiful tributes and references to the many airships that had safely dominated the skies before the conception of this vehicle.

Taking a further look inside, we can see why there was such a buzz to have a ticket for this experience! They were much bigger inside than you would have expected. They had all the lavish facilities expected in a 5-star London hotel at the time, except for the double bed, as most of the cabins only provided single bunks.

Equipped with everything needed for fine dining, a high-profile chef, a bustling restaurant, and a café. They even included a grand piano!

The most interesting picture is in the café below, which depicts a map of the world with some interesting geography. South America is depicted with some interesting water inlets and there’s a large lake in sub-Saharan Africa. California is surrounded by water, as opposed to the desert-fringed land mass we see today.

The facilities didn’t end there. You could even safely transport your car with you for the journey.

Hindenburg LZ 129

For more amazing images of the interior, see Core77.

Hindenburg LZ 129

To prove the industry was progressing:

The Hindenburg’s operators were experimenting with a very cool feature: They rigged up a trapeze-like aircraft hook-on point. The idea was that as they approached their destination, customs officials would fly out to them, board, and process the passengers in the air, so that the passengers wouldn’t have to wait to do it on the ground.

Two experiments with the aircraft hook-up, in March and April of 1937, ran into problems with turbulence. Then, before they had a chance to iron those kinks out, this happened in May.

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So, what went wrong?

To look at went wrong, we need to look at what changed. The biggest change in the lead up to the disaster was the Helium Act of 1925.

Hindenburg LZ 129 Explosion
This photo provided by the Philadelphia Public Ledger, taken at almost the split second that fire erupted on the Hindenburg.

It banned the export of helium from the United States. As they were the only major source of helium at the time, this forced foreign airships to use hydrogen lift gas in its place. It’s important to take into account that helium is non-flammable and safe, considered an inert gas, meaning non-combustible. Hydrogen on the other hand is extremely flammable. In modern day, the use of hydrogen lift gas for commercial vehicles is banned in some countries, citing the Hindenburg disaster as a case study.

Looking at the Hindenburg disaster more closely, it’s understandable why one would consider air travel as a whole to be unattractive. While it had a previous history of safe travel, an explosion of this magnitude and media coverage would make anyone wary. Who would want to travel in something capable of exploding so easily?

The incident was the public disaster for the airship industry, although there was no significant loss of life on the Hindenburg itself, there were similar accidents of people creating home-made balloons and subsequently exploding, due once more to its hydrogen content. Public opinion was soon against the industry as a whole.

It’s worth mentioning that 62 of the 97 passengers and crew survived to tell the tale.

“Werner G. Doehner, the last survivor of the Hindenburg disaster, which killed three dozen people in 1937, died on Nov. 8 in Laconia, N.H. He was 90.”

SOURCE Published by NY Times, November 16, 2019.

When we compare this with any modern major air disaster, the loss of life is strikingly different.

By May 1937, most airships used the explosive and flammable hydrogen rather than the safer but more expensive, helium. It seems suspicious that the industry as a whole closed down, when transferring to the helium gas would have prevented such a disaster from happening again. The Secretary of Interior Harold Ickes had refused to sell helium for non-military use to Germany, despite the president himself at the time, along with most of the cabinet, supporting the sale. This led to Dr Hugo Eckener closing down the zeppelin passenger travel service, as he didn’t want to endanger passengers.

Boarding the Hindenburg LZ 129 was once a reliable way to cross the Atlantic, yet in a few short months, boarding a zeppelin at all had become impossible. Airships were affordable by rich and poor and a popular way to travel. It is suspicious how the death of the zeppelin industry paved the way for the newly designed commercial aircraft. Once this was established, the industry regulated prices more easily, due to the expensive nature of traveling by plane.

The fantastic news is they are scheduled to make a return in the near future.

“Helium-filled airships to carry passengers as soon as 2026 in $600 million deal with British Airways’ sister airline.”

SOURCE Published by Business Insider, June 15, 2022.

Here are over two hours of original footage of the glorious Hindenburg Class airship, including some amazing images of zeppelins docking with boats at sea, all set to very pleasing music. Enjoy!

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