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LZ 129 Hindenburg: Wikis


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Type Hindenburg-class airship
Manufacturer Luftschiffbau Zeppelin
Construction number LZ 129
Manufactured 1931-36
Registration D-LZ129
First flight March 4, 1936
Owners and operators Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei
In service 1936-37
Fate Destroyed in fire May 6, 1937

LZ 129 Hindenburg (Deutsches Luftschiff Zeppelin #129; Registration: D-LZ 129) was a large German commercial passenger-carrying rigid airship, the lead ship of the Hindenburg class, the longest flying machines of any kind, as well as the largest airships (by envelope volume). The airship flew from March 1936 until destroyed by fire 14 months later on May 6, 1937, at the end of the first North American transatlantic journey of its second season of service. Thirty-six people died in the accident, which occurred while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester Township, New Jersey.

The Hindenburg was named after the late Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934), President of Germany (1925–1934).

Design and development

The Hindenburg under construction.

Hindenburg had a Duralumin structure, incorporating 15 Ferris wheel-like bulkheads along its length with 16 cotton gas bags fitted between these, and bulkheads braced to each other by longitudinal girders placed around their circumferences. The airship's skin was of cotton doped with a mixture of reflective materials intended to protect the gas bags within from both ultraviolet (which would damage them) and infrared (which might cause them to overheat).

Dining room.
Lounge, with the world map painted on the wall.

The interior furnishings of the Hindenburg were designed by Professor Fritz August Breuhaus, whose design experience included Pullman coaches, ocean liners, and warships of the German Navy.[1] The upper A Deck contained small passenger quarters in the middle flanked by large public rooms: a dining room to port as well as a lounge and writing room to starboard. Paintings on the walls of the dining room portrayed the Graf Zeppelin's trips to South America. A stylized world map covered the wall of the lounge. Long slanted windows ran the length of both decks. The passengers were expected to spend most of their time in the public areas rather than their cramped cabins.[2]

The lower B Deck contained washrooms, a mess hall for the crew, and a smoking lounge. Recalled Harold G. Dick, an American representative from the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation, "The only entrance to the smoking room, which was pressurized to prevent the admission of any leaking hydrogen, was via the bar, which had a swiveling air lock door, and all departing passengers were scrutinized by the bar steward to make sure they were not carrying out a lighted cigarette or pipe."[3]


Use of hydrogen instead of helium

Helium was initially selected[4] for the lifting gas because it was the safest to use in airships, as it is not flammable. At the time it was extremely expensive, and was available from natural gas reserves in the United States. Hydrogen, by comparison, could be cheaply produced by any industrialized nation and had slightly more lift. The American rigid airships using helium were forced to conserve the gas at all costs and this hampered their operation.[5] While a hydrogen-filled ship could routinely valve gas as necessary, a helium-filled ship had to resort to dynamic force if it was too light to descend, a measure which took a toll on its structure[citation needed]. Despite a ban the U.S. had imposed on helium exports, the Germans nonetheless designed the ship to use the gas in the belief that the ban would be lifted; however, the designers learned as they were working to complete the project that the ban was to remain in place, forcing them to re-engineer the Hindenburg to use hydrogen for lift[6]. Although the danger of using flammable hydrogen was obvious, there were no alternative gases that could be produced in sufficient quantities that would provide sufficient lift. One beneficial side effect of employing hydrogen was that more passenger cabins could be added. The Germans' long history of flying hydrogen-filled passenger airships without a single injury or fatality engendered a widely-held belief they had mastered the safe use of hydrogen. Hindenburg's first season performance appeared to demonstrate this.

Operational history

Flag of the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei GmbH

Five years after construction begun in 1931, the Hindenburg made its maiden flight at Friedrichshafen on March 4, 1936, with 87 souls on board. After making five more "shake down" flights over the next three weeks, the airship made its formal public debut with a three-day, 4,110-mile propaganda flight around Germany (Die Deutschlandfahrt) which it flew jointly with the Graf Zeppelin from March 26 to 29.[7] Two days later, the new airship made its first commercial flight as it departed Löwental on March 31st on a four day transatlantic voyage to Rio de Janeiro.[8]

The airship was operated commercially by the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei GmBH (DZR) which had been established by Hermann Göring in March, 1935 to increase Nazi influence over zeppelin operations.[9] The DZR was jointly owned by the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (German Air Ministry), and Deutsche Lufthansa AG, and also operated the Graf Zeppelin's last two years of commercial service to South America from 1935 to 1937. The Hindenburg and its sistership, the D-LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II (launched: September, 1938), were the only two airships ever purpose-built for regular commercial transatlantic passenger operations although the latter never entered passenger service before being scrapped in 1940.

Die Deutschlandfahrt

Cover carried on the Hindenburg during the 1936 Deutschlandfahrt
Propaganda leaflet dropped from the Hindenburg during the Deutschlandfahrt quoting Adolf Hitler's March 7, 1936, Rhineland speech in the Reichstag.
The Hindenburg in March of 1936. Note the name of the airship has not yet been painted on the hull.

The airship's first "official" function was not to be in the commercial transatlantic passenger service for which it was designed and built, but instead as a vehicle for Nazi propaganda. Three days after its first flight on March 4, 1936, German troops occupied the Rhineland region abutting the borders with the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and France, an area which the Treaty of Versailles had specified in 1920 to be de-militarized in order to provide a buffer between Germany and the four neighboring countries to the west of the Rhine River. In order to then "justify" this action, a plebiscite was quickly called by Hitler for March 29 for the purpose of "asking the German people" to reaffirm him as Reich Chancellor (Reichskanzler) and Führer, and to "ratify" the Rhineland occupation which had been taken in violation of the Locarno Pact. The Hindenburg and the Graf Zeppelin were designated to be a key part of the process.

For the four days prior to the balloting, German Propaganda Minister Dr. Joseph Goebbels demanded that the two airships fly "in tandem" over Germany on a so called "Hitler Re-election and Rhineland Referendum Flight" ("Deutschlandfahrt") taking off together from Friedrichshafen on the morning of March 26.[10] It was during March 24-25 that the name Hindenburg had finally been painted on the hull, although it had been known more than a year in advance that this is what it was to be called.[11] There was never a christening ceremony for the Hindenburg.

Wind conditions were not good for takeoff that morning, but the Hindenburg's commander, Captain Ernst Lehmann, was determined to impress the politicians that were present on the field by rushing the takeoff. As the airship began to rise in a majestic manner with full engine power, however, a gust of wind hit the ship and the lower tail fin hit the ground, damaging the rear end of the fin.[12] Dr. Hugo Eckener was furious and rebuked Lehmann:

How could you, Mr Lehmann, order the ship to be brought out in such windy conditions. You had the best excuse in the world for postponing this idiotic flight; instead, you risk the ship, merely to avoid annoying Mr Goebbels. Do you call this showing a sense of responsibility towards our enterprise?[13]

The Graf Zeppelin thus left alone on the propaganda mission while temporary repairs were made to the Hindenburg which then joined up with the smaller airship later that day.[14] As millions of Germans watched from below, the two giants of the sky flew throughout Germany for the next four days and nights dropping propaganda leaflets, blaring martial music and slogans from large loudspeakers, and broadcasting election speeches from a makeshift radio studio on board the Hindenburg.

Two days after the "election" (in which Hitler received a 99% "yes" vote), Hindenburg made its first commercial flight, a transatlantic passage to Rio de Janeiro.[15] For the first time since the death of Count Zeppelin, Dr. Eckener was not the commander, however, and had no operational control over the airship on which he was only to be a passenger while Captain Lehmann commanded the ship.

During the trip, Eckener received disturbing news – a reporter notified him that he was now considered a "nonperson" by the Nazis and was banished from being mentioned in any media. During the flight out to Rio, an engine broke down because of a wrist-pin breakage, and was fixed at Recife, but could no longer run at full power. During the return flight, the same problem occurred with another engine, and while mechanics attempted to repair it, another engine broke down. The Hindenburg was now running on two engines and almost drifted into the Sahara Desert where it could have crashed. The crew raised the ship in order to search for counter-trade winds which were usually above 5,000 ft (1,500 m), well beyond the pressure height of the ship. However Hindenburg found a wind at 3,600 ft (1,080 m) which brought it back to Friedrichshafen. The two engines restored partial power after repairs were made and were later overhauled. No subsequent problems occurred with either engine.

Commercial and passenger operations

Zeppelin passenger lapel pins

Hindenburg made 17 round trips across the Atlantic Ocean in 1936, its first (and only) full year of service, with 10 trips to the U.S. and seven to Brazil. In July 1936, the airship also completed a record Atlantic double crossing in five days, 19 hours and 51 minutes. After defeating Joe Louis, the German boxer Max Schmeling returned home on the Hindenburg to a hero's welcome in Frankfurt.[16] The airship flew 308,323 km (191,583 miles) with 2,798 passengers and 160 tons of freight and mail during the season, and its success encouraged the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin Company to plan the expansion of its airship fleet and transatlantic services.

One year to the day before it crashed, the Hindenburg departed Germany on May 6 on its first of 10 North American flights flown in 1936 and arrived in Lakehurst, New Jersey, three days later. Passengers observed that the ship was so stable (a pen or pencil reportedly could be stood on a table without falling) that some missed the takeoff and believed the ship was still on the ground. The cost of a ticket between Germany and Lakehurst was US$400 (about US$5,900 in 2008 dollars[17]), which was quite a considerable sum for the Depression era. Hindenburg passengers were generally affluent, including many leaders of industry.

Cover carried on the D-LZ129 "Hindenburg" on the "Olympiafahrt 1936" (Berlin)

From time to time, Hindenburg also continued to be used for propaganda purposes as well. The Hindenburg flew over the Olympic Stadium (Olympiastadion) in Berlin during the opening ceremonies of the 1936 Summer Olympic Games on August 1, when shortly before the arrival of Adolf Hitler, the airship crossed over the massive stadium trailing the Olympic flag from its gondola.[18]

During its first year in service, the airship had a special aluminium Blüthner grand piano placed on board in the music salon. It was the first piano ever[citation needed] placed in flight and helped host the first radio broadcast "air concert." The piano was removed after the first year to save weight.[19]

Over the winter of 1936–37, several changes were made. The greater lift capacity allowed 10 passenger cabins to be added, nine with two beds and one with four beds, increasing the total passenger capacity to 72.[20] In addition, "gutters" were installed to collect rain for use as water ballast.

Final flight

Hindenburg burning.jpg
A rare surviving fire-damaged 9" Duralumin cross brace from the frame of the Hindenburg salvaged in May 1937 from the crash site at NAS Lakehurst, NJ.

After making its first South America flight of the 1937 season in late March, the Hindenburg left Frankfurt for Lakehurst, New Jersey on the evening of May 3 on its first scheduled round trip between Europe and the United States that season. Although strong headwinds slowed the crossing, the flight had otherwise proceeded routinely as it approached for a landing three days later.[21]

Around 7:00 p.m. local time on May 6, at an altitude of 650 ft (200 m), Hindenburg approached Naval Air Station Lakehurst with Captain Max Pruss at the helm. Twenty-five minutes later, the airship caught fire and crashed, completely engulfed in flames, in only 37 seconds. Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew on board, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. One member of the ground crew was also killed, making a total of 36 lives lost in the disaster.

The location of the initial fire, the source of ignition, and the initial source of fuel remain subjects of debate. The cause of the accident has never been determined, although many theories have been proposed. Escaping hydrogen gas will burn after mixing with air. The covering also contained material (such as cellulose nitrate and aluminum flakes) which some experts claim are highly flammable.[22] This, however, is highly controversial and has been rejected by some researchers because the outer skin burns too slowly to account for the rapid flame propagation.[21] The duralumin framework of the Hindenburg was salvaged and shipped back to Germany. There the scrap was recycled and used in the construction of military aircraft for the Luftwaffe as were the frames of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II as well when both of those airships were scrapped in 1940.[23]

Popular culture

  • Actual footage of the Hindenburg is shown in the 1937 Charlie Chan film Charlie Chan at The Olympics, which depicts Chan onboard for a flight across the Atlantic to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The movie was released 15 days after the actual Hindenburg disaster on May 21, 1937.
  • The image of the airship exploding was used as the cover of Led Zeppelin's self-titled debut album.
  • The plot of the third book of the Pendragon fantasy book series, The Never War is based around the Hindenburg disaster.
  • In the original theatrical release of the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones travels on the Hindenburg. The name was digitally removed from the Zeppelin's fixtures in subsequent releases, apparently because the film's events took place in 1938 and the Hindenburg was actually destroyed a year earlier in 1937. Jones also escapes the zeppelin via a trapeze-mounted parasite fighter biplane, a system never successfully installed on the Hindenburg or any German airship.[24]


General characteristics

  • Crew: 40 to 61
  • Capacity: 50-72 passengers
  • Length: 245 m (803 ft 10 in)
  • Diameter: 41 m (130 ft 0 in)
  • Volume: 200,000 m³ (7,100,000 ft³)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Daimler-Benz DB 602 diesel engines, 890 kW (1,200 hp) each


  • Maximum speed: 135 km/h (85 mph)

See also


  1. ^ Lehmann 1937, p. 319.
  2. ^ Dick and Robinson 1985, p. 96.
  3. ^ Dick and Robinson 1985, p. 97.
  4. ^ Anne MacGregor. (2001). The Hindenburg Disaster: Probable Cause. [Documentary]. Moondance Films/Discovery Channel. 
  5. ^ Vaeth 2005, p. 38.
  6. ^ MacGregor. Op. cit.. 
  7. ^ Lehmann 1937, p. 323.
  8. ^ Lehmann 1937, p. 332.
  9. ^ "Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR)"
  10. ^ "Photograph of Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin preparing to depart Freidrichshafen on Die Deutschlandfahrt." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  11. ^ "The Airship." British quarterly journal, Spring, 1935.
  12. ^ "Photograph by Harold Dick of damaged lower vertical tail fin." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  13. ^ Eckener 1958, pp. 150–151.
  14. ^ "Photograph by Harold Dick of temporary repair to lower vertical tail fin." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  15. ^ Mooney 1972, pp. 82–85.
  16. ^ Berg, Emmett. "Fight of the Century". Humanities, Vol. 25, No. 4, July/August 2004. Retrieved: 7 January 2008.
  17. ^ "Data." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  18. ^ Birchall 1936
  19. ^ "A History of the Blüthner Piano Company". Retrieved: January 7, 2008.
  20. ^ Mooney 1972, p. 95.
  21. ^ a b "Cause of the Hindenburg Disaster." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  22. ^ "Hydrogen Exonerated in Hindenburg Disaster." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  23. ^ Mooney 1972, p. 262.
  24. ^ " 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade'." Retrieved: January 11, 2010.
  • Archbold, Rick. Hindenburg: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Viking Studio/Madison Press, 1994. ISBN 0-670-85225-2.
  • Birchall, Frederick. "100,000 Hail Hitler; U.S. Athletes Avoid Nazi Salute to Him". The New York Times, 1 August 1936, p. 1.
  • Botting, Douglas. Dr. Eckener's Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2001. ISBN 0-80506-458-3.
  • Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederi. Airship Voyages Made Easy (16 page booklet for "Hindenburg" passengers). Luftschiffbau Zeppelin G.m.b.H., Friedrichshafen, Germany, 1937.
  • Dick, Harold G. and Douglas H. Robinson. The Golden Age of the Great Passenger Airships Graf Zeppelin & Hindenburg. Washington, D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985. ISBN 1-56098-219-5.
  • Duggan, John. LZ 129 "Hindenburg": The Complete Story. Ickenham, UK: Zeppelin Study Group, 2002. ISBN 0-9514114-8-9.
  • Hoehling, A.A. Who Destroyed The Hindenburg? Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962. ISBN 0-44508-347-6.
  • Eckener, Dr. Hugo, translated by Dr. Douglas Robinson. My Zeppelins. London: Putnam & Co. Ltd., 1958.
  • Lehmann, Ernst. Zeppelin: The Story of Lighter-than-air Craft. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1937.
  • Majoor, Mireille. Inside the Hindenburg. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000. ISBN 0-316-123866-2.
  • Mooney, Michael Macdonald. The Hindenburg. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1972. ISBN 0-396-06502-3.
  • National Geographic. Hindenburg's Fiery Secret (DVD). Washington, DC: National Geographic Video, 2000.
  • Vaeth, Joseph Gordon. They Sailed the Skies: U.S. Navy Balloons and the Airship Program. Annapolis MD: Naval Institute Press, 2005. ISBN 978-1591149149.

External links



Simple English

File:Hindenburg at
The Hindenburg in 1936
The Hindenburg shortly after it caught on fire

The LZ 129 Hindenburg was a large German airship, built in 1936. Such airships are called Zeppelin. Along with another Zeppelin, LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin, it was the biggest airship in the world at the time it was built.

The Zeppelin gained lots of publicity and became really famous. The boxer Max Schmeling flew on it back to Germany after defeating Joe Louis in the United States. It was also present during the opening ceremony of the 1936 Summer Olympics which were held in Berlin. This attention was part of the Zeppelin company's plan to offer a fleet of their airships for trans-atlantic service.

The disaster

On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg was landing in New Jersey after a trans-atlantic flight, when it burst into flames. 36 people died and many were injured. Many people think it did this because it was filled with a gas called hydrogen which can catch on fire easily.

An announcer, Herbert Morrison reported the landing and then screamed and said, "Oh the humanity" after it caught on fire. Morrison's line is now famous around the world as well as photos and film footage of the disaster.

The rock group Led Zeppelin used a picture of the fire for cover of their first album.


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