The Disaster that Shocked the World
This webpage will guide you through the events that lead up to the explosion of The Hindenburg zeppelin. Along with the physics behind the disaster, you'll see the aftermath of the explosion and the lives lost due to this tragic event.
What was The Hindenburg zeppelin?
The LZ 129 Hindenburg, shorted to just the Hindenburg, was a large German commercial, passenger-carrying rigid airship. Basically, it took people across the Atlantic. In fact, The Hindenburg was the first airliner to provide regularly scheduled flights between Europe and America. It was the fastest, and most comfortable way to cross over to the Atlantic back in its day.
- Length: 803.8 feet
- Diameter: 135.1 feet
- Gas capacity: 7,062,000 cubic feet
- Lift: 511,500 lbs
- Cruising Speed: 125 km/h (76 MPH)
- Maximum Speed: 135 km/h (84 MPH)
- 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
This picture shows The Hindenburg, a Boeing 747, and the Titanic. As you can see, the zeppelin was huge.
When, and where did the Hindenburg crash?
The Hindenburg crash occurred on Thursday, May 6, 1937. The zeppelin caught fire and was destroyed. The zeppelin was attempting to dock at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
The day the Hindenburg went down, there were 97 people on board. Of these 97 people on board, 36 were passengers, and 61 were crewmen. 13 passengers died, 22 crewmen died, and 1 ground crewman also died. Totaled up, there was 35 deaths, and 62 survivors.
How did the zeppelin ignite?
Investigators in US and Germany officially concluded that a "spark ignited leaking hydrogen, but they could neither agree on the cause of the spark nor prove the hydrogen leaked." Hugo Eckener, Hindenburg's designer, didn't completely agree with this conclusion. He believes that it was a caused by a static spark, and not an electrical spark. According to Eckener, there was a "thunderstorm front that had passed before the landing maneuver. However if one observes more closely, one can see that this was followed by a smaller storm front." Eckener believes that this storm front caused suitable conditions for static sparks to occur. "I believe a static spark had ignited gas in the rear of the ship," Says Eckener. However, an investigation in the 1990s provided evidence that the airship’s fabric envelope was coated with reactive chemicals, similar to solid rocket fuel, and was easily ignitable by an electrical discharge. The Zeppelin Company, builder of the Hindenburg, has since confirmed that the flammable, doped outer cover is to be blamed for the fire
Hydrogen and the Hindenburg
The Hindenburg was destroyed from start to finish in 34 seconds. The reason for this is because the zeppelin used hydrogen as a lifting gas. Why they used hydrogen? Well, U.S Law prevented the Hindenburg from using helium instead of hydrogen. The designer of The Hindenburg wanted to use helium because a British rigid-airship named R101 crashed and burned. More people on the R101 died from a fire than the actually impact. The fire on board the R101 was so destructive because hydrogen was used. This is why Hugo Eckener wanted to use helium over hydrogen. At the time, the U.S "had a monopoly on the world supply of helium and feared that other countries might use the gas for military purposes." So, they banned the export on helium, and that caused the Hindenburg to be re-engineered to use hydrogen as a lifting gas. Hydrogen was used to keep the airship buoyant and was initially blamed for the disaster, but the fire spread so quickly due to the reactive chemicals that the Hindenburg was painted with.
This photo is of the R101, the British rigid-airship that crashed and burned in 1929.
Helium and Hydrogen
Helium is the second lightest element behind hydrogen. It can be used as a lifting gas because it is lighter than air. Also, it's not flammable which is why it's a popular lifting gas for air vehicles. On the other hand, hydrogen, is the lightest element, and was more available during the time the Hindenburg was constructed. The downside of using hydrogen is it's extreme flammability. Hydrogen has only 1 electron, which makes it extremely reactive. The energy required to ignite hydrogen is extremely low, so even the smallest spark could cause a huge, destructive fire when the hydrogen is in a confined space.
Here's an actual video of the Hindenburg lighting, and crashing.