Hindenburg

Was the "Hindenburg disaster" a result of sabotage committed by the opponents of the Nazi organization? Did a bolt of lightning strike the zeppelin? Or was one of the most devastating accidents in aviation history nothing but a cunningly planned insurance fraud?

Over 60 years ago, airships were the "queens of the skies." In the early 1900s, a stubborn, yet brilliant German count, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, took keen interest in balloon flights and was devoted to the design and construction of airships. At first, he had many difficulties and setbacks but soon his airships were able to accommodate passengers as well. This lighter-than-air vehicle will later be known as a zeppelin.

Blimps and zeppelins were very different. For example, blimps did not have an internal frame; whereas the zeppelin had a "skeleton" which supported the gas bags.

During the first World War, German zeppelins were used to bomb London from the air. Thus, they earned the name of "monsters of the purple twilight." Although their bombs damaged English cities, the zeppelins would often fly off course, miss their targets or be shot down by British planes. By the end of the war, so many German zeppelins have been lost that these high altitude warships were declared useless as war machines. To boost spirit, the Germans even made a song for it. Of course, I can't read German so I'll just read off the translation:

Zeppelin, flieg,
Hilf uns im krieg,
Flieg nach England,
England wird abgebrannt,
Zeppelin, flieg.

Zeppelin, fly,
Help us win the war,
Fly against England,
England will be burned,
Zeppelin, fly.

The Hindenburg, also known as LZ-129, was one of Nazi Germany's finest airships and was the first airship to provide air service across the Atlantic. In fact, it is the largest and most luxurious zeppelin ever built. It represented the greatness of the Third Reich and its leader, Hitler.

Construction began in autumn of 1931 but the Zeppelin Company ran out of money for the huge project and stopped. Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and quickly realized that a giant airship could be used to spread the propaganda of the new government so the Nazis provided money and quickly took control of Zeppelin Company. The Hindenburg was complete in 1936 and flew with the Olympic rings painted on its sides that year in honor of the Olympic games in Berlin.

The Hindenburg was a thrilling sight. It had gigantic Nazi swastikas painted on its tail fins and could fly at 84 miles per hour, a powerful acceleration during then. Stuffed full, she could weight a staggering 240 tons and still traverse the Atlantic in less than 3 days, twice as fast as any ocean liner. It was as long as 3 football fields and as tall as a 15-story building. In fact, it was approximately the length of the Titanic. No wonder it was nicknamed the "Titanic of the Skies."

But, size and speed weren't all the Hindenburg had to offer her passengers. Onboard, there was a dining room that could fit 50 people, a smoking room, a writing room, a lounge with an observation deck and more than 25 cabins. It even had a grand piano weighing 397 pounds. Believe it or not, this was all fit into a tiny 47 by 92 feet compartment near the tip of the zeppelin. Amazingly, this gondola was only 20% of one of the zeppelin's 16 giant gas bags!

The great zeppelin had only one flaw: it was filled with more than 7 million cubic feet of highly explosive hydrogen gas. If only they had used something else to float LZ-129, perhaps the disaster would've been prevented. But, the only non-flammable gas that could have been substituted for the hydrogen was helium, and back then, the United States controlled the only sources of helium in the world. The Germans pleaded to buy sufficient helium to accommodate their airship needs, but the United States, deciding that the helium might be of military value and should be conserved, refused. When the disaster occurs, the United States would at first, regret not selling its supply of helium to Germany. But 2 years into World War II, they will see that they were fortunate not to have done so.

The German Zeppelin Company had already flown more than one million accident-free voyages with hydrogen but the crew always checked their passengers. All objects that could cause a spark or electric charge were confiscated including flashlights, flashbulbs and distributed felt-soled shoes to prevent static on the walkways.

One of Hindenburg's first missions was a 3-day trip across Germany dropping pamphlets and broadcasting Hitler's speeches on its loudspeaker, urging German people to support Hitler. Then, it embarked to fly around the world.

Only a year after its launch, the Hindenburg was scheduled to fly from Frankfurt, Germany to New Jersey's Lakehurst Naval Air Station on May 3, 1937. Bad weather prevented the Hindenburg from landing at Lakehurst, so the captain cruised down the east coast, offering passengers the splendid view. When the storm cleared out, the Hindenburg tried to land. But suddenly a tongue of flame appeared somewhere between gas bags 4 and 5. The flame spread rapidly; within a few seconds the zeppelin exploded in a huge ball of fire. The ship fell tail first with flames shooting out the nose. It crashed into the mooring mast and fell to the ground 32 seconds after the flame was first spotted. The crash killed 35 people of the 97 onboard.

Even now, 60 years later, surviving eyewitnesses cannot forget the horrible smell of burning flesh that lingered in the air. So why did the Hindenburg explode? One theory is that the Hindenburg was sabotaged, that someone had planted a bomb beforehand onboard to discredit the Nazis. Or a spark might have been caused by one of the metal wires that supported the gas bags snapping. Or was the spark the result of the static electricity left in the air by the passing storm? No matter, it killed 35 of the 36 passengers and a crew of 61 that were onboard.

While the world press followed the investigation into the cause of the accident closely, the German public was left in the dark. The Nazis had no interest in exposing flaws in German technology. Consequently, rumors spread and World War II started.

It is quite obvious that the Hindenburg was, is, and shall remain the most tragic occurrence of the 20th century. Now as we look back, we realize that this operation had a dramatic impact on history. News of the disaster horrified the world and hydrogen-filled airships were never again used to transport paying passengers. Plus, the 32 seconds of its end will bring the age of great zeppelins to an end, carving a new pathway for the ever-lasting, ever-changing human race.http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Hindenburg/16728

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