• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
80 years ago today
First flight of airship Hindenburg in 1936
A photo of the Hindenburg on its maiden voyage used on postcards. Photo:Wikimedia Commons

First flight of airship Hindenburg in 1936

DPA/The Local · 4 Mar 2016, 15:28

Published: 04 Mar 2016 15:28 GMT+01:00

At around 3pm on March 4th, 55 crewmen and 30 passengers were aboard the Hindenburg as it was moored in Friedrichshafen, Bavaria, on the shores of Lake Constance.

"Any number of engineers and dock workers were aboard," as well as designer and technical director Ludwig Dürr, Barbara Waibel of the Zeppelin Airship Works Archive said.

Dürr "wanted to see how his latest ship handled", she explained.

Zeppelins LZ127 "Graf Zeppelin" and LZ129 "Hindenburg" above the Berlin cathedral in 1937. Photo: DPA

The flight lasted a total of three hours and six minutes, covering 180 kilometres and allowing the crew to test the ship's rudders, turning circle, speed and sonar system at a height of around 700 metres.

"The exact route isn't recorded in the flight report, but they mostly criss-crossed above the Bodensee [the German name for Lake Constance]," Waibel said.

Only a few precious images of that first tentative test flight remain.

"You can see in the pictures that a real cloud of smoke is released when the ship sets off," Waibel noted.

"That was dust from the hangar, because the ship had been under construction for such a long time."

The shell of the airship Hindenburg under construction at the Zeppelin works in Friedrichshafen. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Years in the making

Planning for the Hindenburg, alias Zeppelin LZ129, had been going on since 1930, and it was to be the crowning glory of German airship technology.

To this day it remains the record-holder as the largest air-going vehicle that has ever been built by mankind, at 245 metres long with a diameter of 41.2 metres, Waibel said.

A comfortably-appointed dining room aboard the Hindenburg featuring a world map on the wall. Photo: Bundesarchiv/Wikimedia Commons

As well as being an engineering marvel, it was a luxury liner, with a lounge featuring well-stuffed armchairs and a huge black piano, a smoking room with drawings of the ship, and even a writing room.

What's in a name

But between 1930 and the ship's first flight in 1936, a darkness had fallen over Germany that was reflected in the choice of its name.

Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg had been one of the top German commanders in the First World War.

Despite the defeat of 1918, the aging former general became the object of hero-worship in the inter-war Weimar Republic, eventually becoming Reich President in 1925.

Paul von Hindenburg. Photo: Staatsbilbliothek zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz/Wikimedia Commons

It was Hindenburg who, at the urging of conservative forces who believed they could control the upstart Nazi leader, named Hitler to the Chancellorship in 1933.

The field marshal was a symbol of past German glory and of the courage of the army, which many believed had been defeated by a "stab in the back" from cowardly politicians and Jews on the home front rather than in the field.

It was the perfect propagandistic name for a vessel that was to carry the flag of Hitler's resurgent Germany through the skies across the world.

Tragedy strikes

But fate had other plans for LZ129, and it was just a year later that the final catastrophe struck at Lakehurst, New Jersey.

In just a year, the Hindenburg had travelled 337,129 kilometres between Germany and the Americas.

It had carried 7,305 passengers, 9,758 kilos of freight and 8,869 kilos of post on eight round trips to South America and eleven to North America.

The airship Hindenburg in the skies over New York. Photo: DPA

But as it arrived in Lakehurst on the evening of May 6th 1937, fire broke out in the tail of the ship, and within seconds the entire vessel burned up as its hydrogen gasbags were consumed.

Story continues below…

The toll stood at 36 people dead, including 13 passengers, 22 crew and a ground crew worker.

A new era?

After the Hindenburg catastrophe, 60 years passed before airships returned to the skies over the Bodensee – and they became a much rarer sight worldwide.

But in September 1997 the first Zeppelin NT (New Technology) made a maiden flight for 45 minutes over Friedrichshafen.

"The airship era at that time was an unbelievable technical achievement," said Thomas Brandt of the German Zeppelin Transport Company (DZR) in Friedrichshafen.

"We are proud that today, 80 years later, we can offer regular passenger flight service as a unique experience."

A modern Zeppelin NT airship is stowed in its hangar in March 2015. Photo: DPA

Unlike its distant ancestor, the latest Zeppelin model needs just 8,000 cubic metres of gas to lift off – far less than the 200,000 pumped into the Hindenburg.

That gas, too is different. Rather than highly flammable hydrogen, helium is now used to provide the lighter-than-air buoyancy needed to lift the airship's load off the ground.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Merkel party leader admits sexism is a problem
Jenna Behrends complained that a member of CDU's Berlin government had called her a "big sweet mouse" in front of a large group. Photo: Sophia Kembowski/dpa

A leader of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative party admitted Sunday that it has a problem with sexism in its ranks.

Ethiopia's Bekele nears record as wins Berlin marathon
Participants in the Berlin marathon take to the streets on Sunday. Photo:Paul Zinken/dpa

Kenenisa Bekele narrowly missed out on the world record on Sunday as the Ethiopian won the Berlin marathon ahead of former winner Wilson Kipsang.

Europe needs deals to send migrants home: Merkel
Angela Merkal poses with Bulgaria's Prime minister Boyko Borissov (L) and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern (R) in Vienna. Photo: Joe Klamar/AFP

Europe needs to secure more deals to send rejected migrants home, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told counterparts in Vienna.

Germany sees 'turning point' in birth rate decline
Children at a a kindergarten in Swabia. Photo: Nikolaus Lenau/Flickr

Is Germany's three-decade decline in birth rate now over?

Trump protesters rebuild and tear down 'Berlin Wall'
The 'Stop Trump' protest at the Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA.

US expats gathered at the Berlin's iconic Brandenburg Gate on Friday "rebuild" the Berlin Wall and protest US presidential candidate Donald Trump's own proposed wall-building.

Accusation of sexism within Merkel's party creates uproar
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel, two leading women in the CDU party. Photo: DPA.

A young politician from the ranks of Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) has caused a storm by suggesting that the party is institutionally sexist.

EasyJet 'in talks to buy German airline' to duck Brexit
Photo: DPA

EasyJet is in talks to acquire TUIfly, a board member of the German carrier said Friday, as the British no-frills airline looks for ways to keep flying freely within the EU after Britain quits the bloc.

Symbols of migrant plight to go on show in Bonn museum
Photo: DPA

A people smugglers' car, a dinghy and a life jacket are among items related to Europe's migration crisis due to go on display at a German museum.

Brexit
Green party demand 'quick and easy' citizenship for Brits
Photo: DPA

The Green party has called for Brits living in Germany to be offered a painless path to obtaining dual citizenship as to "reassure them over the future".

Berlin the new London? 10m2 flat to rent for €750 a month
Photo: Immonet.de.

This shoebox apartment in the gentrified Bergmann-Kiez neighbourhood may be a sign that the tides are turning for Berlin’s comparatively cheap housing market.

Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Lifestyle
6 things about Munich that’ll stay with you forever
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
Lifestyle
10 pieces of German slang you'll never learn in class
National
Seven great reasons to stay in Germany this September
National
Ouch! Naked swimmer hospitalized after angler hooks his penis
Sponsored Article
Retiring abroad: ensuring your health is covered
National
Six reasons why Berlin is now known as 'the failed city'
National
15 tell-tale signs you’ll never quite master German
Culture
7 American habits that make Germans very, very uncomfortable
Rhineland
Story of a fugitive cow who outwitted police for weeks before capture
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Culture
Eleven famous Germans with surnames that'll make your sides split
Lifestyle
The best ways to get a visa as an American in Germany
Sponsored Article
The Inner Circle: the secret to dating in Berlin
Gallery
Germany's 17 Olympic gold medals in pictures
14 facts you never knew about the Brandenburg Gate
Society
Ten times Germans proved they really, really love beer
National
Six things you need to know when moving to Germany
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
International
German scientists prove birds can sleep while flying
Technology
London v. Berlin: Which is better for startups?
Lifestyle
13 mortifying mistakes German learners always make
Travel
Enter if you dare: Berlin's best abandoned haunts
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
5,651
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd