THE HINDENBURG DISASTER
(May 6, 1937 – Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey)
The Official Story
LZ 129 HINDENBURG
(Design and Development)
The Zeppelin Company had proposed LZ 128 in 1929, after the world flight of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. This ship was to be approximately 237 m (778 ft) long and carry 140,000 cubic metres (4,900,000 cu ft) of hydrogen. Ten Maybach engines were to power five tandem engine cars (a plan from 1930 only showed four). The disaster of the British airship R 101 prompted the Zeppelin Company to reconsider the use of hydrogen, therefore scrapping the LZ 128 in favour of a new airship designed for helium, the LZ 129. Initial plans projected the LZ 129 to have a length of 248 metres (814 ft), but 11 m (36 ft) was dropped from the tail in order to allow the ship to fit in Lakehurst Hangar No. 1.
Manufacturing of components began in 1931, but construction of the Hindenburg did not commence until March 1932. The delay was largely due to Daimler-Benz designing and refining the LOF-6 diesel engines to reduce weight while fulfilling the output requirements set by the Zeppelin Company.
Hindenburg had a duralumin structure, incorporating 15 Ferris wheel-like main ring bulkheads along its length, with 16 cotton gas bags fitted between them. The bulkheads were braced to each other by longitudinal girders placed around their circumferences. The airship’s outer skin was of cotton doped with a mixture of reflective materials intended to protect the gas bags within from radiation, both ultraviolet (which would damage them) and infrared (which might cause them to overheat). The gas cells were made by a new method pioneered by Goodyear using multiple layers of gelatinized latex rather than the previous goldbeater’s skins. In 1931 the Zeppelin Company purchased 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) of duralumin salvaged from the wreckage of the October 1930 crash of the British airship R101.
Hindenburg‘s interior furnishings were designed by Fritz August Breuhaus, whose design experience included Pullman coaches, ocean liners, and warships of the German Navy. The upper “A” Deck contained 25 small two-passenger cabins in the middle flanked by large public rooms: a dining room to port and a lounge and writing room to starboard. Paintings on the dining room walls 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.
The lower “B” Deck contained washrooms, a mess hall for the crew, and a smoking lounge. Harold G. Dick, an American representative from the Goodyear Zeppelin Company, recalled “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 lit cigarette or pipe.”