Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Day to Remember?

On this day in 1937, the "dreamliner" of the air, the LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and crashed in flames as it approached the mooring mast in New York. The argument over what caused the fire rages still - probably not helped by various accusations of sabotage and even a movie in which the main plot revolves around her having been deliberately destroyed on orders from Hitler.

The Hindenburg, like the Titanic, caught the popular imagination, and her demise brought to an end the dream of luxury air travel on huge airships criss-crossing the oceans. For all her size, she carried only 72 passengers and just over 50 crew. Almost as long as the then largest ocean liner, the French Normandie, she had a fully loaded weight of just 220 tons and a top cruising speed of 144 km/h. She travelled at a service height of 500 metres (1,600 feet), but could operate at up to 1,500 metres (roughly 4,000 feet). It took her 63 hours to cross the Atlantic from Frankfurt am Main to New York and 51 to return and she was powered by eight diesel engines driving her propellers.

The passengers enjoyed a luxurious lounge, veiwing galleries, a restuarant and even a 'smoking room' on the lower of the two passenger decks which also provided small sleeping cabins. The falw in all of this was the use of hydrogen to lift the huge airship - plus the use of a coating on her fabric covered hull that was essentially a "thermite" mixture turned into a paint.

I suspect that in the not too distant future, if we wish to sustain our current desire for air travel, the concept of large airships will have to be resurrected, though perhaps using something less flammable than hydrogen!

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