Mystery of Hindenburg/The World’s Largest Airship destroyed


hindenburg airship
Hindenburg Airship

3rd May 1937, around 8 PM, From Frankfurt, Germany, a Hindenburg takes off. The Aircraft was bound for New Jersey United States. It had 97 passengers on board, 36 passengers in the cabin, and 61 people on the ground. And when I use the word 'aircraft' here, I don't mean an airplane. Instead, the word aircraft means an Airship. Hindenburg was an airship. The world's largest airship. 245 meters long. Compare its size with today's Boeing 747 aircraft and you will realise how big it actually was. Titanic, once the world’s largest ship, was only 24 meters (60 feet) longer than the Hindenburg. That’s why the Hindenburg was known as the “Queen of the Skies” and was considered the flagship of Nazi Germany.

 Inside view of Hindenburg:

Inside view of Hindenburg
Inside view of Hindenburg
The view inside the Hindenburg airship was amazing people slept in separate rooms, there was a dining room where people could dine together, there was a separate lounge where people could play the grand piano, there was a reading room, there was a writing room, and the ticket price at the time was $700, which is now more than seven thousand dollars. This was a luxury travel experience that only the wealthy could afford.







Rigid airship


Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH

Maiden Flight

March 4, 1936


245 meters (803.8 feet)


41.2 meters (135.1 feet)

Gas Cells Capacity

Hydrogen (approximately 200,000 cubic meters)

Maximum Speed

135 km/h (84 mph)

Cruising Speed

126 km/h (78 mph)

Maximum Range

12,042 km (7,482 miles)

Maximum Passenger

50-72 passengers (varied configurations)

Crew Members

40-61 (varied by flight)

Tragic Crash Date

May 6, 1937

Tragic Crash Location

Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, United States

Cause of Crash

Hydrogen gas ignition resulting in a catastrophic fire


36 fatalities (13 passengers, 22 crew, and 1 ground crew)

6th May 1937:

 On 6th May 1937 after a 3-day long journey, Hindenburg reached America thousands of miles away. It has to land at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey. It starts descending slowly. It was 7 p.m. While landing, people on the ground hold on to its ropes. It had a different way of landing. Many people had gathered around to see it land because it was a very historic ship. Some cameramen were also present there. That day, this landing of Hindenburg was being filmed on camera. The weather conditions weren't favorable. The sky was overcast with clouds and strong winds. The captain made a hard right turn to make the plane line up with the wind. The ground crew hurried to tie up the ropes.

Airship destroyed:


Hindenburg Airship destroyed
Hindenburg Airship destroyed

The aircraft was about to land when suddenly a loud bang was heard. The airship caught fire in a matter of seconds. The plane went down in 34 seconds. The entire plane was burned to the ground. "The actual crash of the Hindenburg, an airship destroyed in less than half a minute, seared in the skeleton of what was once a mighty airship." The Hindenburg disaster shook the world.

Theories about the Hindenburg disaster:

Experts and investigators try to find the answers. Three main theories were presented. The initial hypothesis was that this airship had been the object of sabotage. It was a hazardous plot to demolish Nazi Germany's national pride. Some people thought that a bomb had been concealed in the Hindenburg airship by an anti-Nazi activist or by a foreign nation. That is what caused the unexpected explosion.

Some individuals thought that Adolf Hitler himself had detonated the airship Hindenburg. The Nazis detonated a bomb on it to destroy the airship of their own nation.

Why would they do that?

  1. Actually, the owner of the company manufacturing these airships was a man named Hugo Eckener. He was one of the few individuals who openly denounced Hitler and the Nazis when they were in power. At the time, it was difficult to speak out against Hitler in public. That's why, in 1933, after the rise of the Nazi party, Hitler attempted to have Hugo Eckener arrested.
  2. At the time, however, the arrest of Eckener was put on hold by the German president at the time. You can guess where this airship gets its name. Three years later, when the largest airship in the world was ready in 1936, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister G. W. “Goebbels” asked Eckener for the airship’s name. But Hugo Eckener didn't give in. And he named this airship Hindenburg.
  3. According to some, Hitler blew up the airship because he was jealous of Eckener and wanted to ruin his reputation. Even before this, when the Hindenburg airship was on its first flight, Hitler's government tried to use it to spread its Nazi propaganda. The tail of the airship has been painted with many photos of the Nazi party flags.
  4. According to legend, this airship's designer, Hugo Eckener, was extremely strict about safety regulations. However, when the Nazi Party took over the airships' operations, they appointed anyone they wanted to lead them.
  5. However, their followers were not qualified enough. Often they ignored safety standards. That's why when the Hindenburg airship took its first flight, it almost crashed. But the airship was badly damaged.

 Static electricity generated:

After the incident, there was a huge dispute between the Nazi Propaganda Ministry and Eckener But if we come to the second theory, it points to static electricity generated in the atmosphere by the airship. The static charge was said to have built up on Hindenburg's metal frame. When it sparked, the hydrogen gas in the airship suddenly ignited. It is said that the pilot took a sharp turn which caused the explosion. Then comes the third theory which focuses on a lightning strike. As I told you, the weather was bad that day. It is theorized that lightning might have struck, which caused the hydrogen to catch fire.

 Which theory fits the most here?

We must first comprehend the background of airships in order to fully comprehend this. Thanks to airplanes, flying is becoming a relatively common activity. However, if we go back 500 years, flying was unheard of. In the 1500s, people used to see birds flying in the sky and felt very jealous. People used to wish that they could also fly. And a lot of people were trying to do the exact same thing.

 People want to fly in the sky:

John Damien drapes
“In the year 1507, John Damien drapes his hands in chicken feathers and jumps from the top of a Scottish castle. He started waving his hands like a bird in the hopes that he would also start flying. But unfortunately, he fell from the roof. He broke his bones. When asked about it later, he said that if he had used an eagle’s feathers instead, “I would have flown”. He wasn’t alone. Over the years, thousands of people have attempted to jump from towers or high walls. Sometimes they stuck feathers on themselves, sometimes kites, sometimes balloons.

In the end, people came to the realization that there are two ways to fly. First, we need to make ourselves lighter than air. Like through a balloon. Second, we need enough energy to fly in the sky. Third, we don't need to be as light as air.

 Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier:


Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier
Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier

All the airplanes and helicopters you see flying in the air today, use this second method. They produce enough energy to propel themselves through the air. But the story of airships, and friends, is of the first method. Making yourself lighter is like flying in the air.

In the 1770s, two brothers in France, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier. These brothers were very smart and imaginative. One day, they came across a man who was drying clothes over a fire. Joseph caused the clothes to start flying upwards. This gave him the idea of doing the same thing on a bigger scale. The first thing he did was make a small box out of thin wood and cover it with a thin cloth. Inside the box, he placed a shredded piece of paper and lit it on fire. As soon as the paper caught fire, he noticed that the box began to fly. He immediately began building a larger model of the box together with his brother.

 First Test Flight:

On 14th December 1782, the first test flight was conducted with a full-size model.They set fire to wool and hay. The force they generated was so powerful that they were unable to control the box and it flew for a distance of 2 kilometers. The following year, they held a public demonstration at the Palace of Versailles in front of King Louis, the King of France, to show that animals could safely fly in the box.

First Test Flight On 14th December 1782
When the King saw the demonstration, he was delighted and they were given permission to test the balloon with humans inside it. This is how the idea of a hot air balloon came to be. In 1783, the first person to fly a balloon in a hot air balloon was a man named Jacques-Etienne.

The force they generated was so powerful that they were unable to control the box and it flew for a distance of 2 kilometers. The following year, they held a public demonstration at the Palace of Versailles in front of King Louis, the King of France, to show that animals could safely fly in the box. When the King saw the demonstration, he was delighted and they were given permission to test the balloon with humans inside it. This is how the idea of a hot air balloon came to be.

 Hot Air Balloon:


Hot Air Balloon

In 1783, the first person to fly a balloon in a hot air balloon was a man named Jacques-Etienne. His interest in balloons grew, and as he continued to advance in the ranks of the military in 1874, this young boy wrote in his diary about an airship. By this point in time, balloons had become quite advanced. Engines were being installed on balloons so that they could be steered toward the desired direction. Some balloons used steam engines, and some used electric-powered engines.

 In 1891, at age 52, Zeppelin left the army and devoted his time exclusively to the invention of airships. The base idea was that there was only one gas bag in a balloon. But if we were to use multiple gas bags and somehow the whole structure could be made more rigid, then a big and sturdy aircraft could be built. Zeppelin worked with a team of engineers to refine his idea. An aluminum framework was made.

 Zeppelins made airship LZ-1:


In 1898, he received some investment with which he developed the first airship. It was called LZ-1. This is why we still call airships Zeppelins. Because the man who made them was called Zeppelin. Zeppelins used to use hydrogen power. But in America, helium was used. The difference between these two gases is virtually non-negotiable. Hydrogen gas can easily catch fire. But helium is an inert gas. It doesn't catch fire easily. The concept is the same. Both gases are lighter than air. They aid in the flight of the airship.

On July 2, 1900, the first flight of LZ-1 took place. It stayed in the air for 20 minutes but suffered damages during the landing. Zeppelin began repairs, but due to financial constraints, he mortgaged his wife’s home to raise funds. He then completed LZ-2 in 1905 but before it could fly, a control part broke off so it never flew. It took him another year to fix it.




He ran it again in 1906, but this time another major defect was discovered. The airship lost control due to strong winds. He then used the rest of the parts to build an airship called LZ-3. He wanted the military to know that he could build an aircraft, and they wanted it to be able to withstand a test lasting 24 hours. The airship failed, and he needed to build another airship to pass the durability test.

LZ- 4:

He built LZ- 4. One night, during a strong storm, he was left with nothing.This story is a very good example of this real-life quote. Try, try till you succeed. Those who never stop trying, never fail. Around the same time, in 1903, the famous Wright brothers completed their first successful flight in an airplane.


LZ- 4
LZ- 4

After so many failed tries, Zeppelin began to gain attention. As more people became aware of his aspirations to build airships, he was able to acquire further funds and found his own firm. Test flights with LZ-3 finally occurred in 1908 after he continued to work on modifications. Despite bad these test flights were successful. LZ-3 was officially accepted by the government. And Zeppelin was highly celebrated.

Over the next few years, Zeppelin made a lot of improvements but he died in 1917. When World War I came to an end in August 1918, and the Versailles Treaty was signed, Germany was no longer permitted to retain military aircraft. Till now, these airships were being used only for military purposes.

Dr. Hugo Eckener:

Dr. Hugo Eckener
Dr. Hugo Eckener

After the death of Zeppelin, he took over the company. And he was the first to realize that not only during military or war but Zeppelins could also be used for commercial flights as well. Following this, LZ-126 made its first flight in 1924. None other than Hugo Eckener himself piloted it. The flight took 80 hours and covered over 8000 km. When the airship touched down in America, it was greeted with a round of applause. Calling it an Angel of Peace. A machine that was, until then, used only for fighting, was being used for the public.

Eckener developed the next model LZ-127 in 1928. But they weren't destined to last long. As I mentioned earlier, the Nazi Party came to power in 1933. Eckener was among those who spoke out against Hitler.

Now, if we get back to the time after the Hindenburg disaster, after an investigation ranging several decades, it was found that neither Hitler nor the Nazi Party played a role in the disaster.


  • The most likely cause of this accident is said to be hydrogen leakage and explosion caused by static electricity. Unfortunately, this disaster ruined the reputation of all the airships. People realize how easily hydrogen catches fire. Traveling in airships could be very dangerous.
  • Although at the same time, helium gas was used. Helium gas was used at the same time However, the problem was that the supply of helium gas was majorly restricted to America. America had imposed a ban on the export of helium gas.
  • By the 1940s, on the one hand, the reputation of airships was declining. People were scared to travel in them. On the other hand, airplanes started improving. The speed, reliability, and operating cost of the passenger aircraft increased rapidly. The speed of the airships was very low compared to the speed of the aircraft.
  • The airships flew at around 100 km per hour while the aircraft flew at 700, 800, or 1000 km per hour. It was difficult to get Helium gas and in bad weather, airships were more vulnerable.
  • This is why people of our generation neither traveled in these airships nor saw them. It is very unfortunate because the experience of traveling with them was very different. Flying slowly at a low altitude, and with such big windows, what a view it must've been. The good news is that in the coming years, these airships can be revived again. In 2017, a UK-based company, Hybrid Air Vehicles, ran a test flight for their giant airship, Air lander 10 known as the world's largest aircraft.
  • Nowadays, it’s much easier to obtain helium gas, making it much safer. In addition, because of climate change, there’s a growing concern about carbon emissions. So, compared to planes, airships release only a tenth of the CO2 emissions.
  • They’re also much less expensive to fuel. Plus, they fly almost unhurriedly, with little to no noise. According to this company, they expect to begin commercial flights in airships after 2030.

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