Hindenburg Design and Technology

Hindenburg’s Basic Design

The basic design of LZ-129 Hindenburg was conventional, and based on time-tested technology used by chief designer Ludwig Dürr and the Zeppelin Company for decades.  The ship was built with triangular duralumin girders (bright blue from protective lacquer) forming 15 main rings, connecting 36 longitudinal girders, with a triangular keel at the bottom of the hull, an axial corridor at the center of the ship, and a cruciform tail for strength.

Hindenburg profile, showing major elements, and numbering system for gas cells and frames. Drawing courtesy David Fowler. (click to enlarge)

Hindenburg profile, showing major elements and numbering system for gas cells and frames. Drawing courtesy David Fowler. (click to enlarge)

(Hindenburg’s main rings — also called frames — were numbered by their distance in meters from a reference point located roughly at the ship’s tail.  Hindenburg’s gas cells were numbered from 1 through 16, aft to forward.)

Hindenburg Main Ring 92 (at left), and Main Ring 33.5 (at right), showing sturdy, cruciform structure of the tail.  Drawings courtesy David Fowler.  (click all images to enlarge)

Hindenburg Main Ring 92 (at left), and Main Ring 33.5 (at right) showing sturdy, cruciform structure of the tail. Drawings courtesy David Fowler. (click all images to enlarge)

Hindenburg was originally designed to be operated with helium but the United States had a monopoly on the non-flammable gas, and the Helium Control Act of 1927 prohibited American export of helium to any foreign nation.

Hindenburg Flight Technology

For a discussion of LZ-129′s flight instruments and flight controls, visit the sections on Hindenburg’s Control Car and Hindenburg Flight Operations.

Hindenburg Technological Innovations

Hindenburg’s Size and Shape

One importance technological advance was the ship’s very shape and dimensions; although only about 30 feet longer than Graf Zeppelin, Hindenburg carried about twice the volume of lifting gas, due to its larger diameter and “fatter” profile.  Hindenburg’s thicker shape also gave it greater structural strength against bending stresses, as compared to the thinner profile of Graf Zeppelin.

The ability to build a ship with a much thicker profile was due to the construction of a new, larger shed at Friedrichshafen in 1929-1930 (see photograph below), which had been financed by the German national government and the State of Württemberg.

The construction sheds at Friedrichshafen.  The older Factory Shed II, whose height limited the dimensions of Graf Zeppelin, is on the left, and the new, larger shed which allowed construction of Hindenburg is on the right.

The construction sheds at Friedrichshafen. The older Factory Shed II, whose height limited the dimensions of Graf Zeppelin, is on the left, and the new larger shed which allowed construction of Hindenburg is on the right.

The height of the previous construction shed had limited the dimensions of Graf Zeppelin (resulting in that ship’s thin profile and the very forward placement of Graf Zeppelin’s passenger gondola, to maximize use of the ship’s diameter).  The new shed allowed the construction of much larger airships, which could carry the greater volume of gas necessary to lift the payload required for profitable scheduled transatlantic passenger service.

Hindenburg’s Gas Cells

Hindenburg under construction, showing the axial catwalk passing through the center of a gas cell, and the outline of the passenger compartment at lower right.

Hindenburg under construction, showing the axial catwalk passing through the center of a gas cell, and the outline of the passenger compartment at lower right. (click to enlarge)

One innovation aboard Hindenburg was the use of a new material for the construction of the gas cells.  While gas cells for earlier German zeppelins were made of goldbeater’s skin (the outer membrane of cattle intestines) the cells aboard Hindenburg used a new material, similar to that used by the Americans, which was made by brushing layers of gelatine onto a sheet of cotton; this gelatine film was sandwiched between two layers of cotton to create the fabric for the cells.

Hindenburg’s gas cells had 14 manually-controlled maneuvering valves located just above the axial walkway, which could be operated from the main gas board in the control car; electric meters measured the fullness of each cell and could be monitored in the control car.  Hindenburg was also equipped with 14 automatic valves which released gas whenever cell pressure became too high, to avoid damage to the cells themselves or to the framework of the ship.

Hindenburg’s Engines

Hindenburg’s Daimler-Benz engines were also rather advanced, based on the MB-502 engine designed for German E-boats (high-speed motor torpedo boats) as part of the Nazi’s rearmament program.

16-cylinder Daimler Airship Engine

16-cylinder Daimler Airship Engine

Each of Hindenburg’s four LOF-6 (DB-602) 16-cylinder engines had an output of 1320 hp @ 1650 RPM (maximum power), and 900 hp @ 1480 RPM.

The normal cruise setting was 1350 RPM, generating approximately 850 hp, and this setting was usually not adjusted during an ocean crossing.  The engines were started with compressed air, and could be started, stopped, and reversed in flight.

Using 2:1 reduction gearing, each engine drove a 4-bladed, fixed-pitch, 19.7′ diameter metal-sheathed wooden propeller (created from two 2-bladed props fused together).

Hindenburg engine car.  (Drawing courtesy David Fowler.)

Hindenburg engine car. (Drawing courtesy David Fowler.)

Interior of Hindenburg engine car, with Chief Engineer Rudolf Sauter (left) and Engineer Raphael Schädler (right)

Interior of Hindenburg engine car, with Chief Engineer Rudolf Sauter (left) and Engineer Raphael Schädler (right)

The engines were mounted in four engine cars; two at Ring 92, and two at Ring 140.  To protect the ship’s fabric covering, the engines which were angled slightly away away from the hull so that the their propeller wash would not directly strike the ship’s covering.  The rear engine cars were mounted lower on the hull than the forward cars, so that the propellers of the rear cars would operate in clean air, undisturbed by the propwash from the forward engines.   A mechanic was stationed in each engine car at all times to monitor the diesel and carry out engine orders transmitted from the control car.

There were plans, never implemented, to add a fifth engine car, containing a Daimler-Benz diesel adapted to burn hydrogen.  The proposed installation would have been an experiment to improve the ship’s economy and efficiency by burning hydrogen which would otherwise have been valved.  (Hindenburg valved between 1 and 1-1/2 million cubic feet of hydrogen on an average north Atlantic crossing.)

lz129-engine-car-mechanic

Mechanic entering an engine car

Auto-pilot
An innovative feature of the Hindenburg was the ship’s Anschütz “auto-pilot”, which used a gyroscopic compass to control the rudder and elevators, and keep the ship on its assigned course and altitude during cruise in stable weather.

Proposed Gas Preservation and Water Recovery Systems

But Hindenburg’s potentially most innovative features were never actually implemented.  Hindenburg was originally designed for helium, which was too difficult to obtain and too expensive to be vented to compensate for the weight of fuel burned during flight.  To avoid the need to valve helium, several innovative solutions were proposed.  One involved a set of inner hydrogen gas cells to be installed at center of 14 of the ship’s 16 helium cells.  The flammable hydrogen would be protected inside the larger cell containing inert helium, and when it was necessary to valve lifting gas, hydrogen, rather than helium, could be released.   When it became obvious that helium would not be made available by the Americans, and that the ship would be inflated with hydrogen, the inner cells were abandoned, but Hindenburg did retain the axial catwalk at the center of the ship that was installed to provide access to the valves for these inner cells.  The second proposed innovation involved a water recovery system which would have used silica gel to capture water from engine exhaust, obtaining water ballast to partly compensate for the fuel burned by the engines.  This system, too, was abandoned when the Zeppelin Company was unable to obtain helium and it became necessary to inflate Hindenburg with hydrogen.

Consideration was also given to installing engines which could burn hydrogen, but tests indicated that such engines had a much more limited power output; the maximum power that could be obtained was approximately 300 hp.  Plans were drawn to add a fifth engine gondola to compensate for the lower power of hydrogen-burning engines, but these plans were never implemented.

Proposed Launch and Recovery of Fixed-Wing Aircraft

One other innovation which was briefly attempted was a plan to recover and launch fixed-wing aircraft to speed the delivery of mail.  Test were conducted in which famed German ace and Luftwaffe official Ernst Udet attempted to hook an aircraft onto Hindenburg in flight, but these attempts were not sucessful, and no such system was developed before Hindenburg’s crash in May, 1937.

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

George Timcke June 27, 2014 at 11:00 am

I imagine that the reason for the natural aluminium-colour of the ship’s structure in the film of 1975 was the belief that if the producers had portrayed it in its correct colour, the average viewer simply wouldn’t have believed it. Having done much research on the ship over the past four decades I was not surprised to find the reconstruction in Friedrichshafen coloured blue, just very pleased. I have been there twice so far and have had one flight on the Zeppelin NT. The company has had its ups and downs (sorry) during the last few years: can Dan give us an idea of how it stands today?

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Dennis Zermeno June 24, 2014 at 8:33 pm

I still believe that there is a potential for airship point to point travel. Imagine an airship large enough to transport upwards of 200 to 300 passengers. Establish scheduled flights between the San Francisco bay area and LA. Such an airship could fly round-trip in a single day. The scenic view flying over California would be spectacular. Thousands travel daily between the two regions by auto, bus, train and airplane. You would travel faster by airship than any mode of transportation except airplane. When you factor in the time spent going through airports the airport time really adds much more consumed time to airplane travel.
Comfort, total relaxation, in-flight amenities, the view from 2,000 feet all favour the new modern era airship.
In airship travel, the trip itself becomes a major experience for all to enjoy in total comfort.
Yes, I know Airship Ventures tried and failed to succeed. However flying in a 250 foot blimp in a cramped cabin with 12 passengers with an outrageous boarding fee does not in anyway provide the same experience flying in a modern fully decked- out airship format. Such an airship would be complete with dining and cafe eating areas, large observation lounges and private observation roometts and meeting areas for those who chose such facilities.
Just think of the experience. With the right fare-rate package and the best in amenities, I say the airship could once again return to the skies.

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Sundar Narayan February 1, 2014 at 8:52 am

What an informative website! The technical information here is amazing and very useful.

Do the design calculations for the Hindenburg (such as Arnstein’s structural calculations) still exist? Or did they get lost during the War?

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Thomas Vincente Cortellesi March 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm

This has been by far the most helpful resource on the Zeppelins and their Golden Age – most books don’t possess all of the information. I can’t thank the creators of this site enough, and for those airship fanatics like me, the Plantraco Nanoblimp is an ‘airship excursion’ enough. A small RC propeller that can attached to the side of any conventional party balloon. Just a recommendation, but you all should try it! (I can’t stop using mine…) I also have multiple airship propeller sound effects for those needing them for videos or just to listen to. Respond to me somewhere if you want them.

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James November 5, 2012 at 6:41 am

Does the engines have serial number plates?
Where can I find out more information on the actual serial number of each engine?

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Scott fowler October 21, 2012 at 1:13 pm

Did the mechanics actually ride outside the ship in the engine car or were they in the ship and just went over as needed?

Also, if the ship was flying around 70 + miles per hour how did items keep from getting sucked out of the observation windows when they were open? Did the fact that they were slanted have anything to do with that?

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Hendrick Stoops December 26, 2012 at 4:31 pm

From what I’ve read the mechanics rode in the engine cars (in shifts of course). Even with ear mufflers the sound and feeling was described as “Being shot through an air rifle”. Eventually mechanics became so used to the sound of the engines that they would wake up in a cold sweat when one was turned off!

There was an “air bubble” around the general area of the airship that the passenger stayed in (don’t know why).

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Scott Fowler December 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Thanks Hendrick!

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Amy Jo September 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

A great feat in air travell is is a pity that the Lakehurst disaster was the end of that form of air travel she sure was the QUEEN OF THE SKIES can you imagine if they continued what the next generation airships would have looked like and funtioned a mind boggling posablities

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Michael Snodgrass December 23, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Great site! I was wondering if david Fowler ever started his ZR-1 Shenandoah drawings like he indicates at his web site.

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Kristen December 1, 2011 at 5:59 pm

I was wondering, how much cargo could the Hindenburg carry? I can’t seem to find the information anywhere. Also what was the fuel capacity and the weight of the entire structure. Thanks for the website, it has been a huge help otherwise.

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david kelly December 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm

I read somewhere that the hindenburg weighed 200 tons unloaded.

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Stu January 9, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Kristen;

This is a manifest of static loads from 31 March, 1936, when the LZ129 conducted her ninth flight from Germany to South America (source: The Golden Age of Great Passenger Airships – Graf Zeppelin / Hindenburg, by Harold G. Dick with Douglas H. Robinson):

37 Passengers: 2,960 kg
23 Engine Personnel: 1,840 kg
21 Deck Force: 1,680 kg
10 Steward Personnel: 800 kg
Baggage for passengers: 600 kg
Baggage for crew: 1,080 kg
Provisions: 3,000 kg
Freight: 1,269 kg
Mail: 84 kg
Fuel Oil: 55,230 kg
Lubrication Oil: 4,000 kg
Kerosene: NA
Reserve Parts: 1,200 kg
Reserve Radiator Water: 1,400 kg
Drinking Water and Liquors: 1,150 kg
Trim Ballast: 11,300 kg
Emergency Ballast: 3,000 kg
Miscellaneous: 1,120 kg
Bedding, Utensiles, etc.: 2,500 kg
Moisture: 1,000 kg
Lightness: 1,000 kg
SUB-TOTAL: 96,213 kg
Dead Weight (approx.) 118,000 kg
TOTAL: 214,213 kg
Required Gas Volume: 202,000 cbm (metric measurement for cubic units of gas presumably)

Freight constituded only 1,269 kg of a total load of 214, 000 kg.

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Mike Ogden November 26, 2011 at 7:33 am

I am wondering if it was possible for the crew to get from the axial catwalk to the very top of the ship — i.e. the space between the top of the gas cells and the outer canopy. The drawings I have seen don’t show any access, but there must have been some way of repairing damage or doing routine inspections –on the ground, if not in flight.

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Stu January 9, 2013 at 10:04 pm

There were vertical ladders between the cells by each vent at the top of the ship I believe at each of the 6 air ducts inside the hull that ventilated the lower portion of the ships hull to the topside. The ladders up to the topside of the ship were in the vent shafts. Watch the “Hindenburg” movie of the late 70′s which showed these shafts very well.

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peter October 29, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I believe as hydrocarbon fuels become more expensive the airship will make a return. With todays advanced lightweight materials such as carbon fibre and titanium, and the availability of helium, airships can be made as safe as modern comercial airliners, if not safer.
Automated systems using sensors and computer control to control attitude during landing would reduce the large number of groundstaff needed thereby increasing their commercial attractiveness, and the “carbon footprint” of a modern efficient airship would only be a fraction of a large jet airliner.
I believe we will once again see airships gracing our skys, instead of the deafening roar of jets and helicopters.

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david kelly December 25, 2011 at 5:12 pm

i read that the hindenburg could go around the world 4 times and still use less fuel than a modern jet liner just taking off the runway

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Jasonwallace May 8, 2012 at 6:19 pm

that seem’s a little far fetched surely?? yes the Hindenburg would use less fuel than a modern commercial passenger jet air liner but as for going 4 times!! around the world and using less fuel than a jet liner that’s taking off! i highly doubt that. But Airship’s are absolutely beautiful and i do hope that they will one again grace our sky’ as a major form of travel to any continent on the is awsome world of ours!! :) have a nice day David

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Andreas June 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Um, no.

The Hindenburg used roughly 410kg or 500l of fuel per 100 km. With 72 passengers that means 6.9l/100p*km, which is more than double of what a modern long range jet uses (Airbus A380 ca. 3l/100p*km). Even in absolute terms rather than per passenger, the 166 tons of fuel LZ129 would need once (not 4 times!) around the globe would carry a Boeing 787 more than halfway around the earth, whilst carrying more than three times the passengers.

Unfortunately, this also means that even if you account for 80 years of engine efficiency improvements, I don’t think airships would ever become an economical alternative to airplanes for passenger transport ever again. Even airplane fuel costing as much as synthetically produced fuel, against an airship powered directly from “free” solar power (with solar panels on the hull), probably wouldn’t tip the balance because of the associated labour costs (not so much the flight crew itself, you could probably get that way down with modern technology, but the need for passenger care over a few days or even more than a week for long haul).

Maybe there could be a market for a few air-”cruise ships”, but I doubt even that because of the lack of comfort and amenities compared to a surface cruise ship.

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Stu January 9, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Andreas;

Consider this performance characteristic recorded from the LZ129′s records;

At a maximum speed of 82.7 mph, the LZ129 burned 1430 pounds per hour.
At cruising speed of 78.3 mph, she burned 1166 pounds per hour.

How many airliners can match that?

The passenger per fuel used per 100 km is not a fair assessment of airships. A passenger train performs far better than an jet plane in terms of fuel used per passenger per 100 km. A 8 to 12 car commuter train carries upwards to 1000 persons in a 90 minute run of 100 km on long trips. How much fuel does that use in that given time / distance frame?

The airship also has one unique feature an Airbus doesn’t. It doesn’t burn any fuel to hover in place with a forward velocity of zero.

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victor.vasas August 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm

There is the issue of safety. Even when filled with helium, the airship is very sensitive to atmospheric turbulence, storms, sudden uplifts etc… The Hindenburg probably would have suffered an accident just from that cause sooner or later. I don’t believe that the risk of an accident on a long distance flight like crossing the ocean would be acceptble today.

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Stu January 9, 2013 at 10:18 pm

The Hindenburg didn’t have a computerized network of data collated from satellite, doppler radar and continuous weather data from all over the world. That plus the capabilities to register in advance turbulence makes for safer heavier than air, as well as someday, lighter than air travel.

Airships had to rely on weather date taken from passing ships on the surface of the ocean and whatever could be sent over the wireless via morse code. Long distance voice communication was still in it’s infancy in the late 30′s as was radar. The literally flew blind back then, relying on interpreted data from direct observations and gleaned from reports (when they could get them) from the surface.

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Lyle September 15, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Availability of helium, helium is not as available as you might think, our greedy politicians sold off all the helium and now there is really not all that much left and what is left is a lot more expensive than it used to be.

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Stu January 9, 2013 at 10:19 pm

So very true.

The shortage of helium will indeed make LTA a difficult prospect.

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Rob August 7, 2011 at 5:14 pm

This site is fantastic! What a wealth of information and images! To me the shape and proportion of the Hindenburg(and Graf Zeppelin II) has always epitomized the height and beauty of airship design, but one thing that does surprise me is the shape of the rings in the LZ-129. I’d always assumed that they were almost perfectly circular in shape, but in the cross section you provide, they appear somewhat elliptical or “flattened” on top and bottom. Is this a distortion of the image or was it actually it’s true shape?

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M L Hopp January 21, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Just my general guessing, but I think the rings were a bit elliptical towards the center of the ship due to the keel and passenger decks. If you look at the cross sections above, the ring by the engine cars IS elliptical yet the one near the cruciform for the tail structure isn’t.

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belac August 6, 2011 at 11:17 pm

Hi, i just want to say that I love this site, and find it very informative and interesting. I’m currently working on building a model of the hindenburg on my computer. Thanks to this site, I found a lot of information that has really helped me. I managed to find the site were the designs for the hindenburg on this site originally came from, with helped me get the models for the main rings down. however, most of the intermediate rings aren’t included, so I’m unable to create them. Do you have any suggestions for where I can find designs for all the rings?

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Jan February 7, 2011 at 11:40 am

Great site! Thanks for all the great info.

Maybe you could add that the duralumin girders were coated with blue enamel paint as anyone seems to think they were gray (probably because of the bw images) and people are surprised when they see the original reconstruction at the museum in Friedrichshafen.

See here: http://www.zeppelin-museum.de/850.0.html

Greetings from Hamburg

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Dan June 24, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Very good comment, Jan. Thank you. Yes, the girders were originally bright blue from protective lacquer, and I will add that to this article. Thanks again!

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Erik wanberg February 3, 2011 at 4:33 am

What an excellent site! I have to thank you, it is nice to find all the information I require in one location, and not only did that happen here, also the information was clear and concise, the facts well explained and supported, and the posted questions mirrored my own and were answered completely and thoroughly, as in the case of relative lift ratio of hydrogen vs helium the answer arrived in stages of increasing resolution, the question itself was reformed, added to, and in its altered state was less the question and more the answer than before, the transformation was interesting to observe as the precision of the answer was finally revealed. It reminded me that there is more to understanding a question than just having the answer, and the process revealed insight into why the answer was what it was, and I mention this because I felt the same way looking for the data I needed on this page, I felt the same process of revelation as I read, and have the answers I sought but more importantly the understanding of not just why they are what they are, I also feel I understand the background of the subject and events which occurred and is responsible for the existence of my questions, the answers, and
this post. Again, thank you.

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Barry Hudson July 4, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Hi I have always had a interest in airships. I have a idea of using photovoltaic cloth, Lithium Ion batties and electric motors on a small one. just big enough to have famlily size living quarters.
I guess I’d have to name it the Winobago-burg.. It would sure make a great retirement home with excelent travel potencial of seeing the county, from a birds eye view. and in grand style!

I want all the techical spec’s I can get. I will have to develop a harpoon landing teather system. for mooring her in bad weather..But for right now I just want to learn all i can about them

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John Eden June 14, 2010 at 7:05 pm

What are the calculations to achieve neutral bouyancy in order to reach a desired altitude

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Sean June 3, 2011 at 11:07 am

The rule of thumb for the hobbyist building RC airships (which I’ve found to a be a bit overly generous on ones that I’ve done) is 1 ft^3 of helium = 1 oz of lift.

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John Eden July 30, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Then a structural ridged air ship should achieve bouyancy with a complete evacuation of the air in it and have greater bouyancy than hydrogen. Thanks

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Fred Jackson October 11, 2011 at 5:46 pm

No evacuated structure sufficiently strong to resist collapse can be built with any production materials. Not in ANY size.

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Nicolas Uribe May 13, 2010 at 10:01 pm

Great website! I’ve got a couple of questions that have been nagging me for years: 1) What method was used to generate the hydrogen? 2) How do you join cow intestines (normally used for making sausages) to make an impermeable gas bag for an airship? And just how many cows would you need for an airship the size of the Hindenburg? 3) I know that airships leaked hydrogen, but I assume that in a dirigible the gas cells would be kept as close as possible to ambient atmospheric pressure, hence leakage would be minimal. Am I correct??? And finally… thanks for sharing your website with all of us airship freaks.

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Martin Winlow May 6, 2010 at 11:21 am

Dear Dan (or anyone else in the know),

Was compressing the hydrogen on board ever considered as an alternative to venting it to reduce buoyancy? Or am I being technologically dim?

Regards, MW.

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Sean June 3, 2011 at 11:05 am

It was discussed, but the power needed, plus the weight of compressors and storage tanks made it unfeasible.

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Andreas Horn March 11, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Another problem with the “Blaugas” was that it had been a highly unprofitable venture, because the components of the gas had to be shipped to South America by ship. There the propane and the other gases were filled into the gasbags and “mixed” by shaking (!) them, as Lehmann describes in his book “Im Luftschiff über Länder und Meere”.
So the story that the “Blaugas” was a success is definitely a myth – besides the danger associated with it, as described in detail by Dan.

Andreas

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Rich Landry March 9, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Read book back in 1949 believe written by Max Pruss, the captain. In it he stated they filled all bags with Hydrogen and in the USA they had to fill the four bags over the smoking room with helium (our rules). His response was that the airship was more sluggish on the way back. You talk of the ballast dropped.
Helium has only one half the lifting force of hydrogen so it seems the airship was originally calculated for hydrogen. or they could drag an American locomotive for ballast using hydrogen instead of helium

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Dan (Airships.net) March 10, 2010 at 7:57 am

The Hindenburg was never inflated with any helium at all, since the DZR never obtained any helium from the United States; LZ-129 was inflated completely with hydrogen throughout the ship’s career.

A helium airship is not more sluggish than one inflated with hydrogen, since as long as a ship is in static equilibrium it have essentially the same performance regardless of its lifting gas. (There would be a theoretical difference in mass, but it would be a relatively small percentage of overall mass.)

With regard to the relative lifting ability of HE and H, while helium is half as light as hydrogen, it does not have half the lifting power. Helium has approximately twice the atomic weight of hydrogen but it has 93% of hydrogen’s lifting ability (not 50%) because lift is determined by the relative weight of lifting gas to air.

I hope this is helpful!

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Rajib Bandopadhyay June 12, 2010 at 8:31 am

The explanation could have been simpler.
What Dan says is true, because Hydrogen has one proton, while Helium has two protons and two neutrons. Hydrogen has an atomic weight of 1.00794. Helium has an atomic weight of 4.002602. This makes Helium atom four times heavier than hydrogen atom. See wikipedia links:
But hydrogen is never available in its atomic form. It is always in its molecular form. Which is why Helium gas is only twice as heavy as hydrogen gas.
Density of Hydrogen is (0 °C, 101.325 kPa), 0.08988 g/L, whereas, Density of Helium is (0 °C, 101.325 kPa) 0.1786 g/L, which means the ratio of density of hydrogen to that of helium is 0.50324748, or half. Inverted, the ratio of density of helium to that of hydrogen is 1.987093903, or two.
If we compare density of either of the gases in relation to air, the density of air being same, helium must have the half the lifting power of hydrogen.

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Rajib Bandopadhyay June 12, 2010 at 12:00 pm

The density of air at sea level is about 1.2 kg/m3 (1.2 g/L). Recall that Density of Hydrogen is (0 °C, 101.325 kPa), 0.08988 g/L, whereas, Density of Helium is (0 °C, 101.325 kPa) 0.1786 g/L. So, air is about 13.35 times as dense as hydrogen, and about 6.72 times as dense as helium.

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Thomas July 21, 2010 at 5:15 am

A balloon with 1m3 of helium could lift 1.2kg – 0.1786kg = 1,0214kg

A balloon with 1m3 of hydrogen could lift 1.2kg – 0.08988kg = 1.11012kg

Thus using helium instead of hydrogen only reduces the lifting force by 8%.

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valdemar January 20, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Apologies if you’ve dealt with this elsewhere, but why wasn’t blau gas used to fuel the Hindenburg if it was such a success for the Graf Zeppelin? Especially since the later ship had such a vastly increased gas capacity. Why use diesel and experiment with hydrogen burning motors when a solution to the buoyancy issue was right there?

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Dan (Airships.net) January 24, 2010 at 10:14 am

The Hindenburg was originally designed to operate with Helium, and there would have been no point in using safe helium for lift while filling half the ship with flammable Blau gas, so Hindenburg was designed from the very beginning to use liquid fuel.

But more importantly, if my description of the Graf Zeppelin left the impression that Blau gas was a safe solution the the weight compensation problem, that was my error; I apologize, and I will revise the Graf Zeppelin page to correct that misinformation. In fact, the use of Blau gas was quite hazardous, and many people believe Graf Zeppelin’s Blau gas presented a greater danger to safety than the ship’s hydrogen.

The gas cells of the zeppelin era were not impermeable and always leaked to some extent even during normal operation; small tears and other very minor leaks were also common. Since Blau gas has a similar density to air, escaping Blau gas did not rise like hydrogen, but rather settled to the bottom of the hull, including the keel and the gondola itself, and could even flow out toward the engines. Settling Bau gas was an even bigger problem when the ship was on the ground, and especially inside an enclosed hangar, since there was no flow of air to carry the gas away.

It should always be remembered that Graf Zeppelin was basically an experimental “proof of concept” design, and that the design of ship was limited by practical considerations such as the size of the construction shed at Friedrichshafen. While a clever response to these limitations in some ways, Blau gas had never before been used in a zeppelin, and it would never be used again.

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valdemar January 24, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Thanks Dan, that’s the first time I’ve read a clear explanation of why it didn’t catch on. Brilliant site – keep up the good work.

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Goldie January 20, 2010 at 11:52 am

I have 2 pieces of the girders. Is there anyway these pieces can be authenicated without pics? Type of aluminum, rivets, etc.

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Fred Jackson October 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm

A good photo would be a good start.

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Hendrick Stoops June 24, 2013 at 10:27 am

This is probably a bit late but, I’ve heard experts say that most girders from the Hindenburg will have a blue patina (the girders were painted blue)

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Dan June 24, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Thanks, Hendrick. Good comment. Yes, the girders were originally bright blue from protective lacquer.

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bill hinman October 9, 2009 at 10:28 pm

i am trying to find out if the hindenburg flew off course around may of 1937? i witness an airship over Massena, new york around that time. I distinctly remember seeing a large swastika on the rear fin?

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John November 26, 2009 at 11:01 pm

According to the discovery show, it took a detour over New York to wait for the weather to clear at the landing site.
Look at this:
http://videos.howstuffworks.com/discovery/29166-assignment-discovery-hindenburg-tragedy-video.htm

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Dan (Airships.net) November 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

The video is not correct; Hindenburg passed over New York City before reaching Lakehurst, following its normal flight path. After reaching Lakehurst, the ship waited out the weather by flying over the New Jersey coast and Atlantic Ocean near the towns of Asbury Park/Toms River, and the ship did not return to New York City before attempting to land at Lakehurst.

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Alan David May 6, 2011 at 3:59 pm

Don’t forget that Hindenburg made a sightseeing trip over upstate New York trying to attract investors for Goodyear-Zeppelin in her first season.

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Arthur September 25, 2009 at 10:48 pm

Thanks for the extremely detailed history of this magnificant airship!

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