Hindenburg Flight Operations and Procedures

An overview of flight operations and flight procedures of the airship Hindenburg.

[To learn about the “hardware” of flight — the flight instruments and controls — visit the Hindenburg Control Car page.]
Ludwig Felber at Hindenburg's Helm

Rudderman Ludwig Felber at Hindenburg’s Helm

  • Flight Procedures and Controls
    • Normal Cruise Altitude
    • Normal Cruise Speed
    • Heading Control
    • Pitch and Altitude Control
    • Automatic Pilot
    • Elevator and Rudder Inputs
    • Static Equilibirum
    • Valving, Replenishment, and Purity of Hydrogen
  • Navigation
    • Dead Reckoning
    • Pressure Pattern Navigation
  • The Officers and Crew
    • List of Flight Crew Positions
    • Watches
    • Organization and Coordination of the Flight Crew
    • The Zeppelin Culture of Responsibility and Independence
    • Landing Procedures

Flight Procedures and Controls

Normal Cruise Altitude

View from A Deck windows off the coast of Spain

View from A Deck windows off the coast of Spain

Hindenburg had a normal cruising altitude of 200 meters (650 feet), but was often flown much lower to stay below the clouds.  Hindenburg’s officers believed it was important to observe cloud formations before entering them, to be able to assess the nature of the clouds and avoid thunderstorms, and Hindenburg flew as low as 100 meters (330 feet) when necessary to stay below the clouds.

It was also a fundamental premise of zeppelin operations taught by Hugo Eckener that ships should avoid traveling close to their pressure height, because of the possibility of ascending above pressure height and valving hydrogen, which always presented a certain risk of fire, especially in electrically charged environments.

Hindenburg’s low cruising altitude also provided passengers with spectacular views.

Normal Cruise Speed

Hindenburg’s engines were operated at a cruise setting of 1350 RPM during passenger operations, giving the ship an airspeed of approximately 125 km/h (approx. 67 knots, or 76 MPH), and this setting was rarely adjusted during a normal passenger flight.

Hindenburg’s normal cruise setting produced 820 h.p. and consumed 130 kg/hr of diesel fuel.  If needed, Hindenburg’s engines could be operated up to 1520 RPM for full power, which produced 1050 h.p. and consumed 180 kg/hr of fuel.

Heading Control

Hindenburg’s heading was controlled by its rudders, which were manipulated by the helmsman (or rudderman), whose primary job was to keep the ship on its assigned heading.

The rudderman stood at the front of the control room, facing forward, and steered by reference to a repeater compass mounted in front of the wheel, which was controlled by the master gyroscopic compass located on the ship’s electrical room.  The rudder station also had a magnetic compass, and pointers indicating the angle of deflection of the upper and lower rudders.

Pitch and Altitude Control

Hindenburg’s pitch was controlled by the ship’s elevators, which were manipulated by the elevatorman, whose primary job was to keep the ship as level as possible, primarily in the interest of passenger comfort.

Hindenburg's Elevator Wheel

Hindenburg’s Elevator Wheel

The elevatorman was also expected to keep the ship at its assigned altitude whenever possible, but a much higher priority was placed on maintaining level trim than holding a fixed altitude.  Pitch angles exceeding 5 degrees were considered to cause discomfort to passengers (an angle of 8 degrees or more would cause cups and glasses to slide off tables), and also increased fuel consumption, and Hindenburg’s officers also believed that steep angles of pitch placed a strain on the ship’s structure.  Elevatormen were therefore expected to keep the ship as level as possible, even if it meant deviation from the assigned altitude, or required severe control inputs to counter the movement of the ship.

The elevatorman maneuvered his wheel partly by the feel of the ship, but primarily by reference to the instruments on the elevator panel, which included pointers to indicate elevator deflection and inclinometers to indicate the ship’s pitch.  Each inclinometer was a curved glass tube containing a bubble which moved with changes in pitch, on the same principle as a carpenter’s level.  The elevatorman was expected to “chase the bubble,” in other words, to spin the elevator wheel so his reference pointers chased the bubble in the inclinometer to keep the ship level.

Hindenburg's Elevator Panel

Hindenburg’s Elevator Panel

The elevatorman also maintained a continuous scan on the other instruments on his panel, which displayed information about factors which would influence the ships’s pitch and altitude.  These instruments included thermometers indicating ambient and gas cell temperatures, a hygrometer indicating humidity, a statoscope indicating small changes in altitude, a variometer (or vertical speed indicator) indicating the ship’s rate of climb or descent, and an altimeter.

Automatic Pilot

Hindenburg was equipped with a gyroscopic compass and automatic pilot system made by the Anschutz Company of Kiel, which used servo motors guided by the ship’s gyro compass to control the rudder and elevators and maintain the ship’s heading and pitch.

Anschutz gyro compass, located just outside Electrical Room.

Anschutz gyro compass, located just outside Electrical Room.

The master gyroscopic compass was located in a compartment just forward of the electrical room and controlled five repeater compasses (one at the rudder station, three in the navigation room, and one at rear of the control car).

The Anschutz automatic pilot system, after some initial adjustments, was accurate and effective, and in smooth weather it could hold a straighter course, and with application of smaller rudder angles (usually less than 3 degrees), than could be done by an experienced helmsman.  When calm conditions prevailed, the auto-pilot sometimes remained engaged for as long as 40 hours.

The system was used only in calm conditions and at higher altitudes; when rough weather was encountered, or when the ship was operated closer to the ground, the system was disengaged and the elevators and rudders were manipulated by hand.

Elevator and Rudder Inputs

There were no specific procedures limiting the rate or angle of rudder and elevator deflection.  While there was a general understanding among the crew that full ruddder and elevator inputs should be used judiciously, especially in rough air, the controls were sometimes put hard over as rapidly as the wheels could be spun.

Sharp turns were occasionally made without significant concern for possible strain on the ship, and rudder angles up to and exceeding 15 degrees were observed.  For example, a memo by U.S. Navy observer Lt. Cdr. Francis Reichelderfer described a flight on Hindenburg in August, 1936, and noted:

Rudder Wheel

Rudder Wheel and Gyro Compass Repeater

During the flight over Washington Captain Lehmann was asked by a passenger to change course to pass over a spot which was close aboard. In response to Captain Lehmann’s orders to the steerman full rudder angle was applied with maximum possibly speed with no apparent questions by any of the officers in the control car. The air at the time was very rough…. My impression from that observation is that the ship was turned in the rough air typical of a summer afternoon overland, as sharply as a turn could be made and that the maneuver which appeared to me to be undesirably rough use of the controls was taken as a matter of course by the several Hindenburg officers in the control car.

The elevators were also frequently put hard over when necessary to keep the ship level, and Hindenburg’s officers believed (perhaps erroneously) that steep angles of pitch placed more strain on the ship than the hard maneuvering sometimes required to avoid them.

Kurt Bauer at the elevator wheel, as seen from the Navigation Room.

Kurt Bauer at the elevator wheel, as seen from the Navigation Room.

Applying sufficient elevator input to keep the ship in trim often required great physical effort, and a U.S. Navy observer, Lt. (j.g.) M. F. D. Flaherty, reported:

On several occasions the elevatorman was seen to change elevator angle from fifteen degrees up to fifteen degrees down just as fast as he could spin the wheel. Flying under bumpy conditions required a great deal of physical exertion…. After about twenty minutes on the elevator the operator became soaked with perspiration… In order to reach eighteen degrees up elevator angle to counteract a down inclination of the ship it seemed to take all the strength that the operator could apply… The maximum angle of inclination the ship assumed…was about five degrees up by the bow.”

Maintenance of Static Equilibrium

While Hindenburg usually began a transatlantic flight with its full capacity of slightly more than 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen, it usually landed with between 5 and 6 million cubic feet of gas remaining in its cells.

Hindenburg’s watch officers attempted to keep the ship from flying more than three degrees heavy or two degrees light, and the ship was generally flown within a half degree of static equilibrium; valving hydrogen during flight was an important part of that process.

Hindenburg's Gas Board, from which hydrogen could be valved.

Hindenburg’s Gas Board, where hydrogen was monitored and valved.

The officers paid considerable attention to keeping the ship in equilibrium to avoid the need for steep angles of pitch, which would disturb the passengers, decrease speed, increase fuel consumption, and strain the ship.  Having a level ship with full elevator control in both directions also made it safer to fly at lower altitudes, and since Hindenburg frequently flew only a few hundred feet above the surface, to stay under clouds and observe weather conditions in the ship’s path, it was considered especially important to keep the ship in static equilibrium.  And Hugo Eckener had long warned airshipmen of the danger of driving a ship “dynamically to death; that is, to demand so much of her dynamically that in the event of a…stoppage of the motors the static resources will not suffice to keep her airborne.”

Since an airship becomes lighter as it burns fuel during flight, in order to maintain static equilibrium it is necessary either to generate additional ballast or to release lifting gas.  Hindenburg’s engines were not equipped with water-recovery equipment (to create water from engine exhaust), and the ship’s system of rain gutters did not provide a reliable supply of ballast.

Without a dependable source of additional ballast, gas was valved freely to maintain equilibrium, and the ship routinely valved up to 1.5 million cubic feet of hydrogen during a North Atlantic crossing.

Valving, Replenishment, and Purity of Hydrogen

Hindenburg’s liberal valving of hydrogen to maintain level trim required the addition of about 20% fresh hydrogen every seven to ten days, which increased operational expenses, but had the benefit of maintaining the ship’s lifting gas at a high level of purity.

Maintaining a high level of purity (in other words, avoiding contamination of hydrogen by air) was an important safety feature in dealing with the flammable gas; pure hydrogen is difficult to ignite, but hydrogen mixed with air is highly volatile, so the purity of the gas was closely monitored.


Hindenburg navigated across the ocean primarily by means of dead reckoning; celestial navigation was rarely used, and when sightings were taken they were almost always for training and instruction rather than for navigation. Hindenburg was also equipped with direction finding equipment which could take fixes on radio stations on land or at sea to confirm the ship’s position, but radio navigation over the ocean at the time was rather primitive, and it was not considered nearly as accurate as dead reckoning.

Dead Reckoning

Hindenburg’s extremely precise dead reckoning was made possible by the accuracy of the ship’s drift measuring equipment and gyroscopic compass, and by the fact that the ship generally flew at a regular speed; Hindenburg’s engines were operated at a cruise setting of 1350 RPM during the course of a passenger flight, and this setting was rarely altered during flight.

Pressure Pattern Navigation

Like Graf Zeppelin, Hindenburg often used the technique of pressure pattern navigation which had been pioneered by Hugo Eckener during LZ-126’s crossing to America. Pressure pattern navigation takes advantage of the Coriolis effect, which causes wind to circulate in a counter-clockwise rotation around areas of low pressure in the northern hemisphere. During a westbound crossing of the north Atlantic, therefore, an airship can pick up a tail wind by skirting the northern edge of a storm, and during an eastbound crossing the ship can do the same thing by skirting the southern edge of a storm. Rather than avoid storms and fronts completely, therefore, Hindenburg’s officers frequently took advantage of them to increase speed and efficiency.

Ernst Lehmann and Knut Eckener examining charts in Hindenburg's Navigation Room. (The eyepiece of the Zeiss drift measuring telescope can be seen beneath Lehmann's shoulder.)

Ernst Lehmann and Knut Eckener examining charts in Hindenburg’s Navigation Room. (The eyepiece of the Zeiss drift measuring telescope can be seen beneath Lehmann’s shoulder.)

The Weather

The weather was perhaps the single most important factor in zeppelin operations.  As Captain Lehmann once told a group of passengers on a tour, the meterological space “is where our mental processes begin; we study the weather and then we plan our flights.”

Weather Maps

During a north Atlantic crossing, the officers of Hindenburg drew four weather maps a day, based on information received by radio from land stations and ships at sea, as analyzed and relayed by the Deutsche Seewarte at Hamburg and radio station NAA of the United States Weather Bureau.  Hindenburg would also contact ships sailing over its intended course for additional weather information, and a chart showing the location of seagoing vessels on the Atlantic was maintained for this purpose.

Hindenburg’s officers spent much time preparing the daily weather maps and consulted them extensively while flying the ship.  The first duty of an officer beginning his watch was to make a detailed study of the most recent weather map.

The officers used these maps both to avoid dangerous fronts and squalls when possible, but also to take advantage of storms to increase speed and efficiency through the technique of pressure pattern navigation.

Two of the daily maps were large scale, covering the entire area from the interior of the United States to Russia, while two of the maps were less extensive, and covered primarily the Atlantic ocean.  The relative scarcity and frequent inaccuracy of the weather reports passed on by ships at sea, however, was a source of of difficulty for the officers relying on this information to chart the weather.


While the German officers generally viewed Hindenburg as an all-weather ship, they were very sensitive to the danger of thunderstorms and generally kept their ship below the clouds so they could observe and assess threatening clouds before entering them.  In Hugo Eckener’s 1919 instruction guide for zeppelin operations (the closest thing the crew of the Hindenburg had to a flight manual), Eckener stated:  “The fundamental principle covering squalls and thunderstorms is:  If possible, avoid such cloud formations!”

Thunderstorms presented two principal risks; the potential for structural damage, and the possible ignition of hydrogen by electrical activity.  The Germans were very sensitive to the possibility of structural damage caused by the violent convective activity in and around thunderstorms (such as the structural failure which destroyed the USS Shenandoah).  The Hindenburg’s officers were also aware of the danger posed by thunderstorms when operating with hydrogen as a lifting gas.  Since the strong updrafts of a thunderstorm could cause the ship to rise above pressure height, resulting in the automatic release of flammable hydrogen in an electrically charged environment, Hindenburg’s officers generally went to great lengths to avoid operating in or near thunderstorms, and one of Hugo Eckener’s basic operating rules was that a zeppelin should never valve hydrogen in a thunderstorm.

Hindenburg Flight Manual

No flight or operations manual exists for the Hindenburg or the Graf Zeppelin, and neither the DZR (German Zeppelin Transport Company), which operated the Hindenburg, nor the LZ (Zeppelin Construction Company) which built the Hindenburg and built and operated the Graf Zeppelin, ever prepared a manual for operational or training purposes.  There was no formal ground school for flight personnel, and all training was done by the apprentice method.

A flight manual was apparently in the process of being prepared at the time of the Hindenburg disaster; in a memo dated August 23, 1936, U.S. Navy officer Garland Fulton described a conversation with Ernst Lehmann about crew recruitment and training and noted:  “The new manual on airship, which has been in preparation by the Germans for some time, is not yet complete.  Captain Lehmann hopes to see its completion next winter.  Meanwhile, the old manual prepared in 1918 by Dr. Eckener (“Brief notes and practical hints for the piloting of Zeppelin Airships”) is still a good guide as to German doctrines and practices…. There is no ‘ground school’ as such.”

An operations manual was not really needed by the flight personnel of the Hindenburg, since most of the officers and crew had been flying on zeppelins for decades (many began their zeppelin careers during World War I, and a few had even worked for the DELAG in the years before 1914).  Training was all done hands-on, with new crew members learning their jobs from experienced hands.  And the Hindenburg was also, in many ways, an experimental aircraft; it was the first in its proposed class, and was used as a flying laboratory for the development and testing of both equipment and procedures.  If the planned expansion of the zeppelin fleet had taken place, more formalized training and reference materials would have been required, based on lessons learned from the Hindenburg, and these materials were apparently being prepared.

The DZR did have a “Crew Manual,” but it only briefly mentions operational matters (e.g. job descriptions for the elevator and rudden men, a list of landing station assignments by position, and a description of the Standby Watch duties of various crew members).  Most of the Crew Manual discusses matters such as rank insignias and detailed uniform requirements and allowances (senior officers received RM 100 to purchase uniforms from a tailor of their choosing), and certain rules and regulations (“In using the wash rooms and toilets, every one should be careful to be neat and clean”).

The Officers and Crew

Hindenburg, like all large rigid airships, was not piloted like an airplane or a blimp, but commanded like an ocean-going vessel. Flying the Hindenburg was a complex operation which required the coordinated efforts of many individuals to operate and maintain the airship, monitor and respond to the weather, and navigate across long distances.

Captain Ernst Lehmann (center), Captain Heinrich Bauer (right), and Watch Officer Knut Eckener (far right) in Hindenburg's Control Room

Captain Ernst Lehmann (center), Captain Heinrich Bauer (right), and Watch Officer Knut Eckener (far right) in Hindenburg’s Control Room

The Flight Crew

The ship was flown by a minimum flight crew of 39 officers and men (not including passenger service personnel such as cooks and stewards) under the command of the captain:

  • Captain
  • 3 Watch Officers
  • 3 Navigators
  • 3 Ruddermen (helmsmen)
  • 3 Elevatormen
  • Chief Rigger (Sailmaker)
  • 3 Riggers (Sailmakers)
  • Chief Radio Officer
  • 3 Assistant Radio Operators
  • Chief Engineer
  • 3 Engineers
  • 12 Machinists/Mechanics (assigned to engine cars)
  • Chief Electrician
  • 2 Assistant Electricians

In addition to the flight crew, the ship’s passengers were served by a Chief Steward, a Chief Cook, and 10-12 stewards and assistant cooks. Hindenburg also began carrying a doctor in 1937.

Crew Watches

The ship’s personnel stood watches, as aboard a surface vessel. The watch officers, radio officers, engineering officers, and most other personnel stood a 4 hour watch, then had 4 hours of rest, and then spent 4 hours on standby watch (Pikett-Wache). Certain crew members stood 2 hour watches during the day and 3 hour watches at night, when conditions were generally calmer; these included the rudder men and elevator men, whose jobs were both mentally taxing and physically exhausting; the mechanics, who dealt with the noise and vibration of the engine cars; and the riggers, who prowled the ship inspecting and repairing gas cells, covering fabric, and other structural elements.

Crew members were assigned secondary duties during their standby watch; for example, the Radio Officer was responsible for handling the mail and making lists of passengers, the 1st rudder man was responsible for maintenance of the crew’s living and sleeping quarters , etc.

As on a surface vessel, the commanding officer stood no watch, but was of course always available.

Organization and Coordination of the Flight Crew

The flight crew was divided into two divisions; the navigation department (similar to the deck department on a steamship), who worked in and around the control car, and who were responsible for flying and navigating the ship (this group included the captain, watch officers, elevatormen, ruddermen, and radio operators), and the engineering department, who worked in the hull and engine cars of the ship, and who were responsible for the gas cells, power plant, fuel and ballast supply, and the structure of the ship (this group included the engineers, mechanics, electricians, and riggers). [Passenger services were provided by the stewards, headed by Chief Steward Heinrich Kubis, and the cooks, headed by Chief Cook Xaver Maier.]

Chief Engineer Rudolf Sauter at the engine telepgraphs in the Engineering Room along the keel.

Chief Engineer Rudolf Sauter

There was a distinct division between the two departments, who worked more or less autonomously under their respective chiefs, with surprisingly sparse communication about operational matters. In general, the captain and watch officers confined their attention to matters of navigation and flight control, and had confidence that the engineering department would keep the rest of the ship in excellent operating condition without much direct oversight. For example, one U.S. Navy observer noticed that when an engine was stopped during flight, the watch officers seldom asked the engineering officer to explain the cause of the stoppage, but were content simply with the engineer’s estimate of how long the engine would be out of service.

Crew responsibilities sometimes varied from the official job descriptions, however, in recognition of the backgrounds and specialties of particular individuals. For example, Captain Albert Sammt, who served as a Watch Officer, had years of experience with the construction and maintenance of gas cells and fabric covering, and so Chief Rigger Ludwig Knorr, in the engineering department, reported to Captain Sammt, in the navigation department. (Sammt and Knorr, along with Knut Eckener and Hans Ladwig, were the riggers who repaired the torn fin covering during Graf Zeppelin’s first flight to America.)

The Zeppelin Culture of Responsibility and Independence

There was, in general, a great deal of independence, autonomy, and discretion entrusted to individual members of the Hindenburg’s crew. For example, watch officers had the authority to valve gas, drop ballast, change the ship’s assigned altitude, and even alter course without the direct involvement of the captain. Of course, Hindenburg’s senior officers all had decades of service in zeppelins, and watch officers were generally qualified as airship captains themselves. Similarly, elevatormen were usually highly experienced, and were given wide discretion in the performance of their duties, as were ruddermen.

Landing Procedures

The way landings were conducted in the control car exemplified the independence and responsibility entrusted to the ship’s senior officers: Landing orders were given and executed by three watch officers acting on their own initiative, with the ship’s captain observing the landing evolution as a whole. Each officer, as well as the elevatorman and rudderman, had considerable discretion in performing his individual duties, and the commanding officer seldom issued a direct order. The captain observed the entire operation as a whole, but generally intervened only in the case of difficulty or if he disagreed with the actions of his officers.

Several of the United States Navy officers who flew as observers on the Hindenburg described the landing procedure, which was notably different from the procedure followed aboard American naval airships, in which the commanding officer actively directed the landing.

Lt. J.D. Reppy, who flew on four transatlantic flights of the Hindenburg, wrote:

Captain Lehmann of course would be on the bridge for the landing but generally acted in the capacity of observer and only gave an order when he considered that [some] phase of the landing was not going as it should. One officer handled the engines and he used his own judgment as to slowing, stopping, or backing the engines to have little or no ground speed at the instant of landing. Another officer had charge of the ballast and here also he exercised his own judgment as to when to drop ballast and also as to when to valve hydrogen…. The remaining officer coached the elevator man as to altitude and sometimes would order the ship valved if it appeared necessary. He also watched the rudderman to some extent but in general the rudderman maneuvered the ship himself, as necessary, to keep in the wind and pointed towards the landing point.

A similar description was provided by Lt. Cmdr. Francis Gilmer, who was an observer during four other transatlantic flights:

At “take offs” and “landings” the three senior watch officers are in the control car, in addition to the Commanding Officer. The officer with the watch is charged with the maneuver and one of the other watch officers directs the use of the elevators, the valving of gas and the dropping of ballast; the remaining watch officer directs the rudderman. There is excellent team work between the three. The Commanding Officer is of course in charge but seldom issues and order.

A Note About Sources:

As discussed above, the DZR (German Zeppelin Transport Company), which operated the Hindenburg, never produced a flight manual describing airship operations.  The information on this page has been pieced together from a number of sources, including contemporary flight logs, photographs, the DZR Crew Manual, and Hugo Eckener‘s 1919 flight manual for the DELAG, and most importantly, on the reports and memoranda produced by American Navy officers who flew on the Hindenburg as observers, as well as the reminiscences and observations recorded by German zeppelin officers and by Harold Dick, the American representative of the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company who was based in Friedrichshafen and flew on numerous flights of the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin.

41 Comments on "Hindenburg Flight Operations and Procedures"

  1. luis nascimento | April 2, 2016 at 10:40 pm | Reply

    Dear Dan, Congrats… wonderful

    I have just missed how LZ129 HINDENBURG took off prodecures were…?

  2. i love the hindenburg as well as basic airship history. this website should have a section on the french dixmude

  3. Lewis P. Klein.Jr. | February 24, 2015 at 1:55 pm | Reply

    I imagine that Herman Goering had his “Told you so” since his idea of flight was strictly motorized, machine operated flight, not principally air.

    Also, in 1937 the Studka dive bombers were getting ready to show off in Spain’s
    Civil War.

    Lew Klein, Jr

  4. As retired merchant marine captain I was very interested in navigation and “ship-handling” of the airships. My grandfather was a radio telegraph operator at the RCA Radiomarine station WCC in Chatham, Mass. I recall his telling me of working r/t traffic with the Hindenburg in the 1939’s. My mother told me of her school class going outside in the yard to watch the airship fly overhead on its way to NJ.
    As a child I was always fascinated with the airships as well as the Titanic. I suspect many airship afficianados are also Titanic nuts as well. Later in my career I was privileged to be master of the R/V Knorr during the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. Kind regards, Rich Bowen, Pocasset Mass.

  5. Bring back the civillian airship. This website is awesome and inspiring. Thank you!

    • There is a market for the passenger airship but only as a alternate. not a competitive means of long distance travel. The jet liner is supreme at carrying large quantities of passengers rapidly, efficiently and inexpensively long distances at the cost of legroom, service and in the case of the TSA – personal dignity.

      The passenger carrying airship will offer overnight service where a two hour jetliner would do the same run. The overnight run would be at 500 feet altitude versus 38,000 feet. The airship would quietly purr over the coastline and rooftops while jetliners leave contrails high above. The passenger will fall asleep in their own bed staring at the moon reflecting off the ocean below. The passenger will dine at a table with a tablecloth, not a fold down tray compromised by the passenger sitting in front of you choosing to recline their seat. It would offer a civilized and stylish method of getting there that becomes an extension of the vacation, not merely a means to get there.

  6. I’ve been pondering the idea of using solar panels and electric motors to propel a helium filled Zeppelin to save weight. I mean in today’s world with the technology we have on hand and the rising cost of fuel it would seem entirely possible for airships to make a comeback.

  7. Just say thanks for this amazing information.
    Congratulations for your website!

  8. How did the technicians moved on the causeway inside the (hydrogen filled) hull?

    Great site btw 🙂

    • They walked. 🙂

      The ship was inflated with 16 individual gas cells. Crew members could walk along the keel and axial catwalk, and climb inside the ventilation shafts.

      Thanks for the kind words!

  9. Fantastic website!
    I would appreciate info on how H2 was generated in large quantities (chemically? electrically?), how it was stored, how the gas bladders were made impermeable, how much the zepellins leaked H2, how they measured purity, what was the cost of replenishing, etc. etc. etc.
    Thanks for a great read!!!!

  10. I earlier commented that the Graf must have refilled with H2 during its around-the-world flight, but I forgot that because it used Blau Gas instead of Diesel fuel, there was little change in weight in flight since Blau Gas is almost the same density as air. So, no refills needed.

    • I beleive the Graf also carried liquid fuel in addition to the Blau gas. The Graf’s engines ran on that gas and gasoline or petrol, not diesel like the Hindenburg’s engines did. The Graf carried on one flight (No 366) from Germany to Pernambuco gasoline for 20 hours of powered flight which weighed 8040 kg. The remaining fuel was 19,000 cbm of Blau gas, with a minimal weight, that provided the Graf’s engines about 76 hours of powered flight.

  11. Debbie Olenik | March 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    I have always been interested in zepplelin’s. I’ve always thought it would make a wonderful trip if they were to make them again with safer fuel. I would love to travel in one and get beautiful views. I can keep on wishing I suppose.

  12. Having worked with hydrogen at AirResearch in Phoenix durng a study of hypersonic
    flight with supersonic combustion ramjets (Scramjets) I was suprised to learn that
    the crash and burning of the Hindenburg misled many observers of the photos taken
    to believe that the burning was highly visible. Actually it was invisible to the human
    eye but visible in movies because of the broader spectrum capability of movie film.

    • Take my word, for it, the flame was very visible to the human eye! I was standing at the street corner near the Administration building with my parents- I was 9 years old. We watched it explode, the flames and debris went way up and then appeared to come down on top of us. My Mom and I ran down the street a ways but the embers went out before reaching us. I realize that H2 burns with an invisible flame, but it had to burn through the gas bags so the smoldering fabric contributed color to the flame – mostly white as I recall, not yellow as some pictures have been colorized. I have a Hindenburg PowerPoint show on my website -“Remembering the Hindenburg”.

      • archie kelley | May 6, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply

        Thanks for your info, Bill. My experience with
        hydrogen combustion was with a fire in our 10,000
        gallon tank at an AiResearch test facility a t the
        San Tan Indian Reservation near Phoenix. It was
        invisible to our eyes but showed bright yellow in
        color movies. I agree that the burning fabric would have been quite visible in the Hindenberg disaster.
        Color film is also misleading when one takes shots
        of underwater marine life. The fish are beautiful
        on film but disappointing when viewed while scuba

        • victor.vasas | August 2, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply

          The fish looks pale and colorless when scuba diving because seewater absorbes the red and yellow light very quicly and only the green, and blue remains. Even the color film can’t see that. However they are colorful on the nature movies, because they use powerful lights close up which replaces these absorbed wave lengths. Color film have the same or similar red, green, blue color receptors as we do in our eyes, so if they can’t show the color it is not there.

      • Ken Rumbarger | May 21, 2013 at 6:37 am | Reply

        I don’t know how long ago I read the information, so I don’t know if it had come out at the time of these comments, but I read that an analyst obtained samples of the Hindenburg’s exterior skin and found that it was coated with ingredients including powdered aluminum; he compared the formula to that used for solid rocket boosters for the US space shuttle fleet. The article also alleged that company documents revealed that the builders, (LZ, presumably), were well aware of the mixture’s flammability and covered it up carefully for years. It was therefore alleged that the rapid expansion of the fire exceeded what would have come from hydrogen alone.

      • Ken Rumbarger | May 21, 2013 at 6:45 am | Reply

        It is interesting that you tell about being there with your parents. My mother, who would have been just short of 11 years old and lived in either Philadelphia or Margate, NJ, (I believe the Margate house was a summer residence and I’m not sure when it became year-round), said that her stepfather took the family up in their open touring car to view the landing and that they were practically passing under it when the fire began. She never said anything about debris coming down on top of them but perhaps the car was able to get out of the way before it fell.

  13. how long could a zeppelin stay aloft?

  14. I’m currently at university for Aerospace Engineering and I have an unconventional end goal of being directly involved in airship development. I’ve always been fascinated by the crafts. I recently found this site and the comprehensive history of Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg. This is fantastic! Thanks, Dan.

  15. Paul Giguere | April 8, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Reply

    I am a retired AF navigator (B-29 to B-52). I saw the Hindenberg when I was about 10 years old so it must have been 1936-37. We kids were playing baseball in the small town of Brooklyn, Connecticut when we became aware of the sound of many engines. Then we caught sight of this huge majestic silver airship slowly crossing over us. It was very low probably only 3 to 4 thousand feet. We could see every detail plainly. Needless to say, we were rendered speechless for the whole passage but would never forget this day.

    • The Hindenburg’s pressure altitude was about 800 feet so they normally flew 650 feet down to about 200 feet. Glad you caught site of that magnificent airship.

  16. Diesel engines! Cheaper to run than the jet planes of today? I suspect that in the liquid fuels crunch coming upon the U.S.A. as we speak, the dirigibles will fly again, and time = money equation will come into play as the burgeoning Asian growth demands a larger slice of the finite supply of oil to the world. Expect America to feed its electric bullet train network, seeded by Obama in Florida, until no jet planes fly, and look to heavy haulers, the diesel dirigibles to relieve the road-ways of transports – after all, the dirigibles go in shorter straight lines! As oil prices sneak up, we adapt to the tipping point, then a rash of alternate technologies take over. We are limited in the amount of oil we can purchase by our personal EROI’s which are much lower than expected without out our cheap oil leverage. Suffice to say the tipping points are near, the electric bullet trains are being prepared, the Zeppelins are on the drawing boards and America is about to convulse in paradigm shifts away from liquid fuels and towards solar, wind, wave, hydro, tidal, geothermal, nuclear generated electric energy in a big way!

  17. Norman Langridge | February 11, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Reply

    Would appreciate a more detailed procedures of how the ship is housed into its hanger. I assume that it would be impossible to achieve a perfect weightless situation and take it that once the ship is ‘anchored’ to the ground it is then given a degree of lift. A recently seen film suggests that there were parallel tracks leading away from the hangers and it may well be that these had trolleys on them which would keep the ship down, but allow lateral movement into the hanger. Dangling ropes themselves would have weight of course and once they touched the ground their weight would decrease as the ship got lower and this would help achieve a balanced scenerio.

    • I have been meaning to add a section describing this procedure in detail, but I am unfortunately limited by a lack of time. It’s definitely on my “to do” list, though!

      • Norman Langridge | June 6, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Reply

        Many thanks Dan, I look forward to reading this once you have found the time to expand on this fascinating, but essential part of the airship story.

    • As Dan described above, they normally held the ship close to zero balance by valving H2 as fuel burning lightened the load. When landing at Lakehurst, they fastened the nose to the mooring mast in a “mooring circle” which had a cart that attached to the rear of the shop and allowed it to weather vane so it faced the prevailing wind. You can also see a track leading to Hangar No. 1 which I presume enabled them to pull the ship into the hangar. You can see the mooring circle and the H-burg partly in the hangar on the PowerPoint show on my site at http://SkillmansofAMerica.com/SkillHome.htm, click on Remembering the Hindenburg. My Dad several times was part of the ground crew hauling down the other dirigibles that visited Lakehurst. It takes a crew of several hundred to pull it down and walk it to the mast.

  18. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I spent all last night awake because I have a kidney stone. I thought I would watch the television for most of it because I could not get comfortable.
    I saw a documentary on the Graf Zeplin flying around the globe.
    This morning (feeling a bit better), I thought I would look up ,Eckener on the internet and found this website………..
    Wow !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. Dan, what a great web site. I will get my act together and do a history of flight navigation paper for all to add to or critique,,, as the dirigible fliers were the first to really get aviation into the international arena.

    Good ole’ pilotage and dead reckoning were the first nav techniques, followed by the use of weather pressure patterns for oceanic flights. I have flown pressure pattern in a C-124,,, and note after WWII, we were able to compute at altitude “geostrophic winds.” This they could not do in the dirigibles as they had no radar altimeter and it requires such, plus it requires an autopilot that flies a barometric surface (which all do to this date). So they flew with the pressure induced winds at altitude.

    Of great help till’ this day is the driftmeter. One can with a drift meter determine wind at altitude and ground speed. I call it the poor man’s doppler. Only requirement:you had to be able to see the ground. Over water you got good at wave watching and using the Beaufort scale of wind force;albeit surface wind. Helped a lot when we were considering ditching our plane.

    Please contact me/us at http://www.afnoa.org or at at http://www.usaf-nav-history.com for navigation matters.

    Fun aviation history, Ron Barrett, President Air Force Navigators Observers Association (AFNOA).

  20. I confess to having several addictions — when the chance to combine two of them offered itself, I seized the opportunity. (3D photography, and Zeppelins.) One of my most cherished possessions is a set of stereoviews of both the Graf and the Hindenburg (somewhere around 100 shots). I can literally “run around” both the Graff and the Hindenburg in 3d at any time. The Graff was the ship to ride; though much less spacious in accommodations, the outside window in each cabin was worth it.

    I’ve watched with great interest the NT, hoping for another “cruise ship”. I also feel “100 years too late”; sadly, given the economic state and clear current misdirection, a “cruise ship” likely will never be viable. Also as much of a tragedy was the cancellation of the “Las Vegas” blimp over the Strip after 9/11. I have yet to actually FLY on an LTA. If only I could get the time-machine working — I would be such a bleeding tourist.

    Thank you for an excellent article. I learned things — the automatic pilot was fascinating. It is also exciting to learn there are others with such deep love for the “gas-bags”, a term which does no justice to the graceful silver whales of the sky.

    Often as I fall asleep I’ve wondered how many others dream of sky ships; and the excitement that begins with two simple words:

    “Up Ship!”

    • I have been into airships on and off since I was a kid, and have been reading this website on and off for at least several days now!! I to long for, among many other things, a time machine to go back and be “such a bleeding tourist”!! I to long to see the “graceful silver whales of the sky”!! I certainly do “dream of sky ships”, and I definitely long to hear those two words: “UP SHIP!!

  21. Malcolm Gunstone | October 11, 2009 at 6:45 am | Reply

    As a boy, I saw the Hindenburg or the Graff Zeppelin flying westward over
    Bristol channel U.K. in 1935 or 1936. Others who also saw her say she was the Hindenburg and I remember it was a Sunday, mid afternoon. Is it possible that
    there remains a record of flight schedules for that period, in order that the
    matter could be resolved?

  22. Thank you for such a fantastic article. I love imagining what it was like aboard the mighty Hindenburg.

  23. I’ll have to agree with Roy that airships was the field to be in. One of the things that drew me into airships was the attitude assumed by everyone responsible for running them. It seemed to me that no matter their nationalities or which airship was in question, they all treated each other like a close-knit family. I’ll always say I was born 100 years too late to catch the airships.

    But with the new advent of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin Company’s Zeppelin NT, I think with a little push, the airship obsession of the early 1900’s could be reborn in the early 2000’s

  24. Roy Schickedanz | August 25, 2009 at 11:16 am | Reply


    Nicely done, would have love to have such a website as yours when I was interested in Lighter-than-air.

    The Robinson’s Letters

    was begun as a renew effort in understanding of one’s interest:

    Introduction: I kept the original letters, making phtocopies and placing them ina three hole notebook for easy acess. However, years after my interest in lighter-than-air had waned did I rarely looked at them. Only of late with a renewed interest, I have decided elaborate on that past giving some perspective. Here then as memory can afford are the Robinson’s letters.

    In the early sixties, after reading John Toland’s Ships in the Sky and Gordon Vaeth’s Graf Zeppelin, I wanted to make a positive contribution to lighter-than-air research. In that regard, I contact the Department of Navy, who reply in a letter from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations dated, 29 Sept 1964, indicating that I should contact Mr. Richard K. Smith, living in Hyde Park, Illinois near the University of Chicago. Taking up the suggestion of Rear Admiral E. M. Eller, it led me to take the Illinois Central commuter train to Hydre Park for a face to face meeting.

    It was one of the most exciting days of my youth, walking down the streets of Hyde Park and finally Blackstone, not knowing where the airship stroy would take me.

    The previous year, I had attended the First Aero Historian meeting at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. The meeting was dominated by lighter-than-air presentations. Dr. Douglas H. Robinson, having numerous zeppelin articles in Cross & Cockade Journal and having his The Zeppelin in Combast just published, presented a paper. Hisbook was a definite history of The German Airship Division: all sensing it to be the Bible. Nonetheless, Robinson’s talk was on the last zeppelin riad where Peter Strasser, Leader of Airships was killed aboard the L-70.

    Dr. Robinson electrfieid his audience. Never have I heard a finer talk. When he spoked: you knew that he knew all that was to be known of the German Naval Airship Division. The charisma that Dr. Robinson presented was all powerful and real and I cannot imagine not one person feeling otherwise.

    It certainly made one a beleiver that lighter-than-air was the field to be in and it was.

    Roy D. Schickedanz

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