Control Car, Flight Instruments, and Flight Controls

An overview of the Hindenburg’s flight instruments and flight controls.

[To learn how the ship was flown, visit the Flight Operations page.]

Hindenburg control car  (click to enlarge)

Hindenburg control car (click all images to enlarge)

The Control Car

Hindenburg was navigated and conned from the ship’s control car (“Führergondel”), which was located toward the bow of the airship, at Ring 203.

The control car was divided into three sections; a control room or “bridge” at the front, a navigation room at the center, and a observation room or lounge used for relaxation and conferences.

(The rear portion of the gondola is sometimes incorrectly referred to as a radio room, but the ship’s radio room was actually located just above the gondola, inside the hull, along the keel.)

control-car-diagram-profile

Hindenburg control car, profile view (click to enlarge) Drawing courtesy David Fowler

Hindenburg control car, plan view (click to enlarge)

Hindenburg control car, plan view (click to enlarge) Drawing courtesy David Fowler

Flight Instruments and Flight Controls

Flight Controls

The Hindenburg’s principal flight controls were the rudder and elevator wheels for controlling heading and pitch, the gas board for valving hydrogen, and the ballast board for releasing water ballast.  An engine telegraph transmitted orders to mechanics stationed in each of the four engine cars.

Hindenburg Control Room

Hindenburg Control Room (Ludwig Felber at helm, possibly Knut Eckener to his right). At far left is ballast board, then rudder station with gyro compass repeater, to right of tall figure is the eyepiece of a drift measuring telesope, and to the right is the engine telegraph, axial corridor speaking tube, altimeter, and engine instruments; to the far right is a variometer. (click to enlarge)

Engine Telegraph

Orders regarding engine speed and direction were transmitted to the engineering room along the keel and to the four power cars from an engine telegraph located at the starboard side of the control car; the telegraph had toggles to alert mechanics in each of the four engine cars and the engineer’s room of changes in power settings, and could transmit orders for four forward speeds (idle, slow, half, and cruise), two reverse speeds (idle and full), and stop.

Adjacent to the engine telegraph was a tachometer, an altimeter, and a variometer (or vertical speed indicator).

There was also a speaking tube to communicate with riggers along the axial catwalk.  (Communication throughout the ship was normally by telephone, but to avoid the risk of sparks, no electrical equipment was placed along the axial catwalk.)

Rudder Wheel

Hindenburg’s heading was controlled by the ship’s rudders.  The helmsman, or rudderman, stood at the front of the control room, facing forward, and steered by reference to a gyro compass repeater in front of the wheel.  (The repeater, or “daughter compass” as it was called by the Germans, was controlled by the master gyroscopic compass located on the ship’s electrical room.)  The rudderman also had a magnetic compass and pointers indicating the angles of the upper and lower rudders.

The rudder wheel was considered an easier position to master than the elevator wheel, and airshipmen began their training on the helm, and only advanced to the elevators after gaining sufficient experience on the rudders.

Hindenburg's rudder wheel (at center); also visible, the elevator wheel (lef), ballast board (top left), and a drift measuring telescope (right)

Hindenburg

Elevator Wheel

Elevator Wheel and Ballast Board

Elevator Wheel, Elevator Panel, and Ballast Board (click to enlarge)

Hindenburg’s pitch was controlled by the ship’s elevators.  Operating the elevators was much more challenging than operating the rudders, and the position was assigned only to the more experienced crew members.

The elevatorman stood “sideways,” facing port, with the elevator wheel and control panel in front of him. While he could watch the horizon from the side windows of the control car, the elevatorman was expected to control the elevators primarily by reference to the instruments on the panel in front of him, combined with a feel of the ship that could only be acquired through experience.

Elevator Panel

The elevator panel contained various instruments to keep the elevatorman constantly aware of the position of the elevators, the pitch of the ship, and the factors which could influence pitch and altitude.  The panel’s equipment included:

  • Pointers, indicating the angle of deflection of the port and starboard elevators, and both elevators together (graduated up to 20 degrees deflection)
  • Two inclinometers (curved tubes similar to a carpenter’s spirit level), one with a rough scale showing plus or minus 20 degrees of pitch, and the other with a fine scale showing plus or minus 5 degrees of pitch
  • Thermometers, indicating ambient air temperature and the temperature in gas cells 5 and 13
  • Thermohygrometer, indicating air temperature, relative humidity, and absolute humidity
  • Statoscope, indicating changes in barometric pressure (and thus altitude)
  • Variometer (or vertical speed indicator) indicating the ship’s rate of climb or descent
  • Altimeter
  • Clock
  • Stop watch
Hindenburg's Elevator Panel

Hindenburg's Elevator Panel

Automatic Pilot

Autopilot Servo Motor

Autopilot Servo Motor

An automatic pilot made by the Anschütz Company of Kiel utilized servo motors to control the rudder and elevators.  The auto-pilot was used only in calm conditions, and if rough or bumpy weather were encountered, the system was disengaged and the elevators and rudders were shifted back to hand control.

Ballast Board

The ballast board, located just to the right of the elevator panel, allowed officers to reduce the static weight of the ship by using toggles to release water ballast.

The ballast board indicated how much water was present in each of the ship’s seven main 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) ballast tanks, and had red and green indicators for the eight 500 kg (1,100 lbs) emergency ballast bags (four located at Ring 47 toward the tail, and four located at Ring 218 toward the bow).  The ballast board also had weigh off indicators for the bow or stern, indicating up to 2000 kg (4,400 lbs) heavy or light.

Gas Board

Gas Board

Gas Board and Echolot Indicator

The gas board controlled the ship’s lifting gas, and allowed officers to release hydrogen to increase the static weight of the ship.

Toggles controlled the ship’s 14 maneuvering valves, and could be used to release gas from individual cells.  (Hindenburg had 16 gas cells, but the two cells at the stern of the ship, Cells 1 and 2, were interconnected and shared one maneuvering valve, as did the two cells at the bow, Cells 15 and 16.)  A large wheel could also be turned, valving 11 of the large cells simultaneously (Cells 3-11, 13, and 14).

To indicate the inflation of the gas cells, the board had a diagram of the ship’s cells, each containing a red light which was illuminated when the cell (or pair of cells) was at 100% fullness.  Beneath the diagram were indicators showing the pressure within each cell.

Echolot

Hindenburg was equiped with a sonic altimeter known as an Echolot (sometimes referred to as an echolade by U.S. Navy observers) which used the principle of active sonar to measure the ship’s height above the ground.  The Echolot consisted of a compressed air siren located near the bow, which gave off a whistling sound that bounced off the ground and was picked up by a receiver located behind the control car; the time it took for the signal to hit the ground and return was measured and indicated the distance above the ground.

The Echolot had a clock-style indicator with a pointer to indicate the ship’s actual height over the ground, up to 500 meters.  It was observed to operate with high a high level of accuracy at various altitudes and airspeeds.

The Echolot was used at least once per watch to calibrate the ship’s aneroid altimeters, which became inaccurate as the ship passed through areas of varying barometric pressure.  The Echolot system itself was calibrated when the ship was over an object of known height, such as the hangar at Frankfurt.

Navigation Room

Hindenburg was navigated from the navigation room, which contained work tables for the officers, cases for charts and maps, and navigation equipment including gyro compass repeaters, an optical drift indicator, radio direction finding equipment, an altimeter, and a clock and stop watches.

Hindenburg's Navigation Room

Hindenburg's Navigation Room

Drift Measuring Equipment

Hindenburg was primarily navigated by dead reckoning during trans-oceanic passenger flights, and the officers’ ability to accurately measure the ship’s angle of drift was the key to their precise navigation.

Navigator's Desk

Navigator's Desk

Hindenburg’s primary drift indicator was a Carl Zeiss instrument located in the Navigation room (visible in this photo, below Ernst Lehmann’s shoulder), which featured a large telescope extending through the floor of the control car.  The telescope provided a view of the surface below and the lens had a series of black parallel lines etched upon it; at the appropriate level of magnification for the ship’s altitude, ripples on the ocean or objects on land would pass through the field of view so rapidly as to appear as a series of parallel streaks, which were aligned with the etched lines to indicate the ship’s angle of drift.  The eyepiece was located slightly above the navigator’s desk, and the telescope could be adjusted for magnification between four and twenty power.   A gyro compass repeater (or “daughter compass”), controlled by the ship’s master compass, was placed next to the optical drift meter, allowing drift measurements to be taken with one eye on the compass so that accurate course headings could be determined and relayed to the helmsman.

Hindenburg had another optical drift indicator in the control room (visible to the right of this photo), but it was not considered satisfactory by the ship’s officers and the Zeiss drift indicator in the navigation room was much preferred.

At night, the ship’s 5.7 million candlepower Hefner searchlight, located in the electrical room aft of the control car, illuminated the surface and made drift measurements as simple and as accurate as observations made during the day.

When visibility conditions prevented continuous observation of the ground, and allowed only momentary sightings of the land or water, less accurate but still usable drift measurements could be taken taken with a simple device consisting of several wires mounted in a V-shape through which glimpses of the surface could be observed.

Radio Navigation

The navigation room also contained radio direction-finding equipment, which used loop antennas (seen in the photo the top of this page) to could take bearings on radio stations on land or aboard ships at sea.

Ernst Lehmann with Navigation Radios

Ernst Lehmann with Navigation Radios

Other Equipment

In addition to equipment relating strictly to navigation, the navigation room also housed a 14-station telephone with connections to various stations around the ship; controls and indicators for the control car landing wheel and spider lines; and a pneumatic tube to convey messages between the control car and the radio room along the keel.

Hindenburg Telephone Station (click to enlarge)

Hindenburg main telephone station (click to enlarge)

Be Sociable, Share!

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

David August 17, 2014 at 8:37 am

Thank you for putting together such a wonderful website regarding these wonderful airships! Very informative! I was curious about one thing; since the Hindenburg was using hydrogen gas as its fuel what fire control systems did they have on board in the event they had an event occur (especially when travelling over the ocean)?

Thanks

Reply

Blackadder March 11, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Thanks for these unseen before (By me at least) images and information.

I have read just about all the publications on the airships of Germany and I have to say your contains much here-to-fore information I have not been aware of.

Thanks

Reply

Duncan September 28, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Fantastic site!

I was wondering if anyone could shed some light on how much communication the Hindenburg had whilst it was on it’s voyage. Was it able to remain in constant radio contact across the Atlantic, or were there long periods where it was out of radio range?

How long, for example, would it be able to communicate with mainland Europe?

Many thanks.

Reply

Stu May 4, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Hi Duncan;

I’ll try to chime in on this one. The Hindenburg’s wireless room was no different than any on an ocean-going steamer of that era. Communications were via wireless transmission of Morse code for long distances and voice to voice on shorter distances. The Hindenburg as well as other ships at sea would relay messages and weather information while crossing the oceans. It was common practice to do such things in order to create a very early form of an information net which is still in practice today, albeit with far more technologically advanced equipment.

Reply

Frank May 26, 2012 at 12:04 am

I became interested in the Hindenberg after reading ” THe Hindenberg Murders ” by Max Allan Collins and sought out this website. The book is an historical mystery novel, but is an excellent read and filled with detailed history. The photos on this website are exactly as described in the novel and made it come to life. If you are interested in zeppelins I would recommend this book.

Reply

Dan (Airships.net) June 3, 2012 at 4:29 pm

I am pleased to note that Mr. Collins used this website in his research, and he kindly included Airships.net in the Acknowledgments section of book. It is a very enjoyable novel about travel on LZ-129.

Reply

Stu May 11, 2012 at 7:58 am

I noticed on the first picture in this webpage of the control car of the Hindenburg while moored, two rings under the hull just forward of the control car. Were they RDF (radio direction finder) antennae or structural rings to pass lines through?

Reply

Gavin May 31, 2012 at 9:47 pm

They are loop antennae. Not exactly sure what they are used for though.

Reply

Stu August 11, 2013 at 7:11 pm

My grandad had a boat with a radio telephone set on it (before the days of VHF and digital communications) which had a radio direction finder which was a ring just like what the Hindenberg had. But she carried two, probable one was a spare.

Reply

John McKee April 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I was wondering if anyone knows of a source for detailed information about the radio equipment and antennas used by the Graf Zeppelin, Hindenburg and others.

Reply

William Day December 3, 2011 at 5:14 pm

I dealt with aerial navigation first as an USAF navigator and later as an airline pilot. The article about the instrumentation and navigation for the Zellplins was captivating reading. You answered some long held questions. Drift readings, as the primary supplement to dead reckoning, becomes even more difficult at lower true air speeds, esp. given the fickle vicissitudes of surface gradient winds on the low level west bound flights.

More on navigation please. Thank you for this excellent piece, keep up the good work.

William R. Day
Ferndale, Washington
USA

Reply

WayneO September 15, 2010 at 3:43 am

Great photos! I have a question regarding the plug-like objects on the control chains extending up from the helm and elevator wheels. To my thinking they could be either overtravel prevention measures or visual indicators of elevator and rudder position. Since these objects on the chains for the elevator wheel are differentiated by light and dark colors, I’m inclined to think that visual position indication could at least be one function.

Reply

WayneO September 15, 2010 at 4:46 am

Addendum: On examination of photos showing closer views of these objects, I see that they could also be disconnect points for separating the local chain that wraps around the control wheel sprockets from the longer chain runs to the control surfaces. But I’m still curious as to whether they served any visual indication purpose.

Reply

Stu March 10, 2012 at 9:02 pm

They may have been visual indicators as well as stops on the cables to prevent over pulling.

Reply

wolfram September 11, 2010 at 12:42 am

Let me just say that this is my favorite website, like, ever, and being the biggest airship fanatic to ever walk the earth, thats saying something. I do think that you should find time to add sections on the airships of the great war and the british airship program. Firstly, WHERE DO YOU GET ALL THIS INFORMATION?!?! I would kill to have sources like you must. I have a couple of questions relating to this page: if there was no electricity on the keel catwalk , how was it lit? Also, where exactly was it? Wouldn’t there be no room because of the gas cells? PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE RESPOND EVEN IF YOU DON’T KNOW AT LEAST SAY THAT YOU DON’T IT WOULD MAKE ME SO GLAD!!!! :) :)

Reply

Dan (Airships.net) September 11, 2010 at 9:28 am

There was electrical lighting along the keel. I will try to add some photos to show what the keel looked like as soon as I have some free time.

Reply

wolfram September 11, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Sorry, I meant axial catwalk. Thanks though!

Reply

Patrick Russell October 1, 2012 at 5:01 pm

If I recall correctly, when traversing the axial catwalk (at least at night), the riggers carried handheld lights powered by a sparkless battery (I believe it was a lantern battery.) However, since the cells themselves were of such thin material, my understanding is that it wasn’t pitch dark in the axial catwalk during the day.

Reply

Joe Sweeney July 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

This is a fabulous site. I do have a few questions for a book I am writing. Isn’t there an access door to the control gondola? If so, what part of the gondola does it access? Thanks!

Reply

Dan (Airships.net) July 14, 2010 at 7:41 am

Access between the control car and the hull was by means of a ladder located in the observation room at the aft end of the car. You can see the location in this diagram, and you can see a man climbing the ladder in the background of this photo of Nelson Rockefeller on the Millionaire’s Flight.

Reply

Joe Sweeney July 15, 2010 at 9:19 pm

This is excellent information. Thanks!

Reply

ARTHUR PFALZER,JR. May 14, 2010 at 7:20 pm

HELLO, ON MAY 6, 1937 MY SISTER ANN ELIZABETH, MY COUSIN NANCY SMITH AND I WERE AT THE FAMILY FARM ON LONG ISLAND DURING MY GRANDMOTHER’S ANNIE ELIZABETH WICK’S FUNERAL. GRANDMOTHER, NEE ANNIE SCHROTH WAS BORN IN 1856. HER MOTHER WAS BORN IN GERMANY. WHILE WE WERE IN THE YARD OF THE WICKS FARM WE LOOKED UP AND SAW THE HINDENBERG OVERHEAD SLIGHTLY TO THE NORTH ( A GOOD PROFILE VIEW ) IT WAS VERY LOW AND ON ROUTE TO THE FIELD IN NEW JERSEY. IT WAS LOW ENOUGH TO SEE PEOPLE IN THE CONTROL COMPARTMENTS. THE CLOUDS WERE PUFFY AND SOME THUNDERSTORMS WERE PRESENT EARLIER. IT WAS NOT UNTIL THE EVENING RADIO NEWS THAT WE LEARNED OF THE TRAGIC EVENT. THE FOLLOWING WEEK WE WERE ABLE TO SEE THE NEWS REEL MOVIES IN THE LOCAL MINEOLA THEATER. NOTE OUR FAMILY FARM WAS TO THE WEST OF ROOSEVELT AND MITCHEL FIELD IN GARDEN CITY. SOME OF OUR FAMILY MEMBERS WERE IN AVIATION SO I WAS AVIATION MINDED. HOWEVER, I DID NOT HAVE MY 127 FILM SIZE CAMERA HANDY AT THE TIME OF THE FLY OVER . . WANTED TO SHARE THIS HISTORY.I LATER SERVED IN THE US AIR CORPS AND DEVOTED MY ENTIRE WORKING CAREER TO AVIATION AS AN ENGINEER. STARTED MY EDUCATION AT PRINCETON UNIVERSITY.I PROVIDED ENGINEERING SOLUTIONS TO OUR WORLD CUSTOMERS ENGINEERING PROBLEMS. MET AND WORKED WITH MANY OF THE NOTED INCLUDING THE ASTRONAUTS.NOW RETIRED IN SEATTLE, WASHINGTON IN MY MID 80’S .

Reply

Kristy Thompson June 4, 2010 at 12:26 am

Thank you Arthur, for sharing your story. You are fortunate to have such wonderful history. I hope you have recorded your wonderful stories so that your family members can enjoy your perspective of life for many years to come. Thanks also for your contribution to the Air Corps, as well as to the field of aviation.

Reply

Jan Feidner Cranston March 29, 2012 at 10:26 am

Arthur – I am Nancy Smith’s daughter. Would you contact me?
emailjanc@gmail.com

Reply

Grant Hagadorn March 27, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Very Impressive and informative site. I visited the Lakehurst Naval Air Station site as a youngster where the trajedy occurred and have been interested in airships ever since. The Zepplin company in Germany is flying modern passenger airships now but they are not as large as the LZ129 was. Thanks for the site. I will visit again to see if there have been updates.

Reply

Dan (Airships.net) March 27, 2010 at 7:27 pm

Thanks for the kind words!

The best way to check for updates is to subscribe to the blog via RSS; there is a link at the top of every page.

Thanks again. :-)

Reply

Joe Portney March 15, 2010 at 5:41 pm

A remarkable site.

Joe Portney
.

Reply

Johnny December 22, 2009 at 2:47 pm

I’m guessing that gas was released to allow the air ship to descend, but what and how did they make hydrogen on board to get the air bus to lift?

Thanks Johnny Parisi

Reply

Dan (Airships.net) January 6, 2010 at 8:57 am

Hydrogen could not be manufactured in flight; it was replenished on the ground, along with fuel, oil, ballast, and stores. The release of hydrogen to maintain static equilibrium is discussed here, on the page about Hindenburg Flight Operations.

Reply

joseph feeley September 18, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Very impressive website. Will passenger airships with modern technology ever fly again? There must be a market for air cruisers.

Reply

Zach March 30, 2014 at 1:57 pm

i have heard through many small sources that airships will be making a comeback, in passenger and construction areas mainly, a quick search on Google ‘modern airships’ will reveal many ideas and already implemented designs. of course, they will never be the marvel of engineering that these old airships were.

in regards to the site; many a thanks, I’ve been looking for information like this for a long time. :)

Reply

pamela August 23, 2009 at 12:13 pm

thank you for this amazing site. I’ve been fascinated with the history of airships since I was a little girl and would love to see the day come when they could once again be used for transportation.

pamela

Reply

Arthur September 25, 2009 at 10:59 pm

I too wish they would return; modern aircraft are just too impersonal.

Reply

Antony January 13, 2011 at 4:17 am

I went for a flight on the Zeppelin NT in Friedrichshafen in 2006 – it was a boyhood dream come true.

Reply

Leave a Comment