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 Wurttemberg.

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 Anschutz “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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Gabriel389

Did the Hindenburg use welded or riveted internal trusses?

Braxton Ware
Braxton Ware

Was the Hindenburg made out of a type of foil?

Walter Miller
Walter Miller

Did the Hindenburg use welded or riveted internal trusses?

Joe
Joe

Has anyone (D. Fowler?) seen the German language compendium “Die Grosse Zeppeline”? It includes many fascinating excerpts from various books and journals written at the time, including an extensive excerpt from Dr. Dürr’s 1924 book and the impressive 1936 article by Herr W. E Dörr (not Dürr!) which was published… Read more »

Robert the Wallace
Robert the Wallace

Can anyone direct me to any information: pamphlets, books or any written, concerning the next generation of German Airships–the ” Aces ” Class? The ones I was in brief told about were: LZ–133 { ” Werner Voss ” }, LZ–134 { ” Manfred Von Richthofen ” [ after the greatest… Read more »

Michael
Michael

Assuming you are referring to the content on this site: http://www.airwar1946.nl/whif/L46-lz134.htm – this is but a “what-if” scenario. A piece of fiction. It is written well and it can be misleading, but if you go to the main site you find this, and many other scenarios, listed under the heading… Read more »

Graham J. Hudson, BA, (hons), Open
Graham J. Hudson, BA, (hons), Open

Wonderful Site, I share my birth year with the Hindenberg, being born on the Monday after the XI Olympiad finished. 1936 was the turning point of the 20th Century and the demise of this ‘Magnificent Flying Machine’ seems a prelude to a future of destruction and war. Reading through this… Read more »

George Timcke
George Timcke

Hi Dan, I keep going back to pages that I have already read, and they are always a delight. It is not correct, I think, to say that each of the ship’s propellers was two two-bladed propellers ‘fused together’; it was a pair of two-bladed propellers (made by the firm… Read more »

Robert the Wallace
Robert the Wallace

Pardon me, I stand corrected, ” The HINDENBURG LZ–129 “, and the ” LZ–134 MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN “!

Robert the Wallace
Robert the Wallace

My Love of GERMAN airships began, and Forever will be, with the ” LZ–127 Hindenburg! ! But I am intensely Fascinated with a passing passage I read concerning the next generation of GERMAN airships–the ‘ Aces ‘ Class: ” LZ–133, LZ–134, LZ–135, and LZ–132 “. Can anyone direct me to… Read more »

david helms
david helms

hi robert. enjoyed your comment. call me sometime. i am an avid airship researcher. been researching and collecting memorabilia for over 27 years.

david cell: 704-254-0859

Robert the Wallace
Robert the Wallace

My querie is two–fold. How long was the Graf Zeppelin II in operation before the Nazi regime broke her up. . .did any part of her survive? ?; and, I came across a site that stated, after the Graf Zeppelin II–the next generation of GERMAN Airships was the ” Aces… Read more »