The tragedy of 'Titanic in the air' ended the balloon era

The Hindenburg balloon, the pride of Germany, suddenly burned down in a fateful flight in 1937.

On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg balloon - the pride of Germany - exploded into a large area of ​​Lakehurst, New Jersey, and the United States sunk in smoke. The entire hundred-meter-long balloon blazed into ash in less than a minute. Some employees and passengers jump from a height of more than 10 meters down and are lucky to escape. The rest were burned.

Hindenburg pride becomes a horrifying balloon tragedy.(Video: YouTube).

At that time, the Hindenburg was expected to be the turning point that opened the new era of hot air balloons. But on the contrary, the explosion put an end to this type of vehicle and paved the way for aircraft to grow.

Hindenburg tragedy is the first technical accident recorded. A series of books and movies were created to analyze the cause of the explosion."It's like the Titanic tragedy," said Dan Grossman, aviation historian at

Luxury "aerial Titanic"

German military officer Ferdinand von Zeppelin was the first to develop a balloon with a rigid frame structure in the late 1800s.

Hindenburg also has this structure and is the largest, most advanced commercial balloon of the time. It is 245m long, 41.2m in diameter, more than three times the Boeing 747 and can reach a maximum speed of 135km / h, according to

Picture 1 of The tragedy of 'Titanic in the air' ended the balloon era
Luxurious dining room on Hindenburg.(Photo: Airships).

Hindenburg has a capacity of 72 passengers with dining room, lounge, writing room, bar, smoking room and open window walkway during flight. It is named after the former president of the Weimar Republic (the first republic of Germany), Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934).

Hindenburg first took off in March 1936 and carried out a total of 63 flights, mostly from Germany to North America and South America, Grossman said.

Technology and manufacturing process

Hot air balloons like Hindenburg fly thanks to the lifting of helium, hydrogen or hot air. The Hindenburg has a rigid frame structure with circular and vertical beams of duralumin, a compound of aluminum. It is also wider than other air balloons, so it is more stable and stable.

Hindenburg has 4 engines running. 16 air chambers made of gelatinized cotton help airships float overhead. These gas chambers are designed to contain helium, which is safer than hydrogen because it does not catch fire. But the Germans were unable to use helium because it was too expensive, needed more drivers and reduced passenger capacity.

Most importantly, at that time, only the US and the Soviet Union produced helium, Grossman said."Nobody buys and sells with the Soviet Union, and the United States has enacted a law banning the export of helium because helium production is so difficult. By 1936, the United States produced more helium and could sell it to Germany, but the Germans had do not ask to buy ".

Germany's pride, economic recession and low profit if helium balloon manufacturing is the reason Germans do not use helium for Hindenburg.

The most horrifying balloon tragedy in history

The Hindenburg scene burns in just a few seconds.(Video: YouTube).

The fateful flight took place on May 3, 1937. That day, the Hindenburg balloon departed from Frankfurt, Germany. The flight was quite smooth despite the strong upside-down wind which made the landing time 12 hours slower than expected.

The weather in New Jersey was very bad that day, thunderstorms and lightning all day. Captain Max Pruss and the senior experts asked to continue to postpone landing and circling the beach until the weather turned well.

Hindenburg to Lakehurst around 19h on 6/5. Given that the weather will get worse and worse, the fleet decided to make a sharp turn and proceed to land. A few minutes after the anchor strings were dropped, the staff saw under the cover near the balloon's tail that vibrated like a wave, possibly because the hydrogen leaked out, according to the Royal Society of British Chemistry.

19h25, fire appeared at the tail of Hindenburg. In just a few seconds, the entire tail caught fire and wished to the ground, the head quickly caught fire, according to Don Adams, a historian at Lakehurst Naval Historical Association. The outer layer of cloth was burned down, making the duralumin frame exposed and collapsing soon after.

"It all burns in just 34 seconds," said Don Adams. Those on the outside, mostly passengers watching through the window, were lucky to jump out and escape. Many crew members have died. Of the 97 people on the balloon, 35 died.

The cause of the fire

Picture 2 of The tragedy of 'Titanic in the air' ended the balloon era
The cause of Hindenburg's fire is still a mystery.(Photo: History).

Experts all say that the main reason is that hydrogen leaks out, combined with oxygen to form a highly flammable and fire-causing compound.

It is suggested that Hindenburg was hit by bombs, names, or fires due to another hydrogen. But all do not have authentic evidence. Others think the fabric is flammable, but Grossman rejected this hypothesis. He said the hot air balloons, including Hindenburg, were repeatedly hit by lightning but did not cause fire because the hydrogen did not escape.

What experts wonder is the cause of hydrogen leakage and how the fire breaks out. Many thought that sudden steering caused a metal wire to break and cut into the air cavity. However, this theory proved incorrect, Grossman said."Since all the evidence has burned down, we may never know why hydrogen leaks."

According to scientists, there are two main theories that cause the fire to explode: the discharge of static electricity and the holy Elmo. Elmo's holy fire or broom-shaped discharge, is a weather phenomenon that occurs when the air is abnormally charged. Electrostatic discharge is a current that emits suddenly when two objects have different potentials of physical contact.

Adams and Grossman were more inclined to hypothesize that electrostatic discharge. In both hypotheses, a large amount of storm power accompanied by thunder that day played an important role.

"When Hindenburg landed, there was still a lot of lightning," Grossman said. "There is so much electricity in the air that nearby rubber factories have to shut down, because rubber dust is easy to explode." Hot air balloons fly in air with positive charges. When the anchor strings are dropped and touch the ground, they receive a negative charge. This may be the cause of sparks.

Max Pruss and Ernst Lehmann, senior commanders on Hindenburg, were criticized for deliberately landing in bad weather conditions. They should wait until the electricity dissipates in the air, Grossman commented. However, Nazi pressures forced them to keep on schedule and land early.

The end of the balloon era

Picture 3 of The tragedy of 'Titanic in the air' ended the balloon era
The aircraft were born gradually replacing the balloon.(Photo: Vanderbilt Cup Races).

Hindenburg tragedy has put an end to the balloon era."Nobody wants to fly in hydrogen-filled hot air balloons, they are too scared. Also, when Hitler became more powerful, people didn't want to use Nazi hot air balloons," Adams said. .

Technological advances have also contributed to ballooning."Hindenburg was an amazing technical achievement in 1928. But by 1936, it became obsolete before the advent of aircraft," Grossman said.

When Hindenburg began to operate, airplanes could fly faster, carry more, be less expensive, requiring fewer operators to appear. These outstanding aircraft of all facets have officially ended the era of hot air balloons.

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