When meeting friends and telling them that we are playing with Hydrogen planning to build a Blimp the fist thing I here is “Have you heard of Hindenburg disaster”? Looks like everyone did, but when you come and start asking for details – all story becomes quite hazy. There was a Hydrogen and people died. This is a reason why Hydrogen filled Zeppelins/Blimps are not around anymore!
Well, I did my homework to dig through numerous resources to find out what really happened and there is plenty! The Hindenburg disaster was actually pretty well documented as it was the subject of newsreel coverage on a video camera, photographs and recorded radio eyewitness reports from the landing field. Interestingly – even today’s experts are not united about what actually went wrong on that day.
Following text is just a compilation of interesting quotes and collected texts from across the Internet with a mild editing from me. List of resources follows at the end of article.
So the Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, United States. The German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst. There were 35 fatalities (13 passengers and 22 crewmen) from the 97 people on board (36 passengers and 61 crewmen), and an additional fatality on the ground.
A variety of hypotheses have been put forward for both the cause of ignition and the initial fuel for the ensuing fire. The event shattered public confidence in the giant, passenger-carrying rigid airship and marked the abrupt end of the airship era.
Hydrogen fires are less destructive to immediate surroundings than gasoline explosions because of the buoyancy of H2, which causes heat of combustion to be released upwards more than circumferentially as the leaked mass ascends in the atmosphere; hydrogen fires are more survivable than fires of gasoline or wood. The hydrogen in the Hindenburg burned out within about 90 seconds.
However, did you know that number of survivors of the Hindenburg disaster far outnumbered the victims?
Out of the 97 passengers and crew on board, 62 survived. The disaster’s 36 deaths included 13 passengers, 22 crewmembers and one worker on the ground. Many survivors jumped out of the zeppelin’s windows and ran away as fast as they could.
The Hindenburg had a smokers’ lounge!
Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the zeppelin, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurised to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.
It is unquestionable that the Hindenburg disaster meant a sunset of Zeppelins for public transport and the era of heavier-than-air aircrafts began. Air planes today are rightfully considered to be the most secure public transport option, still there are too many (hundreds to thousands) of lives lost every year.
Seems like no one questions these days why to board something topped up with a a highly flammable aviation fuel? All those huge wings hanging down behind your window – yep, its practically just first-class kerosene. This is because that technology evolved and proven to be very mature. In the same way I think with our progress in aviation security, sensors, modelling and materials it might be a time to give Hydrogen another go. Potential stakes are high – if this would work out we can potentially be rewarded by a new experience in a public transportation with unprecedented efficiency and comfort.