Annihilation of the Rigid Airship Industry

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A rigid airship is a type of airship (or dirigible) in which the envelope is supported by an internal framework rather than by being kept in shape by the pressure of the lifting gas within the envelope, as in blimps (also called pressure airships) and semi-rigid airships. Rigid airships are often commonly called Zeppelins, though this technically refers only to airships built by the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin company.
  • The term zeppelin originally referred to airships manufactured by the German Zeppelin Company, which built and operated the first rigid airships in the early years of the twentieth century. The initials LZ, for Luftschiff Zeppelin (German for "Zeppelin airship"), usually prefixed their craft's serial identifiers.
  • Rigid airships consist of a structural framework usually covered in doped fabric containing a number of gasbags or cells containing a lifting gas.
    • In the majority of airships constructed before the Second World War, highly flammable hydrogen was used for this purpose, resulting in many airships such as the British R101 and the German Hindenburg being lost in catastrophic fires.
    • The inert gas helium was used by American airships in the 1920s and 1930s; it is also used in all modern airships.
  • Airship
  • Rigid airship
Framework of a Rigid Airship
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Construction of USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) in 1923

1937: Final Hindenburg Flight
After making the first South American flight of the 1937 season in late March, Hindenburg left Frankfurt for Lakehurst on the evening of 3 May, on its first scheduled round trip between Europe and North America that season. Although strong headwinds slowed the crossing, the flight had otherwise proceeded routinely as she approached for a landing three days later.
  • Hindenburg's arrival on 6 May was delayed for several hours to avoid a line of thunderstorms passing over Lakehurst, but around 7:00 pm the airship was cleared for its final approach to the Naval Air Station, which she made at an altitude of 200 m (660 ft) with Captain Max Pruss in command.
  • At 7:21 pm a pair of landing lines were dropped from the nose of the ship and were grabbed hold of by ground handlers.
  • Four minutes later, at 7:25 pm Hindenburg burst into flames and dropped to the ground in a little over half a minute.
  • Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew aboard, 13 passengers and 22 crew died, as well as one member of the ground crew, a total of 36 lives lost.

The exact location of the initial fire, its source of ignition, and the source of fuel remain subjects of debate. The cause of the accident has never been determined conclusively, although many hypotheses have been proposed.
  • Sabotage theories notwithstanding, one hypothesis often put forth involves a combination of gas leakage and atmospheric static conditions.
  • Manually-controlled and automatic valves for releasing hydrogen were located partway up one-meter diameter ventilation shafts that ran vertically through the airship.
  • Hydrogen released into a shaft, whether intentionally or because of a stuck valve, mixes with air already in the shaft- potentially in an explosive ratio.
  • Alternatively, a gas cell could have been ruptured by the breaking of a structural tension wire causing a mixing of hydrogen with air.
  • The high static charge collected from flying within stormy conditions and inadequate grounding of the outer envelope to the frame could have ignited any resulting gas-air mixture at the top of the airship.
  • In support of the hypothesis that hydrogen was leaking from the aft portion of the Hindenburg prior to the conflagration, water ballast was released at the rear of the airship and 6 crew members were dispatched to the bow to keep the craft level.
  • Another more recent theory involves the airship's outer covering.
    • The silvery cloth covering contained material including cellulose nitrate which is highly flammable.
    • This theory is controversial and has been rejected by other researchers because the outer skin burns too slowly to account for the rapid flame propagation and gaps in the fire correspond with internal gas cell divisions, which would not be visible if the fire had spread across the skin first.
The End of the Industry
Following the Hindenburg disaster, the Zeppelin company resolved to use helium in their future passenger airships. However, by this time, Europe was well on the path to the Second World War, and the United States, the only country with substantial helium reserves, refused to sell the necessary gas. Commercial international aviation was limited during the war, so development of new airships was halted. Although several companies, including Goodyear, proposed post-war commercial designs, these were largely to no avail.

A few words about helium: United States refused to provide helium, and Hindenburg ended up using hydrogen?
  • U.S. law prevented the Hindenburg from using helium instead of hydrogen, which is more flammable. After the crash of the hydrogen-filled R101, in which most of the crew died in the subsequent fire rather than the impact itself, Hindenburg designer Hugo Eckener sought to use helium, a less flammable lifting gas.
  • The Hindenburg Disaster: 9 Surprising Facts
You gotta love the above excerpt from the History stories. Since when did helium become flammable?
  • As helium is lighter than air it can be used to inflate airships, blimps and balloons, providing lift. Although hydrogen is cheaper and more buoyant, helium is preferred as it is non-flammable.
  • Helium is an inert gas. Inert quite literally means non-combustible. In fact, helium (in its liquid state) is actually used as a coolant for things like rocket ships, MRI machines, and particle accelerators.
  • Is helium flammable? - Ask Zephyr, the helium experts
KD: I don't know about you, but the decision to feel up with hydrogen at this point in time sounds somewhat... suspicious.

A Few Photographs
The Dining Room
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Hindenburg Hangar
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Inside the Hindenburg

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Back To The Future
Certain things never fail to speak up. The tech gets abandoned to be resurrected 100 years later. All those ancient faxes, hyperloops and such. Where are we heading to with this "new" approach to air travel, back to the future?

Much of the world has no access to paved roads. Vast cargo-bearing airships could reach places that planes and trucks can’t.
  • This is the prime example of how suspicions this entire issue is.
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High-tech cargo airship being built in California
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Source
The Aeroscraft airship, a high-tech prototype airship, is seen in a World War II-era hangar in Tustin, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013. Work is almost done on a 230-foot rigid airship inside a blimp hangar at a former military base in Orange Co. The huge cargo-carrying airship has shiny aluminum skin and a rigid, 230-foot aluminum and carbon fiber skeleton. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

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Source

The massive blimp-like aircraft flies but just barely, hovering only a dozen feet off a military hangar floor during flight testing south of Los Angeles. Still, the fact that the hulking Aeroscraft could fly for just a few minutes represents a step forward in aviation, according to the engineers who developed it. The Department of Defense and NASA have invested $35 million in the prototype because of its potential to one day carry more cargo than any other aircraft to disaster zones and forward military bases.

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And here is where we could get suspicious. We all have seen the above "hangar" shape. May be those were not originally meant for trains.

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KD: These airships are so much safer too. Just a thought.
  • I think it was a global eradication of this mode of transportation. While writing this post I ran into this Russian airship related page through some google images. I do not see Russians caring much for that 1936 Hindenburg catastrophe. So why did they scrap the program as well? No helium? Check it out, it's worth it.
  • Russian pre-1917 airships
1894
Olga Romanoff
Olga Romanoff; or, The syren of the skies : a sequel to "The angel of the revolution".
Read #1 - Read #2
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Which Olga Romanoff was this? The one linked below? Was she 12 y.o. when she wrote her books?
 

Banta

Member
It's pretty obvious that energy and transportation has been derailed (pun intended) by industry and governmental interests. Just look at the decline of public transportation infrastructure and the history of the electric car to confirm this, among many other things. It hardly matters if anyone directly conspired to crash the Hindenburg, the conditions were set for any accident being able to serve as a scapegoat. None of this is even a grand conspiracy, it's just how there are winners and losers in commerce and politics.

Beyond that, the actual age of this technology and how widespread it was seem to be open questions. I suspect as always that there's "nothing new under the sun" and in the way that it's silly to think that "ancient man" was incapable of sailing across an ocean, it's also silly to think that someone, during humanity's seemingly long-time interest in ascending into the sky, wouldn't have figured out how to put some hydrogen in a bag.

Interesting sidenote, per the wikinarrative, hydrogen has been known since at least 1671, "Robert Boyle discovered and described the reaction between iron filings and dilute acids, which results in the production of hydrogen gas." But Henry Cavendish, you know, the metal balls in a barn to weigh the Earth and eventually assign a value for gravity guy gets the credit for the discovery nearly 100 years later. To contrast, any evidence of helium wasn't until "August 18, 1868, as a bright yellow line with a wavelength of 587.49 nanometers in the spectrum of the chromosphere of the Sun" and then wasn't isolated on Earth until 1895! I find that interesting as Helium is the second element on the periodic table (which the basis for the modern version came out in 1869) was supposedly unknown until then. I can't put my finger on it, but there's something fishy about helium...
 
Makes one wonder what kind of cruise airships we could have had today, and what this entire industry would have looked like.

Of course, safety comes to mind too. With airships being virtually “unsinkable”, I can’t help but think about all of the victims of the conventional air travel.
 

Banta

Member
Makes one wonder what kind of cruise airships we could have had today, and what this entire industry would have looked like.

Of course, safety comes to mind too. With airships being virtually “unsinkable”, I can’t help but think about all of the victims of the conventional air travel.
It's stuff like this that affirms my position that we are living in a different civilization than even 100ish years ago, no matter how one thinks that went down. Riding an airship seems like a beautiful, relaxing experience that is somewhat beyond just a method of travel. In the same way that the buildings of the past serve seemingly an artistic function, our current society places little to no value on this. You will fly to your destination at 450 MPH and go about your business! We will slap up some metal beams, plastic, and drywall for your fast food restaurant!

But obviously, with the airship, it seems like it goes even deeper... because, sure, maybe jets would win out as the most popular mode of long distance transportation, but you'd think that airship cruises could be a real viable vacation idea, an alternative to boat cruises. Were people so spooked by the Hindenburg but the Titanic didn't register? ...Possibly, actually, given the "advances" in mass media in the 25 years from the Titanic to the Hindenburg... I mean, we got to see the thing blow up, in nearly real-time!

Still, that's all why it's so clearly politicized and manipulated, similar to the tactics taken by the oil companies throughout the last 100 years.
 
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