Hindenburg to fly again

8th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

More than 60 years ago after the giant Hindenburg airship burst into flames over New Jersey, German engineers are working on secret plans for a 21st century successor to the ill-fated blimp. Ernest Gill reports on the proposal to update the airship, making it even larger and more luxurious.

airship hanger

Defunct airship company CargoLifter built the world's largest hangar

Working largely in secret, aeronautical engineers in Germany are drawing up plans to rebuild the Hindenburg dirigible airship, but updating it for the 21st century by making it even larger and more luxurious, accommodating 250 passengers in a two-tier gondola.

Though plans are kept under wraps, experts say the new Hindenburg II, as it is already being dubbed in the German press, will loosely resemble its ill-fated predecessor - except for the elongated two-level gondola that would stretch 70 metres along the bottom of the giant airship.

The largest airship ever built, the Hindenburg was enormous even by today's standards. At over 245 metres, it was longer than three jumbo jets.

*quote1*The new dirigible, which will be designated the HGZ 129 M in memory of the original Hindenburg (called the LZ 129), will also be as large as its infamous sister ship, which exploded on landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on 6 May 1937.

That crash effectively ended commercial dirigible flights, but the new ship's designers insist the new Hindenburg will be safe.

"The Hindenburg safely crossed the Atlantic dozens of times to New York and Rio de Janeiro during its inaugural season in 1936, and it is now believed that an experimental weatherproof coating on the canvas skin of the ship spontaneously combusted during an electrical storm," project leader Juergen Henk told Berliner Zeitung.

"That new weatherproofing 'dope', as it was called, was painted on the Hindenburg at the outset of the 1937 season - and the tragic end occurred on the very first flight of that season," he added.

The Hindenburg

The Hindenburg burst into flames over New Jersey in 1937

Nazi officials, eager to cover up such an embarrassing lapse, never disclosed the true cause. But they changed the weatherproofing on the Hindenburg's sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin II, which was completed in 1938 and made many successful flights before being scrapped at the outset of World War II.

"It goes without saying that a new airship built today would conform to state-of-the-art technology that was unavailable in the 1930s," Henk said.

A team of 150 engineers, technicians and aeronautical experts has been working behind closed doors on the Hindenburg II project since 1998, according to the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

*quote2*A feasibility study released in March stated that the project is viable, the Berlin newspaper said.

The new ship would use a combination of helium and hydrogen, in 17 separate gas cells, to give it enough lifting power to accommodate hundreds of passengers or up to 80 tons of cargo.

In contrast, the old Hindenburg could accommodate only a little over 100 persons, including a crew of about 40, and it also had limited cargo capabilities.

Initially, planners had hoped to build the new airship at the world's largest hangar, which was built by the CargoLifter corporation in the 1990s some 60 kilometres south of Berlin to house freight dirigibles.

CargoLifter, a now-defunct German company which once had high-flying dreams of launching a new generation of airships to haul 160-ton loads around the world, managed only to build the world's largest airship hangar.

The enormous arched glass-and-steel structure - more than 100 metres tall, 360 metres long and 210 metres wide - was sold for more than EUR 16 million to a conglomerate of Asian entrepreneurs, who are currently converting it into an enclosed theme park billed as the world's largest indoor rain forest.

June 2004

[Copyright Expatica 2004]

Subject: Life in Germany, Hindenburg

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