I have this thing for Airships. I know, it was a technological dead-end, and the…
Perhaps moreso than any other date, May 6, 1937 marks what is probably the final nail in the coffin of the great Age of the Airship. 36 souls were lost when the LZ-129 Hindenburg went down in flames in Lakehurst, NJ, after a Transatlantic flight from Germany. Wind gusts made the landing troublesome, but the true tragedy of the crash came when one of the aft gas cells sprung a leak and the hydrogen inside ignited, spreading flames through the ship with deadly speed. To this day, the true cause of the leak and the fire are unknown, but the great ship was decimated in less than sixty seconds.
Some passengers and crew were able to jump to safety from the windows and exits, while others sought emergency exits once the dying ship was on the ground. Navy sailors among the passengers and ground crew were heroes that day as they ran back and forth into the inferno seeking survivors. 13 passengers, 22 crew, and 1 ground landing crewman perished that day, and so did the age of the airships.
We are all familiar with the Goodyear Blimp and the Superbowl and the occasional hot-air balloon. When we think of “blimp” we think of something rather like a large balloon–big, bulky, ungainly, and maybe just a little bit bumbly-looking, compared to a Stealth bomber or a fighter jet. Something harmless.
Then we think of an airship–we think of some silly-looking cul-de-sac of technological development that ended without fanfare, and the world was better off for the quiet exit in the face of an embarrassing failure. And yes, we tend to scoff at science’s failures, not really thinking through to how very much of our successes rest on those failures.