National Geographic: Hindenburg


It was the largest and most celebrated

passenger airship ever built.

But like another legendary

transatlantic liner,

the Hindenburg was doomed.

Get this, Scotty!

Get this Scotty!

I looked out the window

and saw the fire,

and my only concern was to get out.

I thought to myself,

"This is the end.

I can't survive the end."

It's a terrific crash,

ladies and gentlemen.

The smoke and the flames

and the plane

is crashing to the ground,

Oh, the humanity.

I guess it looked like hell.

It was like hell on fire.

It was something that will stay with

you for the rest of your life.

Some said it was only

a tragic accident.

Others blamed a murderous act

of sabotage.

But what really destroyed

the Hindenburg?

Now, after more than half a century,

a former NASA engineer

may have uncovered

the real answer to the mystery.

What I found was the fact that

they knew that there was a problem.

It was a problem that would destroy

the Hindenburg

and bring to an abrupt and tragic end

the golden age of passenger airships.

It was, by every account,

simply magnificent-

the largest object that had ever been

lofted into the air.

And wherever it touched down

on its transatlantic crossings,

the Hindenburg was sure

to draw a crowd.

At the Naval Air Station

at Lakehurst, New Jersey,

thousands would stand in line for

hours just to get a closer look.

This was perhaps the most beautiful

flying machine ever built-stately,

streamlined, poised to rule the skies.

Today, Lakehurst is a much

quieter place,

but it's still haunted by echoes

from the airships' glory days.

John Lannacone remembers that time.

He was part of the Hindenburg's

ground crew.

Now he's one of the few visitors to

the giant hangar that once sheltered it.

I was 18 years old when I got here.

And I saw this tremendous

building in there.

I always say it's one of the

biggest buildings in the world.

We put it in a hangar

the first time it came here.

And it just about fit.

The Germans, when they designed it,

it was supposed to be 814 feet long.

Then they realized that this hangar's

only 806 feet long,

so they cut ten feet off.

There was a one-foot clearance

on each end.

It just fit in here

and we closed the doors.

It's sad, I mean,

because it's not being utilized

for what it should be utilized.

I mean, it looks like it's nothing

but a warehouse and junk.

That's what it looks like to me.

Airships have had their place

and their time.

And it's gone.

I don't think airships

will ever come back.

History's first successful manned

flight was in a hot-air balloon

launched by the Montgolfier brothers

into the skies over France in 1783.

But balloons move at the mercy

of the wind,

with no way to control

their direction or speed.

Some dreamed of a method of

directed flight.

The design for these so called

dirigibles were certainly imaginative.

But even the ones that could fly

weren't very practical.

The biggest challenge was

building a dirigible big enough

to carry passengers and cargo.

One of the pioneers was

Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.

He first encountered manned balloons

in the United States

as a German military observer of the

Civil War and he even flew in one.

Back in Germany,

Zeppelin set to work,

designing a large dirigible

with a rigid framework

covered by a skin of fabric.

It would be lifted not by hot air,

but by hydrogen.

In 1900, his creation would

finally fly.

Within a decade,

there were tourist flights,

and even regular passenger service

between German cities.

Count von Zeppelin was

building the world's first airline.

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "National Geographic: Hindenburg" STANDS4 LLC, 2021. Web. 19 Jan. 2021. <>.

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