Crash of Hindenburg II
Program InformationSeries: A Moment in Time
Year Produced: 2009
Used as bombers during World War I, giant German lighter-than-air ships, called Zeppelins, were turned to commercial uses in the 1920s and 1930s.
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Lead: Used as bombers during World War I, giant German lighter-than-air ships, called Zeppelins, were turned to commercial uses in the 1920s and 1930s.
Intro: A Moment In Time with Dan Roberts.
Content: If one wanted to travel between continents in the early 1900s, there was one choice: you had to go by ship. While the dream of flight had been realized first by balloons and then by the Wright Brothers' airplane, aircraft engines were not strong, efficient, or safe enough to lift cargo and passengers over long distances. For two short decades from World War I to the eve of World War II, the dirigible seemed to be the solution to fast intercontinental travel.
German technology--specifically that of Count von Zeppelin, whose airships had dropped tons of bombs on southern English cities during World War I--had the edge, but there were some problems. To efficiently carry passengers and heavy cargo these airships had to become larger and larger. Hangers to construct and maintain a dirigible 700-800 feet long were very expensive. The biggest problem was lift. How did one keep a huge blimp aloft? There were two gases of choice. The ideal substance was helium. It gave adequate lift and was inert, but the United States held a monopoly on the manufacture and sale of helium. The U.S. Navy, in view of Zeppelin use as bombers in World War I, was not about to let the Germans buy helium in quantities large enough to send aloft a fleet of airships. Therefore, the Germans had to use hydrogen, which gave the necessary lift but was highly flammable. Even the smallest spark could turn a giant airship into a blazing wreck.
It was hydrogen or nothing, and during the 1920s Count von Zeppelin constructed several large dirigibles, including the Los Angeles made for the U.S. Navy, which in 1924 became the first airship to cross the Atlantic.
Next time: The dirigible and Nazi propaganda.
The producer of A Moment In Time is Steve Clark. At the University of Richmond, this is Dan Roberts.