6 May 1937: After a three-day Trans-Atlantic crossing from Frankfurt, Germany, the rigid airship Hindenburg (D-LZ129) arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey, with 36 passengers and 61 crewmembers.
At 7:25 p.m., while the airship was being moored, it suddenly caught fire. The fabric covering burned first, but then the hydrogen gas contained in the buoyancy tanks exploded and burned. Hindenburg settled to the ground and was completely destroyed within 30 seconds.
Of those on board, 13 passengers and 22 crewmembers died. One member of the ground crew was also killed.
Surprisingly, though there were many survivors and witnesses—as well as newsreel footage of the accident—the cause has never been determined.
This dramatic accident ended the airship passenger industry.
19 February 1912: The lighter-than-air rigid airship (luftschiff) LZ 11, Viktoria Luise, made its first flight. The Zeppelin was named for Princess Viktoria Luise of Prussia, daughter of Kaiser Wilhem II, and granddaughter of Queen Victoria.
LZ 11 and its sistership, LZ 13 Hansa, were G-class passenger airships, operated by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (DELAG).
During World War I, LZ 11 was used by the German Navy as a training ship. It was damaged beyond repair while being placed in its hangar, 1 October 1915.
19–20 January 1915: The Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial Germany Navy) airship L3, under command of Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz and Leutnant zur See v. Lynckner, departed Fuhlsbüttel, Hamburg, Germany, at 11:00 a.m., in company with L4 and L6, on a reconnaissance flight over the North Sea, then continued on to Britain, planning to attack during darkness.
L3 reached the British coast at 8:50 p.m. and proceeded to the area around Norfolk. At 9:20 p.m., Captain Fritz and his airship had reached Greater Yarmouth. Flying in rain at 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), over the next ten minutes they dropped six 110 pound (49.9 kilogram) bombs and seven incendiaries on the city below. As L3 turned to leave the area, another four 110 pound bombs were dropped. Completing the attack, L3 returned to Germany, arriving at the airship base at Fuhlsbüttel at 9:30 a.m.
L4, under the command of Kapitänleutnant Magnus von Platen-Hallermund and Leutnant zur See Kruse, dropped eleven bombs on Sheringham and King’s Lynn.
L6 had returned to Germany prior to the attack.
Reports are that a total of 4 people were killed and 16 wounded. Damage was limited.
In the short history of aerial warfare, this was the first time that a civilian population center was the target. It would not be the last.
It was plain that the source of the disturbance was aircraft, though precisely of what kind could only be conjectured. The opinion is generally held that it was a dirigible, for what appeared to be searchlights were seen at a great altitude. Others, however, say that the lights were not the beams of a searchlight, but the flash of something resembling a magnesium flare.
— The Times, Wednesday, 20th January 1915, at Page 8.
Luftschiff Zeppelin 24 was the third airship built for the Imperial German Navy, which designated it L3. It was operated by a crew of fifteen. The dirigible was 518 feet, 2 inches (157.937 meters) long with a diameter of 48 feet, 6 inches (14.783 meters).
Buoyancy was created by 18 gas cells filled with hydrogen, which had a total volume of 794,500 cubic feet (22,497.3 cubic meters). The empty weight of the airship was 37,250 pounds (16,896 kilograms) and it had a payload of 20,250 pounds (9,185 kilograms).
Three water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 22.921 liter (1,398.725 cubic inches) Maybach C-X six-cylinder inline engines, each producing 207 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m., gave L3 a maximum speed of 47.4 miles per hour (76.3 kilometers per hour).
The Zeppelin’s maximum altitude, limited by the gas cells’ ability to contain the hydrogen as it expanded with increasing altitude, was 6,560 feet (2,000 meters). The maximum range was 1,366 miles (2,198 kilometers).
L3 made its first flight at Friedrichshafen 11 May 1914. On 17 February 1915, the loss of two engines in high winds forced it to ground at Fanoe Island, Denmark, where the crew abandoned it and Captain Fritz set it afire. The crew was interred for the duration of the war.
L4 (Luftschiff Zeppelin27)was of the same airship class as L3. It was very slightly heavier and its Maybach C-X engines slightly more powerful. It was retired from service 17 February 1915, the same day that L3 was lost.
Note: Steve Smith’s Internet blog, “Great War Britain NORFOLK Remembering 1914–18” https://stevesmith1944.wordpress.com/about/ has a series of detailed articles about the Zeppelin raids, as well as many other events of World War I. Recommended.
17 January 1906: Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin’s second airship, Luftschiff Zeppelin 2, designed by Ludwig Dürr, made its first—and only—flight, at Lake Constance (Bodensee), a large lake at the base of Alps.
LZ 2 was 127 meters (416 feet, 8 inches) long and 11.70 meters (38 feet, 5 inches) in diameter. It had a volume of 10,400 cubic meters (367,273 cubic feet). The rigid structure was built of triangular-section girders that combined light weight and strength. Hydrogen gas contained in bags inside the airship’s envelope gave it buoyancy.
Ladislas d’Orcy described the airship:
. . . Hull-frame of aluminum-alloy lattice girders, cross-braced by wire stays, and subdivided into compartments for independent gas-cells. No ballonets. Fabric skin. Trim controlled by lifting planes. Cars rigidly connected. Gangway affording passage between the cars.
—D’Orcy’s Airship Manual, by Ladislas d’Orcy, M.S.A.E., The Century Company, New York, 1917, at Page 127
The airship was powered by two 85 horsepower Daimler-Motoren-Gesellchaft gasoline-fueled engines designed by Karl Maybach. They turned four three-bladed propellers at 820 r.p.m. It was capable of reaching 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour). The airship’s ceiling was 2,800 feet (853 meters).
Une nouvelle sortie—la derniére—eut lieu le jeudi 18 janvier 1906. Parti de son garage et parvenu à 500 mètres environ, le ballon était désemparé, et après avoir passé au-dessus de Raverasburg, Kisslegg et Sommerstadt, venait s’abattre en territoire suisse, à Allgaen. Certains correspondants assurent qu’il était monte par l’inventeur, , des officiers allemands et des hommes d’équipage qui n’eurent pas de mal. Mais, dans la chute, das avaries irréparables se produisirent si bien que le comte Zeppelin, decouragé, ne continuera pas ses essais. ¹
—L’AÉROPHILE, 14º Année,Noº 1, Janvier 1906, at Page 32
THE CINCINNATI ENQUIRER reported:
AERONAUT’S ILL LUCK.
CABLE TO THE ENQUIRER AND N. Y. HERALD.
(Copyright, 1906, by N. Y. Herald Company.)
Berlin, January 18.—Count Zeppelin made a second trial to-day with hi snew airship. Starting from Lake Constance, the airship passed over Ravensberg, Kisslegg and Sommersledat and landed at Allgaen. It was seriously damaged in the storm, and further trials will be impossible at present.
An engine failure forced the ship to make an emergency landing close to a small town named Sommersried, Allgäu, in southern Germany, and was so badly damaged by a storm during the night that it had to be scrapped.
¹ Google Translation: “A new exit-the last-took place on Thursday, January 18, 1906. From his garage and reached about 500 meters, the balloon was clueless/distraught, and after passing over Raverasburg, Kisslegg and Sommerstadt, came crashing down in Swiss territory, in Allgaen. Some correspondents assert that he was mounted by the inventor, German officers and crewmen who were not hurt. But in the fall, irreparable damage occurred so that Count Zeppelin, discouraged, did not continue his attempts.”
17 October 1913: On the morning of a scheduled test flight at Flugplatz Johannisthal-Adlershof, an airfield south east of Berlin, Germany, Marine-Luftschiffes L2, the second rigid airship built for the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin at Friedrichshafen, was delayed by problems with the engines. The morning sun heated the hydrogen contained in the airship’s gas bags, causing the gas to expand and increasing the airship’s buoyancy.
Once released, L2 rapidly rose to approximately 2,000 feet (610 meters). The hydrogen expanded even more due to the decreasing atmospheric pressure. To prevent the gas bags from rupturing, the crew vented hydrogen through relief valves located along the bottom of the hull.
In this early design, the builders had placed the relief valves too close to the engine cars. Hydrogen was sucked into the engines’ intakes and detonated. L2 caught fire and a series of explosions took place as it fell to the ground.
All 28 persons on board were either killed immediately, or died of their injuries shortly thereafter.
At the time of the accident, L2 had made ten flights, for a total of 34 hours, 16 minutes.
A contemporary news article described the accident:
AIRSHIP AND BALLOON NEWS.
The Wreck of the Zeppelin.
ELSEWHERE in this issue we comment upon the terrible catastrophe which befell the German Navy’s new Zeppelin L2, on Friday last week, just outside the Johannisthal aerodrome, near Berlin. From the following official account it appears that the airship was making a trial voyage:—
“She started this morning for a high flight, with twenty-eight persons on board. After three minutes she had attained a height of two hundred metres (over 600 feet) when flames burst forth between the fore engine-car and the envelope. In two or three seconds the whole ship was on fire and an explosion occurred. At the same time the airship fell slowly head downwards, until she was forty metres (130 feet) from the earth. Here a second explosion took place, presumably of benzine. When the vessel struck the earth a third explosion occurred, and the framework collapsed. A company of pioneers and guide-rope men hastened to the scene, and doctors were immediately in attendance. Two of the crew were picked up outside the ship still alive, but they died shortly afterwards. Lieut. Bleuel, who was severely injured, was taken to hospital. The remaining 25 of the crew had been killed during the fall of the airship or by the impact with the earth. The cause of the disaster appears to have been, so far as is at present known, an outbreak of fire in or over the fore engine-car.”
The commanding officer was Lieut. Freyer, and he was assisted by Lieuts. A. Trenck, Hansmann, and Busch, with thirteen warrant and petty officers. There were also on board as representing the German Navy, Commander Behnisch, Naval Construtors Neumann, and Pretzker, and three secretaries, named Lehmann, Priess, and Eisele. The Zeppelin Co. were represented by Capt. Glund and three mechanics, and Lieut. Baron von Bleuel was a passenger. The last mentioned was the only one rescued alive, and he died from his injuries a few hours later.
One of the first messages of sympathy was addressed by President Poincare’ to the German Emperor.
Extraordinary scenes, showing the way in which the calamity was regarded in Germany, were witnessed at the funeral service of 23 of the victims, held on Tuesday at the Garrison Church. Upon each of the coffins Prince Adalbert placed a wreath from the German Emperor and Empress, who with the Crown Prince and princess, and Princes Eitel Friedrich, Adalbert, August Wilhelm, Oscar and Joachim attended in person, while the Government was represented by the Chancellor, Admiral Tirpitz, the Chief of the General Staff, Field Marshall von Moltke, and many other officers. Count Zeppelin was also present.
— FLIGHT, First Aero Weekly in the World. No. 252. (No. 43, Vol. V.), 25 October 1913 at Page 1179
The Marine-LuftschiffesL2 had been designated LZ 18 by the builders. Both identifications are commonly used (sometimes, L.II). Technical data for L2 is limited and contradictory. One source describes it as having a length of 158 meters (518 feet, 4½ inches), with a diameter of 16.6 meters (54 feet, 5½ inches). Another states 492 feet.
Eighteen hydrogen-filled gas bags were placed inside the rigid framework and covered with an aerodynamic envelope. The airship had a volume of 27,000 cubic meters (953,496 cubic feet), and a lift capacity of 11.1 tons (24,471 pounds).
Four water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 22.921 liter (1,398.725 cubic inches) Maybach C-X six-cylinder inline engines were carried in two cars beneath the hull. They produced 207 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m., burning bensin (gasoline). Each engine drove a four-blade propeller through a drive shaft and gear arrangement. These engines weighed 414 kilograms (913 pounds), each.
L2 had a maximum speed of approximately 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour). At reduced speed, L2 had a 70 hour radius of action.