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The maiden flight of Zeppelin Hindenburg


In March 1936, after numerous construction delays, LZ-129 was finally ready to fly. The most advanced Zeppelin built up to that time, on paper it was everything its operators could have wanted in an airship. But how would it handle when they finally got it into the air?

On the afternoon of 4 March 1936, the ship’s ground crew eased LZ-129 out of its construction shed for the first time. An expectant crowd gathered to get a first glimpse of the new pride of Friedrichshafen – soon to be the pride of Germany. The ground crew, primarily Luftschiffbau Zeppelin employees, backed the giant slowly out of its shed. To manoeuvre the airship onto the field, everyone from the construction and fabrication crew to the clerks from the LZ offices gripped LZ-129’s handling ropes. First, the massive 150ft-highswastika-emblazoned tail fins emerged into the afternoon sun, then its engine cars followed by the passenger deck observation windows, with the Olympic rings painted just above and aft; the control car came next and finally the airship’s curved blunt-nosed bow, upon which no name had yet been painted.

Though mariners and airshipmen alike considered it an ill omen to sail an un-christened vessel, LZ-129 remained nameless as it made its first ascent. Although the name Hindenburg had been chosen sometime earlier, delays in the ship’s final construction phases left insufficient time to apply the final coats of dope to the outer cover prior to its initial test flights. It was assumed that the name Hindenburg would be applied to the bow and that an official christening ceremony would take place sometime between the first proving flights and LZ-129’s inaugural round-trip voyage to South America. The ground crew gave LZ-129 a gentle push when the commander ordered, ‘Luftschiff hoch!’ With that, the new airship lifted effortlessly into the sky. This short test flight of a few hours allowed the ship’s operators to get a feel for their new charge. Once the airship reached an altitude of 200–300ft, the commander ordered the engines started.As the four diesels roared to life, LZ-129 began moving forward. As it did, many in the crowd gasped at what appeared to be smoke billowing in its wake. Fortunately, it was merely dust that had collected on the hull while the ship had lain in its construction shed.


LZ-129 circled the airfield and then nosed ahead to cruise out over the Bodensee (Lake Constance). Finally, with evening falling, it circled the city of Friedrichshafen and then settled gently down to the landing field, alighting after three and a half hours in the air. Its crew couldn’t have been happier; it had handled smoothly and responsively, and the new LOF-6 engines had not only performed well but were even quieter and caused less structural vibration than expected. The crew anticipated that its airworthiness flight trials would go off without a hitch.

 And so they did. The very next day, LZ-129 was taken up for a second test flight, during which speed and manoeuverability trials were conducted for the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL),the government agency that would determine whether or not LZ-129 would receive its airworthiness certificate. The kitchen and the steward staff served their first on-board meals and the maintenance and navigation crews stood their regular watch rotation as LZ-129 cruised over Bavaria, circling triumphantly over Munich and Augsburg. After almost eight hours aloft, the new airship returned to earth once more. Over the next few weeks, LZ-129 made five more trial flights, passing its speed and manoeuverability tests and easily obtained its official airworthiness certificate from the DVL.

Extracted from Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129 by Dan Grossman, Cheryl Ganz & Patrick Russell

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