Caltech professor helps solve Hindenburg disaster

Posted: May 20, 2021 by oldbrew in History, hydrogen, opinion, physics, Travel

Hindenburg

The LZ-129 Hindenburg, the famous Zeppelin, at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in 1936 [image credit: CIVIS TURDETANI / U.S. Department of the Navy, Bureau of Aeronautics]

As hydrogen is in the news these days as a potential ‘alternative’ fuel, heavily promoted by climate obsessives and others, this look back in history is vaguely topical and offers a fresh technical analysis based on experiments.
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On the evening of May 6, 1937, the largest aircraft ever built by mankind, a towering example of technological prowess, slipped through the stormy skies of New Jersey and prepared to land, says TechXplore.

The airship Hindenburg was nearing the end of a three-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean from Frankfurt, Germany. It was a spectacle and a news event.

Onlookers and news crews gathered to watch the 800-foot-long behemoth touch down.

And then, in one horrifying half minute, it was all over. Flames erupted from the airship’s skin, fed by the flammable hydrogen gas that kept it aloft, and consumed the entire structure, ending 36 lives.

The ship, already famous before its demise, was seared into the world’s memory. The disaster, despite happening nearly a hundred years ago, has remained one of the iconic tragedies of the 20th century, alongside other accidents that captured the public imagination, like the sinking of the Titanic, the Challenger explosion, and the meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor.

Perhaps one reason why the Hindenburg’s final, fiery moments have remained such a source of fascination is the enduring mystery surrounding them. For the past eight decades, people have speculated about how the airship could have been completely devoured by flames in less than a minute.

Now, NOVA, the popular PBS science television show, is taking a new look at the disaster. Its producers tapped Caltech’s Konstantinos Giapis, professor of chemical engineering, to help them recreate the ship’s last moments and unravel its secrets.

Continued here.

Comments
  1. stpaulchuck says:

    watched it last night off my DVR. A very interesting show.

  2. JB says:

    This disaster has been misnomered from the beginning. Since the leak started in the REAR, it was the original blue flamer. It should have been dubbed the Heinyberg Disaster. Something most foolish juveniles are familiar with.

    As Uhuru proclaimed the obvious in The Undiscovered Country: “Well, it’s got to have a tailpipe somewhere!”

  3. Gamecock says:

    “As hydrogen is in the news these days as a potential savior of mankind”

    Fixed it.

  4. HM says:

    To me it’s funny that they are doing this now “people have speculated about how the airship could have been completely devoured by flames in less than a minute.” because the film was cut and they are only subliminally aware? tell me there isn’t a jump cut in the youtube https://youtu.be/fURATK5Yt30?t=165. There’s even photos where there’s a mooring mast and others where there is not.

  5. ivan says:

    And they want to pipe hydrogen into all houses – doing so could make the great fire of London appear like a spark in the gloom. Reducing the population one big bang at a time.

  6. Gamecock says:

    BWTM: ivan, there is no odorant available for hydrogen, unlike nat gas. If – when – hydrogen leaks, you won’t know it.

    “It’s worse than we thought!”

  7. People seem to be talking all the time about science but all processes, products and structures are the result of engineering. The Hindenberg Zepplin was built by engineers with engineering materials. It was a chemical engineer who worked out the reason for the explosion. It is only Chemical Engineers that can properly assess weather and climate changes because they understand thermodynamics, heat & mass transfer, fluid dynamics, reaction kinetics, electrical theory and control. Hydrogen is a dangerous gas because it is hard to contain due to the small atomic molecular size, the speed of reactions when it burns, the reaction with many materials (it causes embrittlement in iron and steel) etc. The idea of a hydrogen economy is dream of stupid people who have no engineering knowledge or experience.

  8. Chaswarnertoo says:

    Hydrogen is a much safer and better fuel with a few added carbon atoms.

  9. Gamecock says:

    ‘It is only Chemical Engineers that can properly assess weather and climate changes because they understand thermodynamics, heat & mass transfer, fluid dynamics, reaction kinetics, electrical theory and control.’

    Bite me.

  10. hunterson7 says:

    It was consumed so quickly because it was mostly open space with little structure.
    It was designed for helium, not hydrogen. The corrosive properties of hydrogen likely contributed to the problem.

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