The Hindenburgh doesn't burst into flames; effect on the fate of rigid airships?

Picture it; Lakehurst, New Jersey, May 6th 1937. The LZ-129 Hindenburg arrives on her first North American trip of the season. Crowds gather to watch it land, newsreel cameras are rolling, and everything goes as planned. The Hindenburgh doesn’t burst into flames. Passengers disembark without incident, and after the layover she heads back to Germany with a new group of passengers. How would this effect the fate of rigid airships? How long would they last? Germany was basically the only country still flying them at point (the Los Angeles was mothballed, but not yet scrapped). They were also ran the only regulary schedualed transatlantic passenger air service ('till Pan Am launched the Yankee Clipper in '39).

In the short term the Hindenburgh would continue her flights between Germany, the US, and Brazil. Next season her sister, the Graf Zeppelin would be retired to make way for the Graf Zeppelin II. I imagine passenger service would continue right up until the outbreak of World War II. Then they’d be mothballed for the duration (unless the Nazis used them for more propoganda flights). They’d probally get broken up for metal anyway as the War drove on and Germany’s situtation deteriorated.

Would zeppelins have made any sort of comeback after the War (Germany wouldn’t be in any position to restart passenger service)? We made alot of advances in fixed-wing aircraft during the war (not to mention all the runways all over the planet that got built). Would there have been any attempt to use them militarly durring the War? I could see the USN maybe taking Los Angeles out of mothballs to augment it’s blimp program. Even if they couldn’t compete with planes would rigid airships continued to have a niche used to the present day? Would we have seen an attemp at reviving passenger service by now like how ocean liners were reborn as cruise ships?

No. As you noted in your next sentence:

After the war travel not only became easy, it also became fast. Zeps were too slow to compete. Look what happened to trans-Atlantic ocean liners within 15 years of the war’s end.

No. Zeps were big targets, slow, and expensive to operate. Blimps, at least, were smaller and cheaper, though still not that effective at hunting subs.

Cruise ships are profitable because they offer amenities like casinos and swimming pools to hundreds and thousands of passengers. The Hindenburg had room for forty passengers.

If the Hindenburgh accident hadn’t occurred another one would have since the Germans were painting them with rocket fuel. At their best, rigid airships were spectacular failures of flight. I say this even though I would dearly love to ride safely in one. They just don’t do well in marginal weather.

  1. There’s no H at the end of “Hindenburg”.

Source: Wikipedia.

This - the USS Macon, one of the Navy’s experimental dirigibles, was lost in bad weather. So was another Navy dirigible, I believe, though it’s name escapes me at present. Conventional dirigibles - that is, 1930s-style dirigibles not equipped with 1920s-style death rays - are slow, underpowered for their size (and thus unable to handle weather), and just don’t have enough advantages to make up for their detriments as passenger vehicles.

Even in terms of loiter capacity, we’re coming very close to the point where solar or fuel-cell powered drone aircraft could loiter over a fixed location indefinitely. There may still have been a niche for dirigibles after WW2, but it would have been very small - and by today, it would be all but gone.

The dirigible airship was a remarkable achievement for its day. So too was the trebuchet, the stagecoach, and the stirrup. All have been supplanted by technologies that either do their job better, or eliminate the need of them altogether. So, too, with the dirigible.

USS Akron. Also the USS Shenandoah, the K-133, and the British R101.

Ah - I stand corrected. Thanks, DrDeth!

72, actually. The airship had 34 two passenger berths and one four passenger family berth.

I agree that the Zeppelins would most likely have been mothballed for the duration of WW2 and broken up by the time the war ended. After the war it’s probably unlikely that they would’ve made any kind of resurgence because, as has been mentioned, they’ve go a number of practical limitations.

However, they would have had a slightly better shot of returning than they had in “our” reality, where they also had to face the fact that the public had the images of a blazing airship crashing to the ground. Now-a-days we’re used to seeing disasters and death on the news - in the 30’s it was quite shocking and indelibly linked airships with fire and death. Heck, it still taints peoples views of hydrogen. Pretty much any article on hydrogen fueled cars makes mention of the Hindenburg disaster.

No, you were right, the USS Macon also crashed in a storm. I was just providing the name which had " escapes me at present".:cool:

I knew a lady who was supposed to be on the return trip had the Hidenburg not exploded. My wife at the time worked at a retirement community and befriended Mrs. O who died in the late 90’s at 98 years old. She was a little hottie flapper in the 20’s and married an older man who was very wealthy from publishing.

At the time of her death, she still had the tickets stamped “Cancelled.”

A few years back The Economist (I think) published an article about several freight firms competing to design an inexpensive very-heavy-item dirigible. Anyone remember? Anything come of it?

My great aunt returned from her student exhange in Germany on the Hindenburg. This was in 1936 on one of the succesful flights. She had nothing but nice things to say about that trip (well other than the “shower” being rather useless) and compared it to a first class rail journey. She never even felt like it was moving. She traveled alot (essentially everywhere except Australia & Antartica) over her life (train, ship, plane) and still considered it superior to airplanes in everything except speed.

Since posting I found a very long thread in an alternate history forum on the subject. I’ve only read a couple pages, but the consensus seems to be that more changes than just the Hindenburg surviving would be needed (like having Goodyear/Pan Am start an American line) and even then they wouldn’t last past the 50s. Or have WWII not happen and airplane technology advance much slower. Still it’s fun to speculate.

I must disagree with you on the stirrup, at least in terms of its direct function, which is to stabilize a rider on a horse. It continues to be an essential part of the tack for almost all forms of horseback riding, and any technological improvements have been incremental and marginal rather than transformative.

Now, if by “the stirrup” you meant the use of the horse as a mode of transportation and a mobile warfighting platform, then yes, that use has been made obsolete in most circumstances (not all; there are still situations in which the horse outperforms any mechanized form of mobility).

Except that the horse has been supplanted by technologies that either do their job better, or eliminate the need of them altogether.

I remember the SkyCat proposal, a twin-hulled heavy-lifter dirigible with a sort of hover skirt that would allow it to suck itself to the ground IIRC, so it could land anywhere. That was years ago, but judging from a bit of Googling it seems that work continues. They have produced a remote control scaled-down version of it.

There are semirigids, which is a slight misnomer – they have a single envelope like a blimp, but a rigid keel including the pilot/cargo compartment, doing tourism around Bavaria and California today.

There are a number of proposals to use LTA’s ability to hover for heavy-lift vehicles that could move multi-ton loads to remote, inaccessible places: want a forest-ranger tower 20 miles up that trail? Don’t pack the construction materials in; airlift the completed tower. Want some earthmovers at a mine site in Siberia or the NWT? Use a zeppelin to airlift them in.

My hunch, if the Hindenburg had not crashed, is that Germany would have continued to build them until World War II – when the RAF would have shot them out of the skies. (Absent incendiary bullets, they would not have exploded – but the interior gasbags would not have been proof against strafing of the large, vulnerable ship with machine-gun bullets.

The Los Angeles would have been put back in service for the same function as blimps actually did fulfill – spotting submarines. And building more rigids could have been done in much the same way as Liberty ships and destroyers. With the longer potential ranges they could have been an invaluable adjunct to Naval aviation.

One wonders what technologies might have been devised to improve them during the war – certainly most other modes of militarily-useful vehicle made the transition from experimental to everyday during that period. A rigid airship built to 1960s engineering might well have survived what took down the Shenandoah and the Macon. (Flying the Akron on its last flight was criminal ngligence of court martial level.)

The blimps weren’t really supposed to kill subs, they were supposed to force them to submerge by the threat of spotting them if they surfaced. A submerged diesel-electric sub was much less dangerous in the strategic sense, because of greatly limited mobility on batteries.

While the blimps hardly got any sinkings, which can be measured, I’d think it’s pretty hard to measure objectively how effective the blimps were at deterring U-boat captains from surfacing, which is the key issue. Nevertheless as part of the overall system of making life hard for U-boats I think they helped.

Speed isn’t everything. Many people, myself included, would rather spend a day or two in a relatively spacious cabin (on a train or a ship or, probably, a zeppelin) than ten hours in cramped economy-class airline seating, even if it costs more. (And much of the time it actually costs less!) This is obviously true or else we wouldn’t have so many train and long-distance ferry services. Ships and zeppelins, and to a lesser extent trains, are wonderful spacious vehicles where you have your own room, can get up and walk around, go to restaurants, etc. (And I speak from experience for all three—the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, which I visited, has a full-scale replica of much of the Hindenburg’s passenger area.)

Transatlantic ocean travel, I will grant, is too slow. Nowadays it’s possible to book passage on freighters, and they take 10 to 14 days to do a crossing. Most people don’t have that kind of time. But the Hindenburg, IIRC, took just over three days to cross the Atlantic, which is comparable to a rail journey of the same distance. With today’s technology I imagine it would be even faster.

The CargoLifter was a serious attempt to do this in Germany.
An enormous hangar was constructed south of Berlin around 2000, which now houses a tropical holiday resort, and regular indoor BASE jump competitions.

It’s quite a sight to see from the air; I took part in a gliding competition near there last year, I’d have loved to see one of the airships…

Well, yes; did you not read my second paragraph?

What was cited as outmoded technology was the stirrup and I was pointing out that this particular piece of technology was in fact not rendered obsolete for its intended purpose.