Back in the 1920s and 30s, dirigibles looked like the transportation of the future. Yet the era of the airship ended abruptly on May 6, 1937, when the Hindenburg burst into flames during a landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. For years it was assumed that the craft was destroyed by a hydrogen explosion. More resent research suggests that the Hindenburg was a victim of ordinary rain clouds.
Crucial to the craft's fate would be the choice of a coating for its skin. It was made of iron oxide covered with cellulose acetate, which was designed to protect it from moisture. The highly flammable mixture was practically identical to rocket fuel. As if to ensure it would burn, the paint that covered the acetate was stiffened with powdered aluminum, which is also highly combustible.
As it came in for a landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the ship, which was already delayed due to headwinds over Newfoundland, was unable to dock because of the stormy weather. It circled the airport for more than an hour waiting for the weather to clear.
As the Hindenburg passed through rain clouds, the craft became negatively charged. When the crew dropped the wet lines to dock, they acted as a ground. When the metal frame of the ship earthed its charge, the skin heated up and the highly flammable coating ignited. Within ten seconds most of the ship was ablaze, by the time 34 seconds had passed, the mighty Hindenburg was a burning mass on the ground.
Learn how the weather has effected many historical events!
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