The Hindenburg (LZ 129) was the largest aircraft ever to fly (along with a sister aircraft), having a length nearly as long as the Titanic and more than three times as long as a Boeing 747. The Hindenburg weighed a massive 242 tons. The ship was a Zeppelin design, an engineering masterpiece. It was designed to be filled with non-flammable helium rather than flammable hydrogen to make it lighter than air and capable of carrying passengers across the Atlantic Ocean.
When the Nazi regime came to power, among the actions taken by the United States was a law prohibiting the sale of helium and other resources to Germany in the 1930s. As a result of this ban, the Hindenburg was filled with the flammable hydrogen to make its flights to the United States. On May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg caught fire while landing at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in Manchester, New Jersey. About one third of those on board, 35 passengers, died not from the fire but from jumping to the ground below. Those who stayed calm and rode the aircraft to its landing survived unharmed.
The tragedy was caught on film, radio and pictures. The bad publicity, as well as the destruction of several other dirigibles such as the Shenendoah led to the demise of this type of aircraft. The exact cause of the fire is not known, but there are several theories. One theory is that there was a discharge of static elecricity between the mooring mast and the aircraft. The skin of the Hindenburg was waterproofed with cellulose acetate, which is very flammable, and was coated with the aluminium powder that is used as a rocket fuel today. Hydrogen burns with a blue flame, however the Hindenburg burned with a bright red flame. The hydrogen would have escaped upwards when the bladders opened and did not contribute to the disaster.
The Hindenburg was named after the president of Germany, Paul von Hindenburg, who served from 1925 to 1934.