A new look at the design of the Hindenburg

In the PBS television broadcast of May 19, 2021, the topic was “Hindenburg: The New Evidence.” The following image is extracted from that broadcast (it is taken from the 6:30 time point).

annotated diagram of the Hindenburg design

Figure 1 The entire assembly of the Hindenburg was shrouded in an electrically conductive outer skin that may have led to its demise.

Please note that all of the following is my personal interpretation of what I saw and heard during my viewing. The thesis of this broadcast is that the Hindenburg disaster was likely caused by a spark which ignited hydrogen gas that was leaking from one of the rearmost hydrogen-filled bags. The entire assembly as shown above was shrouded in an electrically conductive outer skin, an envelope, which provided streamlining and offered a visually attractive appearance, but was deliberately NOT electrically bonded to the frame.

That outer envelope was electrically floating with respect to the inner frame. Hence, the two structures formed a capacitor which became electrically charged as the airship was coming into Lakehurst, NJ. When the capacitor’s voltage got high enough to strike an arc, the disaster ensued.

Remember: leave nothing floating. Seeing that footage from 1937 should convince even the most hardened skeptic about always observing that precaution.

John Dunn is an electronics consultant, and a graduate of The Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (BSEE) and of New York University (MSEE).

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