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Structural Engineering Mishaps and Disasters

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Structural Engineering Mishaps and Disasters
Hindenburg: An Unnecessary Disaster

In the 1930s airships, better known today as “blimps”, were the main source of air travel. During this time, the airships were used for various different reasons such as: bombing enemy targets, patrolling coastal areas, escorting naval ships during the night or through unsafe bodies of water, or used to make luxury flights across the Atlantic. The Hindenburg was believed to be the biggest and most sophisticated aircraft ever built. The Hindenburg was built with metal framework and balloon like covering. It was as long as three football fields and weighed more than 240 tons. This airship looked ravishing, however, it possessed a significant flaw that eventually caused it to ruin. The outer skin of the Hindenburg was filled with hydrogen, which is extremely flammable. Passengers preparing to board the aircraft had to remove all lighters, matches, and/or any other objects that would cause it to catch fire. Traveling all the way from Europe, the Hindenburg was expected to arrive in the United States and land in New Jersey on May 6, 1937. Max Pruss was commander, there were thirteen passengers, and twenty-two crew members on board . Hundreds of people waited for the Hindenburg, including: relatives of the passengers, news reporters, photographers, New Jersey citizens, and ninety-two ground crew members. The flight’s landing was slightly delayed due to thunderstorms and aggressive winds. Finally, the weather calmed and the Hindenburg airship began to land in Jersey.

One of the spectators noticed a pale pink glow in the lower center of the ship. Everyone began to become intense because they had a feeling that the glow was not suppose to be there. A few seconds later that section of the airship exploded! All the onlookers, of course, backed away rapidly, but were still close as the entire Hindenburg airship, and mostly all of its passengers caught fire. Some parts of the Hindenburg did, in fact, remain together, but they are only preserved today for research. One of the passengers aboard the flight, a fourteen year old, climbed through a window trying to escape the fires of the airship. To his advance, one of the water tanks burst and the flames on his clothes and his body were extinguished. The U.S Bureau of Air Commerce gave the following statement as an explanation of the explosion. “A small amount of explosive mixture (hydrogen) in the upper part of the ship could have been ignited by…{an} electric phenomenon like a ball of lightning.” (Air Crashes by E. Landau; pg. 13). Some people believe that lightning was not the reason the ship exploded; rather they believe that the German government sabotaged the aircraft because they had done similar things prior to this catastrophe. In 1997, Addison Bain conducted test on materials used for the aircraft’s creation. He found that the cellulose nitrate used to coat the airship is the same material used to make gun powder. Also, he discovered that aluminum powder was used to coat the Hindenburg as well, and this particular substance can be used to launch rockets. Addison Bain was quoted saying “ I guess the moral of the story is – don’t paint your airship with rocket fuel. ”

In conclusion, I agree with Mr. Bain. If there is this beautiful multi- purposed airship, and it is most useful to carry out military expeditions, as well as personal vacations across the Atlantic, why would the engineers design the aircraft to be such a risk to all who board? Why weren’t the contents of the aircraft discussed thoroughly on all aspects including: the engine and its parts, the inside of the plane, and even the outside coat of the plane? The outside of the plane holds as much importance as the engine. If the engineers believed this concept themselves, this accident would never have happened. If it was discussed thoroughly, someone would have taken the initiative to inspect and evaluate the aircraft. I believe that coating the airship with flammables was a careless and unnecessary mistake that cost people their lives.

MLA Citation:
"Structural Engineering Mishaps and Disasters." 02 Jun 2012 .

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