Fantastic images from the golden age of Airships – graceful, modern and doomed

Ashley features, photography, Timewarp Leave a Comment


These days we associate Airships with football matches as the smooth flight of the ship enables camera crews to take long and steady overhead shots of stadiums.

But there was a time in the 1930s when they were state of the art travel ships. If you wanted to get from Europe to the Americas you could either get a boat or go there twice as fast cruising in on a liner-esque Zeppelin.

Sadly, the Airship’s stint as the poster boys of inter continental travel didn’t last very long. The Hindenburg disaster put the public off travelling in the skies and then WW2 came and any remaining ships were put to good use chasing U-Boats.

For me though there is something wonderfully romantic and beautiful about the airships. They were the Art Deco fleet of the skies –  graceful, modern and, like many things from that era – doomed.

Here then are  a series of stunning images from the Airship’s golden age, along with a story or two about how they came to be.

Incidentally if you want to travel by Airship, you still can here.

Hindenburg crashes

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Perhaps the most famous moment in the history of the airship occurred in 1937 when the pride of the German fleet of Zeppelins, the Hindenburg, suddenly and mysteriously burst into flames while attempting a landing in New Jersey. It was a tragic end not just for the people who died, but also for the ship that had become an icon of 30s Germany. The Hindenburg was part of the Zeppelin company which was overseen by Dr. Hugo Eckener. It was designed from the off as a passenger ship that would be used to ferry the rich and famous across the Atlantic. It was a trip that not only took half the time of a ship, but it was also undertaken in luxury. With its dining room, lounge and individual cabins the Hindenburg was more like an ocean liner than a plane. In spite of the fact that the balloons were inflated using highly flammable Hydrogen gas it even boasted a smoking room. In many ways Hitler, who was then in power in Germany, saw the ship as a symbol of Nazi technological prowess and ensured that the ship was seen at high profile events associated with his regime including the Berlin Olympics. Dr. Hugo Eckener, however hated the Nazis and frequently had runs in with regime. The Hindenburg was hugely successful during 1936 completing a series of trips across the Atlantic to both the USA and Brazil. However it was on one of its first voyages of 1937 that disaster struck. Coming into land at the airship landing ground in Lakehurst, New Jersey, the ship struggled to cope with the stormy conditions. Blue flames were then seen at the top of the ship and a few seconds later an explosion ripped the ship apart. Of the 36 passengers and 61 crew on board, 13 passengers and 22 crew died. At first it was suspected that the ship had been sabotaged and that an anti-Nazi had placed a bomb on board. This theory has largely been discounted now in favour of a series of natural occurrences which, coupled with a rip in one of the balloons that lead to Hydrogen leaking, caused the ship to explode.