On March 30, 1936, the Zeppelin company inaugurated a regular line of flights to Rio de Janeiro with the largest and most modern airship of the time. A giant took flight near Lake Constance, on March 30, 1936, and left for Rio de Janeiro, in South America. The legendary airship LZ 129 Hindenburg had unprecedented proportions, being the largest zeppelin to be used for the transport of passengers: 245 meters long, 200 thousand cubic meters of gas, four engines, speed of 131 kilometers per hour and an autonomy of 12 thousand kilometers.
It had only been a few years since Hugo Eckener, director of the Zeppelin company in Friedrichshafen, had obtained permission from the victorious powers in the First World War to build the gigantic balloons powered by hydrogen gas.
The Treaty of Versailles had prohibited its construction, because the airships – developed by Count Zeppelin – had been used to drop bombs on England during the conflict. In 1928, the era of travel aboard zeppelins began.
The beginning was difficult, but Eckener did not lose confidence that the airship would become the ideal means of transport for express mail and passengers in a hurry on transatlantic voyages. Indeed, an affluent clientele soon discovered their predilection for travel aboard silent balloons, and the press added to the myth, with their reports on the luxury that reigned in the cabin, with caviar served by the first stewardesses in aviation history.
Luxury for the privileged
A ticket to Rio de Janeiro cost 1400 Reichsmark, at a time when a worker earned an average of 120 Reichsmark per month. A real fortune, but on the other hand, Eckener promised a quick voyage: three and a half days, against the ten it took ships then to cross the Atlantic.
Long-distance trips became a success, the flying vehicles were always crowded. High society traveled not only to Rio de Janeiro: Luxor, Egypt, or Russia were also popular destinations. Historical lists of cargoes then transported range from monkeys and snakes to silverware and Bechstein pianos.
But the golden age of zeppelins was short-lived: on May 6, 1937, the Hindenburg exploded at Lakehurst, near New York, from Frankfurt. The “pride of the nation” was transformed in a few seconds into an aluminum skeleton, 35 people died in the flames of what was considered at the time “the worst catastrophe in the world”.
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