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Saturday, 11 August, 2001, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Zeppelin takes to German skies again
Zeppelin airship
Zeppelins now use helium - an inert gas
By the BBC's Rick Fountain

A Zeppelin airship has again taken to the skies over Germany, more than six decades after the disastrous fire that destroyed the Hindenburg in May 1937.

The Zeppelin NT took off from Friedrichshafen in southern Germany on Friday, carrying a number of survivors from the Hindenburg.

When that airship crashed at Lakenhurst in New Jersey, 36 of the 100 people on board were killed and the images of the huge craft, sinking slowly to the ground, engulfed in flames, appalled the world.

It's burning and bursting into flames and it's falling on the mooring pad and all the folks between!

Witness to crash of the Hindenburg
The tragedy abruptly stopped the development of airships as a means of mass transport, but the new breed of dirigible promises to be safer.

The fire that engulfed the Zeppelin Hindenburg was an event captured by a newsreel commentator, watching as the airship attempted to dock.

"It has burst into flame! It's burning and bursting into flames and it's falling on the mooring pad and all the folks between! This is terrible, this is one of the worst catastrophes in the world," he said as he watched the tragedy unfold.

Improved safety

That event shocked the world and stopped for half a century the development of airships as a form of civilian flight.

But now the use of inert helium gas, rather than hydrogen, and super-light metal framework, has largely eliminated the risk of catastrophic fire.

"It's helium today and that's an inert gas which means it is not flammable," said Bernd Straeter, technology manager of Zeppelin, at Friedrichshafen.

Scenic flights

The new breed, now about to begin passenger flights over Lake Constance, in Germany, is only a third of the size of the Hindenburg.

The new model Zeppelin has three propellers, flies at about a 100 kph (62 mph) - depending on wind speed - and at a height of about 2,000 m (6,560 feet).

At present, only local flights are planned, lasting about an hour, from Friedrichshafen, around Lake Constance.

Regular flights begin on Monday, and have already attracted much interest.

The Zeppelin company says if all goes well, it will build bigger craft and fly to and from other European destinations.

See also:

30 May 00 | Business
Germans reinvent Zeppelin
30 May 00 | Sci/Tech
New airship carries commercial hopes
17 Mar 00 | Europe
Virgin's mine-spy in the sky
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