Hindenburg Incendiary Principle YKTTW Discussion

Hindenburg Incendiary Principle
The tendency of a story featuring an airship to also feature an improbably spectacular airship crash
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(permanent link) added: 2011-04-06 00:23:30 sponsor: HandofBobb edited by: calmestofdoves (last reply: 2015-07-04 11:27:32)

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Whenever a movie includes a Zeppelin or similar airship, the odds are, it's going to go down in flames. It might be fun to say that in fiction, zeppelins first tend to go up in flames before going down in flames.

The Hindenburg only used flammable hydrogen because Nazi Germany was under an embargo on helium. In fictionland, all dirigibles are filled with combustible gas.

Dirigibles and even blimps in real life are generally more difficult to injure than their depiction in fiction - that is, something like a very large party balloon - would suggest. Compartmentalisation of the envelope, for one, and, for military vehicles, armour for another. During WWII, blimps - typically belonging to the US Navy, if memory serves - were frequently tasked with protecting supply convoys on the Atlantic. No convoy with a blimp escort was ever sunk by U-Boots.

One other point worth mention is that most airships in real life aren't actually pressurised. We're used to balloons full of pressurised gas, which burst and leak when they get the tiniest hole, because party balloons are made of rubber which only holds its shape when inflated. Most airships (including the Hindenburg) however were made of thin sheets of metal supported by an internal framework. They held their shape without having to be inflated, so there was no pressure difference between the inside and ouside, and as a result a single puncture won't burst it - even huge holes aren't necessarily fatal if there's a suitable landing site nearby.

See also Oh, the Humanity!. For other objects that are introduced into the narrative solely to be destroyed spectacularly later on, see Ashes to Crashes, Carrying a Cake, Doomed Supermarket Display, Fruit Cart, Priceless Ming Vase, and Sheet of Glass. See also Every Car Is a Pinto, which is about cars exploding when they shouldn't.


Anime and Manga
  • Blown up in Hellsing, through really excessive use of firepower.

  • Disney's The Island at the Top of the World. The French dirigible Hyperion is set on fire when a Viking fires a burning arrow at it.
  • Both averted and played straight in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. The zeppelin Hindenburg III arrives safely in New York, but when Dr. Totenkopf's robots attack Sky Captain's base, the zeppelins moored overhead are set aflame by enemy attack. Watch the second example here.
  • Averted in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Indie and his father escape from it because they were about to caught, but the zeppelin itself is never in danger.
  • The movie Zeppelin, about a WW1-era German special ops mission carried to Britain in a zeppelin. It burns and crashes in the end.
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The Fantom leads a raid on a Zeppelin factory in Berlin to kidnap some scientists. During the attack he fires an incendiary missile into some zeppelins and ignites their hydrogen cells, leaving them in flames.
  • Wings has two blimps get shot down and blown up.
  • One mission in Flyboys has the Lafayette Escadrille deploy to bring down a German zeppelin en route to bomb Paris. A more realistic example here, as German zeppelins were filled with hydrogen, and even then the squadron commander says that it can take hundreds of incendiary rounds to bring one down. It ends up being the mortally wounded flight leader ramming the airship that does it.
  • In Southland Tales, the Treer MegaZeppelin is introduced late in the film. During the Mind Screw Gainax Ending, nearly the entire cast is on board the thing when a rocket destroys it, Killing 'em All. Including the Decoy Protagonist.
  • At the end of The Rocketeer, Jenny fires off a flare gun in the cockpit, and the zeppelin the Nazis intend to escape in goes up in flames.

  • In book 3 of The Pendragon Adventure Bobby must blow up the Hindenburg or else the US will end up losing WWII. Even knowing the consequences he can't bring himself to do it, so another Traveller does it for him.
  • In Heartless, various small blimps catch fire when Madame Lefoux goes on a rampage with an octopus-like Steam Punk device to take her son back from the vampires who kidnapped him.
  • In Johannes Cabal the Detective, the plot takes place aboard a luxury Zepplin which naturally ends up crashing (due to sabotage), with few survivors.

Video Games

Web Comics
  • Girl Genius (of course) has a few dirigibles burned — not all of them, of course — and even more were destroyed in various offscreen incidents (And how do dose alvays end? De dirigible iz in flames....).

Western Animation
  • From Family Guy, the Hindenpeter.
  • The Simpsons has an episode where Barney Gumble pilots a blimp and crashes it. In an apparent reference to the Hindenburg crash, Kent Brockman says "oh, the humanity!"
  • Subverted(?) in the episode "Skytanic", of Archer. A Zeppelin's maiden voyage is threatened by a bomb threat and ISIS is on the case. Archer is paranoid that the zeppelin is going to explode, despite the fact that everyone explains to him that helium, what this zeppelin uses, isn't flammable unlike hydrogen which is what the Hindenburg used. At the very end of course they manage to save the zeppelin from the bomb in a close call that wouldn't even have happened if not for the usual ISIS bumblings.
  • In one episode of Bruno The Kid, during a firefight, the villain turns to his henchman and carefully asks if their zeppelin is filled with helium or hydrogen. In answer, the zeppelin explodes.
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