Created By: HandofBobb on April 6, 2011 Last Edited By: calmestofdoves on July 4, 2015
Troped

Hindenburg Incendiary Principle

The tendency of a story featuring an airship to also feature an improbably spectacular airship crash

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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.


Examples:

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

Film
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.
Community Feedback Replies: 86
  • April 6, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
  • April 6, 2011
    Arivne
    Film

    Watch the Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow example here.
  • April 6, 2011
    Chabal2
    Arcanum: the game begins with your character on board a luxurious airship, which is attacked by orcs in steampunk fighter planes. It crashes, setting off the story.
  • April 6, 2011
    Lavalyte
    Blimplosive
  • April 6, 2011
    Earnest
    I love this trope because the Hindenburg only used flammable Hydrogen because Nazi Germany was under an embargo on Helium. In fictionland, all dirigibles are filled with combustible gas.
  • April 6, 2011
    Bisected8
    Averted in Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, where Indie and his father escape from it because they were about to caught, but the zeplin itself is never in danger.
  • April 6, 2011
    dotchan
    If it's destined to explode, then why would it be uncertain? As much as we hate the All X are Y snowclone, All Dirigibles Are Flammable would be a more informative trope name.
  • April 6, 2011
    HandofBobb
    A: as Indiana Jones shows, it's not 100% certain. B: I thought a play on The Heisenberg Uncertanity Principle would make a snappier name.
  • April 6, 2011
    jate88
    There's a whole fandom of steampunk that know plenty of aversions to this.
  • April 6, 2011
    JCCyC
    A: List blow-ups, then aversions; B: This title is Made Of Win.
  • April 6, 2011
    randomsurfer
    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.
  • April 6, 2011
    Stratadrake
    If you want a play on Heisenberg Uncertainty that paints this trope more clearly, maybe Hindenberg Incendiary Principle.
  • April 6, 2011
    PaulA
  • April 6, 2011
    HandofBobb
    Yeah, that's awesome, let's go with it!
  • April 6, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    • 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 nitrogen 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.
  • April 7, 2011
    Arivne
    Thirding Hindenburg Incendiary Principle.

    Note: that's Hindenburg, not Hindenberg.
  • April 7, 2011
    JCCyC
    Fourthing.
  • April 7, 2011
    Stratadrake
    It might be fun to say that in fiction, zeppelins first tend to go up in flames before going down in flames.
  • April 8, 2011
    MorganWick
    Very averted in Irregular Webcomic, where zeppelins appear in the "Cliffhangers" theme (a pastiche of Indiana Jones) all the time.
  • April 8, 2011
    neoYTPism
    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!"
  • April 8, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    This trope page could use a good picture, since it would be pretty easy to find one of a zeppelin on fire, I think.
  • April 9, 2011
    Arivne
    There are plenty of pictures of the Hindenburg disaster on Google Images, take your pick.

    Here are some with a small enough width to be uploadable:
  • April 18, 2011
    jaytee
    bump, mostly because of the awesome title.
  • April 19, 2011
    Chabal2
    Warcraft 2: a footman uses an Orc catapult to destroy a goblin zeppelin (catapults can't hit air units in-game). This scene is replayed for a Credits Gag in Warcraft 3.

  • December 24, 2011
    TBeholder
    • 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....).
  • December 24, 2011
    Lumpenprole
    The movie Zeppelin, about a WW 1-era German special ops mission carried to Britain in a zeppelin. It burns and crashes in the end.
  • December 24, 2011
    Bisected8
    Maybe the trope should be worded as; "When an airship goes down, it goes down in flames,"?

    That would prevent every incidence of a zeppelin that doesn't crash being an aversion at least....
  • December 24, 2011
    Koveras
    How about "An airship introduced to the story solely to go down burning"?

    • Eddie's final guitar solo in Brutal Legend is called "Bring it on Home" and summons a flaming zeppelin that zeroes in onto the summoner's location, devastating everything in wide radius on impact. This is obviously a reference to Led Zeppelin's first album cover (even though their cover of the song "Bring it on Home" first appeared on their second album), which, in turn, depicted the original Hindenburg disaster.
  • December 24, 2011
    JonnyB
    I'd give this a hat if it were updated.
  • December 24, 2011
    Koveras
    ^ Ditto.
  • December 25, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    • Averted in Red Alert series - Kirov is inexplicably very tough and the Soviet ultimate air to ground weapon.
    • Blown up in Hellsing, through really excessive use of firepower.
  • January 9, 2012
    Arivne
    Film
    • 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.
  • January 9, 2012
    NoirGrimoir
    In Heartless, various small blimps catch fire when Madame Lefoux goes on a rampage with an octapus-like Steam Punk device to take her son back from the vampires who kidnapped him.
  • January 9, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    ^^^ It's hardly 'inexplicable'. 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.
  • January 10, 2012
    Tambov333
  • January 10, 2012
    SchrodingersDuck
    ^^ 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.
  • January 10, 2012
    ginsengaddict2
    So many comments. Not sure if this was already mentioned.

    Doctor Who: The new cybermen came to be in an alternative universe with lots of Zeppelins. To my knowledge, none of them actually blew up.
  • January 10, 2012
    Arivne
    The OP Hand of Bobb hasn't posted here since April, so this is officially Up For Grabs if anyone wants to launch it.
  • January 20, 2012
    morenohijazo
    It wasn't a good idea, the YTTTW was launched but the page doesn't exist.
  • February 24, 2012
    jewelleddragon
    Wings has two blimps get shot down and blown up.
  • December 31, 2012
    spacemarine50
  • December 31, 2012
    StarSword
    ^This is nowhere near launch-ready; all the draft has is three Zero Context Examples. Marking as Up For Grabs, though.

    Film:
    • 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.
  • October 6, 2013
    Arivne
    De-capitalized "helium" and "hydrogen" in the OP.
  • October 6, 2013
    MonaNaito
    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, Sheet Of Glass...

    (Wow. There are a lot of these. We might have a Missing Supertrope on our hands.)
  • October 6, 2013
    Generality
    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.
  • October 6, 2013
    Bisected8
  • October 6, 2013
    Hodor
    • In Johannes Cabal The Detective, the plot takes place aboard a luxury Zepplin which naturally ends up crashing (due to sabotage), with few survivors.
  • October 7, 2013
    Rotpar
  • October 7, 2013
    Nithael
    How is the Doctor Who example demonstrating this trope? It's nowhere close to be omnipresent, so we shouldn't list examples of Zeppelins that don't blow up.
  • October 7, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 7, 2013
    Bisected8
    • In Real Life the trope was Zig Zagged in World War II, with the Zeplins being used to bomb London (more or less the only conflict where airships have been deployed). The RAF found that shooting the balloons on the zeplins had little effect (since the bullets left relatively small holes and didn't ignite the hydrogen inside), similarly incendiary rounds didn't light the hydrogen because there was no oxygen inside the balloons to burn. In the end, they managed to invoke this trope by alternating between explosive rounds (to blast holes in the Zeplin's envelope and let air in) and incendiary rounds (and even then, only by concentrating their fire on a small area of the ship).
  • October 7, 2013
    JonnyB
    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.
  • October 7, 2013
    MonaNaito
    Added the new examples and removed the Doctor Who and Irregular Webcomic examples. If we include aversions here, this will just become a list of every airship represented in media.

    ^^I'm wondering whether Real Life examples are applicable here, because this trope isn't just "airships exploding" but "airships introduced into the narrative solely for the purpose of exploding", and Real Life, of course, does not have a narrative. Then again, maybe if there was a Real Life example where the airships were manufactured solely for the purpose of exploding (don't ask me why), it would count.

    ^^^I also see no reason to change the title. It makes perfect sense, it's a clever pun, and it expresses the idea that this is a "rule" in media ("If Zeppelins, Then Explosions") rather than just the act of a zeppelin being set on fire.
  • October 7, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    either this is related to or covered by Hellish Copter. according to it's description.

    "Applies to pretty much any helicopter or helicopter-analogue (such as tilt-jet military transports in sci-fi films)."
  • October 7, 2013
    Phantazmagoria
    Inverted in The Mummy Returns. The dirigible is taken down by a massive wall of water, possibly due to the narrative requiring that it be repaired and reinserted later in the story. Fire makes that hard to do.
  • October 7, 2013
    MonaNaito
    ^^I would argue that dirigibles are not "helicopter-analogues" and thus that Hellish Copter is a sister trope.
  • October 7, 2013
    MetaFour
    Would hot-air balloons count for this trope?

    • In Dan Vs' first episode "Dan Vs. New Mexico", the librarian suggests that Dan can get his revenge on New Mexico by sabotaging a hot air balloon event. Dan does this by filling all the balloon canopies with hydrogen, then setting them on on fire.
  • October 7, 2013
    Karalora
    One Duck Tales episode takes place aboard a zeppelin called the Hindentanic. True to its name, it catches fire and crashes...into an iceberg.
  • October 7, 2013
    SharleeD
    Likely to overlap with Disposable Pilot.
  • October 8, 2013
    KarjamP
    At the beginning of Mario And Luigi Dream Team, the blimp Mario and the gang were on goes crashing into Pi'illo Blimport when a mysterious being attacks it. Of course, Luigi only dreamt the crash. In reality, they've landed safely.
  • October 8, 2013
    pawsplay
    People Sit On Chairs. Zeppelins are full of hydrogen.
  • October 8, 2013
    KarjamP
    ^One, this isn't only about Zeppelins.

    It's about all forms of airships, including dirigibles and blimps.

    Two, this trope is about airships in the story going crashing down burning just because it's in the story.

    It's an Artistic License trope.
  • October 8, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Three, Zeppelins normally are full of helium instead. :P
  • October 8, 2013
    Bisected8
    ^ Four, as I pointed out, even hydrogen airships are pretty hard to ignite.

    @Mona Naito [10x^]: Good point. Might it be worth adding a note on how difficult it is to light hydrogen Zeppelins to the description, though?
  • October 8, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^ Five, People Sit On Chairs mean that something has no bearing to either plot or narrative detail. not that something is unrealistic/inaccurate.

    2013-10-07 Mona Naito

    just related then.
  • October 8, 2013
    pawsplay
    I'm not saying it's unrealistic or inaccurate. I'm just saying, if there is an airship, it may or may not be full of hydrogen, and it may or many explode. What exactly is the trope? Just look at the Arcanum example. It's a setting with airships. One crashes. So frickin' what?
  • October 8, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ What Karjam P said: "this trope is about airships in the story going crashing down burning just because it's in the story."

    Again, look at Rule Of Pool or Priceless Ming Vase.
  • October 8, 2013
    pawsplay
    Those tropes are the exact opposite of "just because it's in the story." It's because breaking a priceless vase or taking fully clothed person and throwing them in a pool create a situation of shock, or at least mock-shock. If this trope is, "Gosh, it would be a shame if something were to happen to this perfectly good hydrogen-filled airship," then it needs to be rewritten and half the suggested examples are out.
  • October 8, 2013
    KarjamP
    ^ What about Rule Of Drama, then?

    If it's not shock, then it's something else.

    IE, people would get relieved if the airship goes down contains only enemies, or panic if there's good guys on board.

    In that Mario And Luigi example, the "airship going down in flames" part adds a feeling of panic to the scene, as we assume that the protagonists (and Princess Peach) are going to die by fall damage only for it to turn out to be All Just A Dream by luigi, and they've landed safely.

    With the "enemies" part, people would try to destroy Nazi airships to prevent invasions from them.

    In other words, this trope is like Every Car Is A Pinto (I think there should be "See also Every Car Is A Pinto, which is about cars exploding when they shouldn't.").
  • October 9, 2013
    pawsplay
    I think at a minimum looking at the Rule Of Drama and Priceless Ming Vase as to how this might go, and once the thrust of the trope is defined, ruthlessly culling Zeppelins Explode On Hydrogen examples.
  • October 10, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ x a lot @Bisected 8: Zeppelins were used as weapons of war in World War I, not World War II. I know this because you could defend against zeppelin attacks in the Red Baron game. :)
  • October 10, 2013
    Bisected8
    My bad. I got my Blitzes mixed up. =P
  • October 11, 2013
    DAN004
    Launch?
  • October 11, 2013
    KarjamP
    Can we at least sort out the problem that Pawsplay brought up?

    *Subtracts a hat*
  • June 18, 2015
    phoenix
  • June 19, 2015
    robinjohnson
    I changed a reference to "nitrogen" (which isnt flammable, or lighter than air, or what the Hindenburg used) to "hydrogen" (which is).

    Might be worth noting that most airships used helium (nonflammable) and therefore this isn't as much Truth In Television as people think. The Hindenburg used hydrogen because helium was hard to obtain through trade sanctions against Nazi Germany.
  • June 19, 2015
    oneuglybunny
    ^ What robinjohnson said. Only Nazi zeppelins used volatile hydrogen gas. Any other airship shown to be so flammable is Hollywood invoking Made Of Explodium because stuff blowing up is Rule Of Cool.

    Film
    • The Speculative Fiction film The Hindenburg from 1975 postulates that the rigid airship was deliberately destroyed by a chemical bomb planted by a crewman disgusted by the Nazi regime. It also notes that the zeppelin did not land at its scheduled time, but three hours late due to wind conditions. Had the Hindenburg moored on time, the casualties would have been minimal.
  • June 19, 2015
    StarSword
    TV:
    • The Nova episode "Zeppelin Terror Attack" deals with the WWI German use of zeppelins for terror bombing against England, and how they were eventually foiled by airplanes loading a combination of explosive and incendiary ammunition.
  • June 19, 2015
    bitemytail
    • In Final Fantasy IX, it has been noted that almost every airship the party gets on is destroyed. Specifically:
      • The airship used for the play at the beginning is shot down into the forest.
      • The cargo ship you hijack doesn't crash, but you do burn out its engine getting through South Gate.
        • Black Waltz 3 does destroy his ship trying to follow you though.
        • And South Gate itself is damaged...
      • The Hilda Garde 2 crashes outside Alexandria (although they knew the ship was an unfinished prototype)
      • also the Inferred Holocaust when you eliminate the mist, which would've caused any airship already in the air to crash.
  • June 19, 2015
    eroock
    Aniime:
    • Kikis Delivery Service features a Zeppelin that eventually gets out of control and crashed into the city's clock tower.
  • June 19, 2015
    SolipSchism
    The Archer example isn't a subversion; they explain right from the get-go that it's filled with non-combustible helium, and go to very great lengths to get that point across, mostly just because Archer himself, Cloud Cuckoolander extraordinaire, spends the entire episode convinced that the airship is a timebomb waiting to go off.

    I'd call it an Aversion and a Parody. Maybe a Zig Zagged Trope at best, since they do kind of play with the idea of blowing it up, even while insisting that the threat has nothing to do with the construction of the dirigible itself.
  • June 20, 2015
    Arivne
    Note that according to the title, Description and Laconic, an example only fits this trope if the airship is burning at some point. If it just crashes or its engine burns out it isn't this trope.
  • June 20, 2015
    Chabal2
    Solatorobo: The tutorial has you retrieve a datafile from a plane named the Hindenburg. Astoundingly enough, it crashes when it runs into the mile-high Rent A Zilla that's the main antagonist of the first arc.
  • June 20, 2015
    eroock
  • July 3, 2015
    Generality
    • In Grim Fandango, casino owner Maximino's first attempt at running an airship shuttle service ended predictably. To make matters worse, the ship crashed while he was trying to use its marquee to propose to his girlfriend, and it landed right on his prized racing cat. Maximino's not exactly lovable, but you kind of feel sorry for him.
  • July 4, 2015
    Antigone3
    Duty Calls: at one point, Cain and the Valhallans have to shoot down a cargo dirigible loaded with promethium that's been hijacked by a terrorist (pronounced "genestealer") cell. The unidentified lift gas doesn't appear to be flammable, but the dirigible still catches fire after Penlan's bolter shells hit the metal framework and cause sparks.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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