First Trans-Atlantic Airliner: 1936

The first airliner to make scheduled passenger flights between Europe and the America was not an airplane but the German zeppelin Hindenburg, which made 34 scheduled trips across the Atlantic in 1936.


Hindenburg crossed the Atlantic in 2-1/2 days, which was half the time required by the fastest ocean liners of the day, and the zeppelin’s fastest trip across the Atlantic took just 43 hours and 2 minutes.   The airship crossed the north and south Atlantic 34 times during 1936, carrying more than 3500 passengers as well as large quantities of mail and valuable freight.

The first airplanes to carry passengers on that route were the Pan Am clipper flying boats, which did not begin service across the Atlantic until three years later, in May, 1939.

The Hindenburg had accommodations for 72 passengers, who slept in private cabins, took their meals in an elegant dining room, relaxed in a lounge and a writing room, observed the ocean from the large windows of two promenades, and could even smoke in a smoking room which was pressurized against leaks from the ship’s flammable hydrogen lifting gas.

While the Hindenburg’s great size provided spacious and comfortable accommodations for passengers, ultimately it could not have competed economically with the flying boats of the era:  The Hindenburg required a flight crew of 40 (and hundreds of men on the ground to assist in landing operations); by 1939, Pan Am’s Boeing Clippers were crossing the Atlantic in about the same amount of time but with a flight crew of only 10.


Dining Room of the Hindenburg

The age of the passenger zeppelin did not end because of economics, however, but because of tragedy.  The Hindenburg was on the first of eighteen scheduled round-trip flights between Germany and the United States which had been planned for 1937 when the ship burst into flames and crashed on landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey.  Although a sister ship, the LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin, made numerous flights without passengers in 1938 and 1939, the Hindenburg disaster of May 6, 1937 marked the end of the rigid airship.

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  1. Jose January 1, 2012

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