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Is now the time to re-investigate the use of Hydr.............

For nearly thirty years, between 1909 and 1938, Hydrogen was used as the primary lifting gas for most Airships and Aerostats.  The flammable and explosive nature of Hydrogen was known and understood by the Airshipmen, Balloonists and designers of the time, and procedures were in place to mitigate those risks.

The main alternative to hydrogen is Helium; being a relatively rare and expensive element, the production and use of helium was controlled primarily by the USA, and was not available to other nations for many years. (This situation regarding the availabilityof helium has changed, and helium is available from a number of sources, with more sources being planned to come on-line over the next few years).

The US Helium Reserve Act of 1925 ensured that an adequate supply of Helium was available for America's own LTA programmes, and by mandating that any manned LTA Vehicle in a US programme should be inflated with Helium, American Aeronauts were protected from some of the worst dangers risked by the Aeronauts of Europe or Russia.

Even after 1938 and the Hindenberg disaster,  German manned airships continued flying for a while.  During the second world war, Barrage Balloons were widely used in the UK and to a certain extent by other warring nations.  RAF Balloon Command is believed to have peaked at about three thousand Balloons by 1944, and Barrage Balloons were used by the US Army in North Africa and Italy.

A number of Barrage Balloons were lost to enemy action, and in the early days some were lost to lightning until Arthur Vestry (a Scottish Physicist) devised a method of protection from lightning.

Are there any statistics on ACCIDENTAL Hydrogen incidents?  How many Airships or Balloons were destroyed in the course of normal flying operations?  I am specifically EXCLUDING intentional hostile destruction by the use of tracer bullets, incendiary bombs or shells from this question.


The following table identifies Rigid or Semi-Rigid Airship accidents where hydrogen was either a root cause or contributory factor in the total destruction of the airship.(The table excludes destruction due to enemy action)

  1908 '10 '12 '13 '15 '16 '17 '18 '19 '21 '22 '23 '30 1937
Germany 1 1 2 1 4 2 2 5           1
UK                   1     1  
USA     1           1     1    
Other                     1      

The apparently high incidence of accidents to German airships reflects the fact that Germany was the leading nation in the development of rigid airships under the leadership of Count von Zeppelin and his successors.

For the full list of names and dates, please see here

According to Wikipedia the British Armed Services (mostly the Royal Navy (RN)) built and operated:

  • 126  Sea Scout Class Blimps                                                     (8 lost to fire (Airship Heritage Trust Logs))
  • 29 Coastal Class (unrelated to the later USN Coastal Class)    (None lost to Fire)
  • 10 C* Class                                                                               (None lost to Fire)
  • 13 North Sea Class                                                                    (1 lost to lightning/fire)

These figures do not include RN Airships built, but transferred to the army, or sold to allied powers.

While a number of the RN Airships were wrecked in the normal manner (Landing incidents, ground handling ) and others were lost to enemy action or lost at sea, the NS 11 is the only RN hydrogen related flying accident that I have found so far in the (cursory) search on this subject.  I am sure that there must be other incidents where, if Hydrogen was not the root cause of the accident, it was probably the cause of the destruction/write-off.

Bearing in mind that the SS class carried out over 10,000 patrols (Source: Usbourne Family History during the last stages of the 1914-18 war, using very rudimentary equipment; I suggest that this shows that the RN Officers and Men involved with the RN Airship Service understood the dangers of hydrogen related lift, and were generally successful in the steps that they took to mitigate the risk.

Using the partial data on the AHT website for the British Non-Rigids we can see that the Royal Navy's airborne operations were really quite impressive given the facilities and experimental nature of the craft that they were using.  With only 138 ships showing recorded flight hours in their logs (of 178 ships), they recorded 66,396 flight hours.

The Table below has lumped together the Submarine Scouts (SS) with the SSP and SST variants, while showing the SSZ separately.

Table Summarising Royal Naval Non-Rigid Airship Activity(Source: AHT)

Commissioned Into Active Service



Destroyed in Gale

Lost at  sea


Shot  Down

No of Recorded Ships Logs

Logged Hours by Type

SS, SSP, SST55 524200266618 
SSZ71 0176007138370 
Coastal Class29 6050021812878 
North Sea Class13 301010133229 
C* Class10 000000104941 
TOTALS178 14317812138 (of 178)66396 


  • LZ-4 (August 5, 1908) – torn from moorings by gust of wind
  • LZ-6 (September 14, 1910) – fire in shed cause unknown
  • LZ-10 Schwaben (June 28, 1912) – collided with shed wall
  • LZ-30/Z-XI (May 20, 1915) – blown away by wind
  • LZ-53/L-17 and LZ-69/L-24 (December 28, 1916) - hit shed door when entering
  • LZ-102/L-57 (October 7, 1917) – blown away by strong wind and wrecked
  • LZ-87/LZ-117, LZ-94/L-46, LZ-97/L-51, and LZ-105/L-58 (January 5, 1918) – fire in sheds cause unknown
  • R-38/ZR-II (August 23, 1921) – broke in half due to excessive use of rudder at speed
  • Roma (February 21, 1922) – flew into power cables
  • R101 (October 5, 1930) – unexplained double dive

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