Did you ever fly a jet fighter ? I did. For most people, this remains an expensive dream. For others, this is an evidence : they have to do it, and they pay the price to feel the thrills of aerobatics. This is a question of passion. Those who are really interested by airplanes have a go. For me, it began with something older than airplanes. I still remember how my grandpa told me the story. I still
visualise the scene, thirty years after ! Commander Charles Rosendahl was America’s most senior airshipman. An ex-commander of the United States Navy’s most successful airship, USS Los Angeles, he was now commandant of Naval Air Station Lakehurst in New Jersey, the country’s premier airship facility. On the evening of 6 May 1937 he watched as one of the world’s newest, largest airships, the Hindenburg, made its ﬁnal approach to his base’s mooring mast. He’d ﬂown around the world aboard her predecessor, the Graf Zeppelin, but he’d never been on board the Hindenburg. Nor would he ever get the chance. At 7.25 p.m. he noticed a ﬂame on top of the vast, cigar-shaped silver aircraft, just forward of the vertical tail fin. ‘It was a brilliant burst of ﬂame resembling a ﬂower opening rapidly into bloom,’ he later recalled. ‘I knew at once the ship was doomed.’ Then, as 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen went up, there was a loud whumph like the sound of an igniting gas ring. The airship story is one that needs to begin at the end, and the age of the airship died in the 34-second blaze of the Hindenburg. There had been other, more deadly airship disasters, but none that had been broadcast live, as the Hindenburg had been. None that had so vividly and irrevocably demonstrated that the big hydrogen-ﬁlled airships were, essentially, flying bombs. When the British scientist Henry Cavendish ﬁrst discovered hydrogen in 1766 he called it ‘flammable air’, and its properties were well known to the designers of the Hindenburg and every airship ﬁlled with the gas before her. What on earth were they all thinking? Helium, the alternative option, now seems the obvious choice and is used to keep today’s blimps in the air. An inert gas so safe it’s even used as a ﬁre suppressant, it is also — after hydrogen — the second most abundant element in the whole universe ! However, if I had to choose between a quiet flight on a airship or a aerobatic flight on a jet fighter, I still would choose the jet fighter and the sick sack : because on an airship, I would think about the Hindenburg and its tragic end. For additional information about this incredible experience, check out Fly a jet fighter.