06 January, 2013

Ernst A. Lehmann

Captain Ernst August Lehmann was a German Zeppelin captain. He was one of the most famous and experienced figures in German airship travel.

Ernst Lehmann was born in 1886 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein. At the age of 14, he decided that he wanted to build ships. He studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule Berlin and received his degree in 1912. By this time, he had already joined the navy and had attained the rank of naval reserve lieutenant.

Upon graduation, he began work at the Imperial Dockyards in Kiel. He did not find this work satisfying so, encouraged by Dr. Hugo Eckener, he joined the DELAG to serve as pilot of the passenger airship LZ 17 Sachsen. He commanded a total of 550 flights of this ship.

During the First World War, Captain Lehmann commanded army and navy airships, beginning with the Sachsen after it had been taken over by the Army, followed by the LZ XII, and finally the navy ships LZ 90, LZ 98, and LZ 120.

After the war, Captain Lehmann continued his involvement with the airships, which is now used for civilian purposes. He made preparations to fly the naval airship L 72 on the first transatlantic crossing of an airship in 1919. Permission was denied by the German government. In 1920, he spent six months in Sweden studying the economics of an airship line between Stockholm and the Mediterranean, with a stopover in Friedrichshafen. These plans were never realized.

In 1921 he spent four months in the United States to prepare for a planned New York to Chicago airship route, and in 1922 he tried to negotiate with USA and England for a route to go over North Atlantic .

With the founding of the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation in 1923, Captain Lehmann served as Vice President in charge of engineering. In 1924, Captain Lehmann was second-in-command of LZ 126 on the first nonstop transatlantic flight between the European and American mainlands. The purpose of the flight was to deliver the Zeppelin to its new owners, the United States Navy, who rechristened the ship USS Los Angeles.

By 1929, Lehmann had filed a declaration of intent to become a United States citizen, but changed his mind when he was given charge of the Hindenburg in 1936.

In 1935, when Hermann Göring created the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei to increase Nazi influence over zeppelin operations, Captain Lehmann was named director of the new airline.

Captain Lehmann served as commanding officer on more than 100 of the flights of the Graf Zeppelin between 1928 and 1936. In 1936, he commanded 10 round-trip flights to Lakehurst on the new Hindenburg. Captain Lehmann was a skilled accordion player, which he often used to entertain passengers on long flights with renditions of Wagner pieces or German folk songs.

Although Max Pruss was the commanding officer of the last flight of the Hindenburg, Captain Lehmann was the most senior officer on board, but was there only as an observer. He was fatally burned when the ship caught fire at Lakehurst on 6 May 1937 and died the following day. It was initially believed that Lehmann would recover from his injuries; he was scheduled to be transferred to the hospital at Rockefeller University for further treatment until he took a sudden turn for the worse the afternoon before his death.

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