©Bernulius/stock.adobe.com

Lightweight Garage #20 Lightweight Piano for the Airship Hindenburg

May 12, 2022
by Florian Gabel

The Vehicle

This time there is a lightweight piano in our lightweight garage, which was on board the airship LZ-129 Hindenburg. This is the sister airship of the airship LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin II recently presented in another article. Both airships were almost identical in construction, had very similar flight characteristics and were both very luxuriously equipped. At that time, travelling by airship was the fastest and most pleasant way to travel and cross the Atlantic, for example. When the airship LZ-129 Hindenburg took off on its maiden flight in March 1936, it also had the concert piano on board, no doubt to celebrate the occasion. However, an ordinary piano would have been too heavy, weighing about 370 kg. Therefore, the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, from the Leipzig area, was commissioned to develop a particularly light piano.


©Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, In the music room of the airship Hindenburg, showing Captain Karl Lehmann, Dr. Rudolf Blüthner, Prof. Franz Wagner and other guests

The Technology

To meet this wish, the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH developed a piano which, like the basic structure of the airship, was largely made of duralumin and covered with a skin. The challenge was to achieve the acoustic and haptic characteristics of a conventional piano. For this special piano, several weight saving opportunities were adopted from aircraft/airship construction. The sound body, for example, consisted of a high strength cast aluminium frame. The side walls, the drop board and the lid were made of duralumin. Other planar components were also partly built from an aluminium lattice structure and covered with parchment. The entire grand piano stood on feet made of duralumin tubes. Only the acoustic components, such as keys, hammers, and strings, were made traditionally. Despite the unconventional construction, the piano is said to have had a particularly full sound and was often played by passengers. During the first flight to America, the Dresden concert pianist Prof. Franz Wagner played various pieces by Chopin, Beethoven, Brahms, and others. If you like, you can listen to a recording of the piano on Youtube.

Contrary to some accounts, the piano was not destroyed along with the LZ-129 in its tragic accident in Lakehurst. Shortly before the devastating accident, the piano was brought back to the Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH and put on display there. Unfortunately, however, it was destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II.


©Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH, Lightweight Piano and airship Hindenburg

The Lightweighting Effect

Through the extensive use of aluminium and other lightweight construction measures, a weight of 162 kg was achieved, an enormous weight reduction of just over 200 kg. Even today, there are various efforts to develop lightweight pianos. Some research projects are investigating the use of fibre-reinforced plastics. In addition, there are now lightweight pianos that save weight and space mainly through their small size, reduced number of keys and an alternative shape. Such pianos are available from Keybird Instruments, for example, with a flyweight of 50kg. Certainly, they are not comparable with a concert grand piano.

Finally, I would like to thank the company Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH and especially Dr. Christian Blüthner-Haessler for their support and permission to use their photos.

 

You find additional Lightweight Garage articles in the News.