Nearly 100 years later, augmented reality brings Hindenburg crash into present day at Joint Base

Navy Lakehurst Historical Society needs more corporate support to help project go to masses

There was probably no more spectacular sight in the airspace over New Jersey during the 1930s than that of the dirigible Hindenburg floating over the Lakehurst Naval Station.

There had never been anything like the Hindenburg. It was 804 feet long, three times the length of a Boeing 747 and four times the length and twice the width of the Goodyear blimps of today.

Before the Hindenburg infamously exploded and crashed at the Lakehurst Naval Station on May 6, 1937, it came to Lakehurst multiple times. Each time, it generated excitement akin to a town carnival. People from miles around would walk or brave the unmanicured dirt roads to catch a glimpse of this floating marvel in the clouds.

Imagine being one of those locals, standing near the landing field and looking up in wonder as the largest airship ever built filled the sky above you.

The Hindenburg explodes May 6, 1937.

Thanks to the capabilities of augmented reality and a beta test that the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society has been conducting since last December, that spectacular vision can be seen again.

Jennifer Suwak, vice president of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving the history of the Lakehurst Naval Base, explained.

“AR is a fully immersive technique that puts you between the real environment and a completely virtual one,” she said. “AR can put you in the middle of the Roman Colosseum or the Taj Mahal; or it can place you directly underneath the Hindenburg as it approaches the landing field at Lakehurst.”

AR works by overlaying computer-generated objects over a real environment — thus, making it possible to perfectly reconstruct the Hindenburg and bring it back to Lakehurst.

“We are excited about what AR can do for our visitors,” said Suwak, who is running the beta test of the Hindenburg AR exhibit.

A beta test is the final evaluation phase of software in which developers run the program in its completed format to identify and remedy any technical issues or glitches.

Users would experience the AR environment via smartphones and IPads.

The Hindenburg AR exhibit is planned to be part of the museum the NLHS operates at the Lakehurst Base and which already contains surviving artifacts from the Hindenburg. Suwak plans additional AR exhibits that will do more than depict the dirigible floating in the sky.

“We envision creating an array of photos consisting of people who were either in the Hindenburg or on the ground when the disaster struck,” she said. “Actors will give voice to the memories of these witnesses, which our guests will be able to access via icons associated with each photo.

“Imagine listening to a Hindenburg passenger immersing you in a first-person story about how he or she escaped the flaming wreckage.”

Suwak also mentioned that the NLHS museum has, and displays, the gondola used in the feature film made about the Hindenburg in 1975 with George C. Scott.

“Using AR icons at the gondola, our guests will be able to see clips from the movie,” she said.

But Suwak acknowledges that funding is an issue.

Want a tour?

If you are interested in a Navy Lakehurst Historical Society tour, click here: These tours take place at the Lakehurst Naval Station, the U.S. Navy component of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. Because this is an active military base, visitors must adhere to all security requirements and preregister two weeks in advance. No walk-ons can be accommodated.

Suwak has been approaching New Jersey businesses to secure financial backing for additional beta tests and to purchase the iPads that will bring the AR exhibits to life for visitors. Until then, the exhibits will not be available to the public.

She said businesses resonate with the idea that these programs have benefits beyond the guest experience at NLHS.

“The immersive experience of AR can change the way people view the world and bring a whole new dimension to the way children learn,” she said. “AR allows for community experiences for students and users of any generation.”

She said businesses also see the value of AR in promoting their own products or services.

“One of the great things about AR is it is cost-effective. There is no physical infrastructure. It’s just content creation and engineered applications. Businesses can customize the content as needed to immerse customers in their products or services and probably do so for less money that other marketing options.”

The NLHS museum is housed in Hangar One at Lakehurst Naval Station, a behemoth of a building just a short distance from the field where the Hindenburg went down.

The massive hangar was built in 1921 and was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.