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<   No. 520   2004-06-29   >

Comic #520

1 {scene: Zeppelin cargo bay. Monty, his father, and grandfather are tied up on chairs.}
1 Nazi 1: Herr Kolonel Haken, there is a thunderstorm over die mid-Atlantic, right in our flight path.
2 Haken: We cannot afford to keep die Führer waiting! Stay on course!
2 Nazi 1: Jawohl!
3 Monty: You're mad, Haken! You can't expect to fly a zeppelin through a thunderstorm without igniting the hydrogen!
4 Haken: {to Monty} Ha! I sneer at your American science! In die Fatherland we know this gas as Wasserstoff; it makes water, and is therefore safe!

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Colonel Haken is completely correct. Except for the bit about hydrogen being safe.

Chemistry Lesson: Hydrogen does indeed make water. When it burns or explodes that is. Burning hydrogen combines with oxygen to make water, according to the formula

2H2 + O2 → 2H2O
It also releases a lot of energy when it does so, making it rather unsafe, particularly in the quantities normally associated with zeppelins.

Linguistics Lesson: Wasserstoff is indeed the name of hydrogen in German, and literally means water material. This is because it combines with oxygen to produce water. Interestingly, the English word hydrogen has pretty much the same literal meaning, only obscured by the Greek word roots: hydro meaning water, and gen (as in genesis) meaning creation.

History Lesson: In fact, German zeppelins flew through thunderstorms routinely and never caught fire due to a lightning strike. Some non-German ones did, but that only ever occurred when they were venting hydrogen to reduce buoyancy. Hugo Eckener, the head of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, ordered his pilots never to vent hydrogen in a thunderstorm, and his ships remained safe. Whether or not Haken sticks to this policy remains to be seen...

Leaping to Conclusions Lesson: The Hindenburg's skin was doped with a flammable substance similar in composition to solid rocket fuel. But that's irrelevant to today's strip because they're currently on the Graf Zeppelin (I blew up the Hindenburg already), and I already know it, so e-mailing to tell me is neither useful nor productive. ;-)

Fascinating the things you learn, isn't it?

Oh, and in case you're wondering, that's Erwin on the right of the Joneses. They guy talking in panel one is known as Nazi 1 in my scripts.

2013-06-27 Rerun commentary: Wow, this is almost a "Nazi science sneers at " strip. I can't believe I didn't actually use that line in here.

Haken: Ha! Nazi science sneers at your American science!

Maybe I did it the way I did to reduce the number of words. That's a pretty full speech bubble in the last panel.

Haken's scar improves his sneering immeasurably, by the way. If you want to sneer at some aspect of science, make sure you get a good facial scar first. A moustache and monocle won't hurt either.

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