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Dec 14, 2010

Clive Palmer's magnificent flying machines

Forget WikiLeaks, Oprah and the Warne-Hurley saga, all eyes are on iorn ore baron Clive Palmer today, after the mining magnate made the surprising announcement yesterday that he was investing in the commercial viability of the Zeppelin.

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Forget WikiLeaks, Oprah and the Warne-Hurley saga, all eyes are on iron ore baron Clive Palmer today, after the mining magnate made a surprising announcement yesterday. No, not about hiring Chinese workers. The other announcement.

Palmer is investing in the commercial viability of the Zeppelin.

Yes, the Zeppelin. And no, we’re not talking the ‘Led’ variety — the band haven’t toured here since 1972, FYI — but those magnificent flying machines which, since the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, have reserved for themselves possibly the most infamous place in aeronautical history.

In what Palmer has described as a “$2 dollar company”, new start-up Zeppelin International will investigate the possibility of the rigid airship being employed once again for commercial use, 70 years after it was assumed they were confined to the scrap heap for ever.

When the inevitable Hindenburg disaster was brought up by journalists, the iron ore baron shot back that it if the Germans had been granted access to helium during war time, instead of the highly-flammable hydrogen, “there wouldn’t be any problems” and that “the basic technology is still pretty sound.”

“What they had was the wrong sort of gas in them at that time, they had hydrogen which exploded,” Palmer told journalists.

Indeed it did Clive. On Thursday 6 May 1937, 35 people died when the German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire while attempting to land. The airship was filled with hydrogen, a tremendously light but also extremely flammable gas, and was consumed with flames in less than a minute.

As others have noted, there were more catastrophic incidences than the Hindenburg disaster, but the spectacular footage captured of the explosion was believed to have permanently destroyed the public’s confidence in the Zeppelin.

Despite Palmer rarely missing with his string of mining investments, the colourful personality has taken one punt recently which has seen mixed results. The BRW-rich lister currently owns A-League soccer club Gold Coast United, after initially bank rolling the club’s successful bid to enter the league in 2009. Gold Coast has been dogged by poor crowds this season and there are continuing media reports that Palmer is ready to pull his millions out of the club.

Unfortunately, information on Palmer’s new Zeppelin start-up is slim. There is currently no online presence for Zeppelin International, while news reports have been confined to the coy snippets offered by Palmer at press conferences.

Calls to Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy office this morning for further information yielded no luck, while Crikey spoke to his business partner Andre von Zeppelin — a travel agent and descendant of original Zeppelin pioneer Count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin — however that was also less than fruitful.

von Zeppelin had no comment, telling Crikey that Palmer will be in charge of all press for the new endeavour.

UPDATE 1:55pm: Clive Palmer called Crikey not long after deadline to say that, despite today’s press reports, Zeppelin International would “not necessarily” be investing in Zeppelins.

“It’s just a company named after the two other business partners who have the name Zeppelin,” he told Crikey. “There are hundreds of businesses named after family names. I could call it Clive Palmer International.”

Palmer said that Zeppelin International would be looking into a variety of potential investments, including beef cattle.

“I did answer questions saying that the Zeppelin is interesting, but that’s another issue. If the press want to go that way they can,” Palmer said. “I don’t think the interest at the moment is in Zeppelins, but maybe in the future. We’ll see.”

Tom Cowie —

Tom Cowie

Crikey journalist

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