Evolution of the Aircraft Carrier: Part 11: Giant Airships by Dan Linton
Writer: Dan Linton


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The Return of the Zeppelins


The Zeppelins that the German Navy operated in WWI made a great impression on the Allied Powers, particularly in August, 1916 when warnings from Zeppelins saved the German High Seas Fleet from falling into a trap set by the Royal Navy. A second ‘Battle of Jutland’ did not occur. Considering that the first Zeppelin flew in 1900, (picture 1) the technology had certainly advanced by 1916: nevertheless, these giants were vulnerable. Filled with hydrogen gas, they could be caught and easily destroyed by land-based aircraft and were wasted in the bombing role. They could carry a much greater weight of bombs than land-based aircraft but they had to be dropped from a great height, most often at night, so there could be no accuracy, and being slower than pursuit planes their only hope of escape was to climb higher. It was this last iteration from the Zeppelin production line, the so-called ‘high flyers’ (picture 2) which became of particular interest to the United States Navy (USN). The USN had received its first balloon in 1915 and accepted DN-1 (Dirigible, Navy) on April 20, 1917, two weeks after it entered WWI. (1) (picture 3) By the end of the war the USN had many ‘classes’ of dirigibles (DN-1 was ‘A’ class)(pictures 4,5, and 6) and over 700 LTA (Lighter Than Air) trained crew, many of whom had some experience in anti-submarine patrols. (2) But it was the ‘rigid-airframe’ dirigibles, the Zeppelins or “airships” in American parlance that were to dominate and push LTA technology in the inter-war years. The United States Navy would order five airships, and receive and operate four of them, the last two, USS Akron and USS Macon being, literally, ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’.

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ZR-1 USS Shenandoah and ZR-@ (R-38)

In the various peace conferences that followed the Nov.11, 1918 Armistice, the United States was not given any Zeppelins although the German government of the day did offer, as part of its reparations, to build an airship for the United States. This would be ZR-3, USS Los Angeles, but before it was delivered, ZR-1 Shenandoah would have made headlines and ZR-2, un-named as it never officially entered USN service, would have been quickly forgotten. ZR-2 had been based on a Zeppelin ‘high-climber’ (L-49) (3) and had been built in England, thus its original R-38 designator. It made its first flight in June, 1921, wearing USN markings (Picture 7, above). Its fourth flight, on August 24, 1921, was to test full power and manoeuvering but just as it was heading out to sea it broke up, and then its hydrogen ignited and pieces of the airship fell into the Humber River, near Hull, England. (Picture 8) All 44 men aboard, including 16 Americans, died. (4)

USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) (5) was also based on high climber LZ.96, but it was made of a new metal, duraluminum (copper and aluminum alloy) and was filled with helium, 2.1 million cubic feet, not hydrogen. So expensive was helium that special condensers were fitted to capture water vapour from the exhaust of the 300hp Packard 8-cylinder gasoline engines, and use this rather than helium when it was necessary to vent gas. This airship was assembled at Lakehurst, New Jersey, a special base just for airships, from parts fabricated at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia. It was 680’ (209m) long, had a range of 5000miles (8000km) and could reach speeds of 70mph (110kmh). Its keel was laid down on June 24, 1922 and it was ‘launched’ on August 20, 1923, taking to the air for the first time. (6)(Pictures 9 and 10) Rear Admiral William Moffett (Picture 11), Chief of the newly-formed Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) wanted as much publicity as possible for anything that flew under USN command (7): it was his idea to use Shenandoah as part of an upcoming Arctic exploration program and he managed to get President Calvin Coolidge to approve. But damage that occurred during a windstorm on Jan.24, 1924 was severe enough to force the cancellation of Shenandoah’s participation. (Picture 12) After repairs were made, the airship was used to test the mooring mast newly installed on the fleet oiler USS Patoka (AO-9) in July. (Picture 13) A few weeks later the airship participated in its first exercise with the fleet. It ‘discovered ‘the enemy forces, but then lost contact in deteriorating weather and had to leave the operating area. In October, it became the first airship to cross the United States, travelling from Lakehurst, New Jersey, (Picture 14) to California, and then back again to Washington, testing various mooring masts. (Pictures 15 to 17) Along the way, tens of thousands of Americans got to see their first airship, publicity useful to Moffett and BuAer in their daily interactions with Congress and their struggle against Billy Mitchell. Shenandoah was then taken in hand for a six-month maintenance period, then on June 26, 1925, joined the fleet for more exercises. Upon their completion, the airship headed west for what was fundamentally a publicity-tour, despite the fact that its captain had officially protested the idea of flights into the stormy mid-West in late summer/early fall. True to prediction, on the second day after leaving the East Coast, Shenandoah crashed near Caldwell, Ohio, killing 14 men, including her captain. (Picture 18) The date was September 3, 1925: it was the airship’s 57th flight. This disaster created its own storm as Billy Mitchell, enraged by the tragedy, criticized the leadership of both the Army and the Navy, and the Administration, so viciously (claiming their actions/inactions were ‘treasonous’) that his court-martial was assured. (8) Karl Arnstein, an aeronautical engineer at the Zeppelin works who had been sent to America after the Goodyear-Zeppelin merger, commented that ‘high climbers’ like the LZ.96 were never intended to fly in difficult weather or over large land masses which were prone to violent up and down drafts: rather, they were designed for calm-weather fleet reconnaissance over the open sea. To achieve great heights they were structurally much lighter than earlier Zeppelins and therefore not as strongly built. He also pointed out that Shenandoah’s finesse ratio (Picture 19) reduced her ability to handed bending forces. (9) This lesson would not be forgotten when Arnstein worked on the design of Akron and Macon.

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ZR-3: USS Los Angeles -- the Charmed Airship

This airship was built at the Zeppelin factory in Germany (company designation LZ-126) as part of war reparations (picture 20, above). It was delivered across the Atlantic (only the fourth craft ever to do this by air) by its German crew in October, 1924 (picture 21) and commissioned as the USS Los Angeles, ZR-3, on November 25, 1924 at Lakehurst, New Jersey.(picture 22) Protests from the British government had forced a compromise: LZ-126 was built as a non-military vehicle and was outfitted with a cabin with very high standards for airline travel and its prospective operator, the United States Navy, had to agree that it would be used only as a training vessel. Once in America, commissioning had to await the arrival of the Shenandoah to Lakehurst for removal of its helium into LZ-126, as there was not enough helium in the entire country to fill two airships at the same time. By early in 1925 the supply problem of helium was resolved but it was always an expensive commodity. (10) In terms of size, at 656’ x 90’ (202m x 27.6m) it was roughly the same as Shenandoah but with a thicker finesse ratio and it was to lead a charmed life and was the only U.S. Navy airship of the inter-war period to be retired rather than destroyed. Altogether it travelled 172,000 nautical miles (about 300,000km), taking part in exercises and important experiments. (11) But it was the events of August 25, 1927 that brought this airship directly into the public eye. The Los Angeles had just been tied off to its mooring mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey, when a sudden gust of wind lifted its tail. A warm, low-pressure layer sat on top of a cooler layer, thus the tail kept rising and no actions taken by the crew could stop it. Soon Los Angeles was standing on its mooring mast at an 85º angle as seen in Picture 23. This picture made its way around the world and gave contrary impressions – first, how vulnerable any LTA craft was to the elements; and second, how tough the Los Angeles had to be to have coped with the stresses involved as it quickly stood on its head, and slowly returned to the horizontal as the air masses mixed and the pressures equalized. Los Angeles is seen in Picture 24 on the deck of the new USS Saratoga CV-3 in January 1928. An interesting demonstration, perhaps, but no one had yet worked out how the two systems, carrier and airship, might work effectively together.

Perhaps the most important experiments undertaken by Los Angeles involved the concept of ‘parasite fighters’ – aircraft that the airship could carry along to provide reconnaissance and air defense. The ‘proof of concept’ tests were necessary since the two large airships that would follow Los Angeles were being designed to carry as many as five fighters each. The idea of carrying aircraft aloft had been tried by the Germans late in WWI: some Zeppelins could carry an aircraft and release it, but they had no way of recovering the aircraft so the idea was not carried further. The British, despite their airships being very inferior to anything the Germans had, also tried out this idea. Picture 25 shows a Sopwith Camel under airship R.23 on Nov.6, 1918 and Picture 26 shows R.33 with Gloster Glebes underslung in 1926. None of these experiments appear to have involved recovery of the aircraft by the airship. The U.S. Army, however, had a modest airship program in place after WWI and had undertaken experiments in the recovery of aircraft by an airship. Pictures 27 and 28 show Army blimp TC-7 and a modified Sperry Messenger aircraft: the aircraft made a successful ‘link-up’ or ‘capture’ of the aircraft by the blimp in December, 1924. Despite this success, the U.S. Army abandoned the program and it was left to the Navy to develop it further. USS Los Angeles was fitted with a ‘trapeze’ that could swing down from the belly of the dirigible and an aircraft with a special hook would latch onto it. (Picture 29) The aircraft first used was a Vought UO-1, a utility aircraft (Picture 30) and many successful hook-ups were made (Picture 31) in 1929 and early 1930. The Los Angeles would go on to participate in Fleet Problem XII (1931) and Fleet Problem XIII (1932) but the judgment rendered on her activities was that they ‘demonstrated no particular benefit to the fleet’. (13) This is not the message that Moffett and BuAer wanted to hear. They had sold the U.S. Congress on the idea of ‘aircraft carriers in the sky’ and soon those airships would have to deliver on the promises made. Meanwhile, by the end of 1932 Los Angeles was decommissioned: a suggestion to re-use her arose in 1934 to test how well minimally-prepared sites might be able to handle airships, as opposed to creating numerous, expensive, mooring masts and facilities, but little came of this and she was finally stricken from Navy strength and in October,1939, she was scrapped. (14) But she had served very well during her years of service.

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ZRS-4: USS Akron -- the First Giant

With the delivery of the USS Los Angeles in 1924, the Zeppelin factory at Friedrickshaven might have to close unless something was done. It was this concern that led to an alliance between Zeppelin and the Goodyear Corporation. Goodyear, which made balloons and blimps for the US Navy, wanted the airship technology that Zeppelin possessed and the German firm wanted to stay in business: thus, in late 1924 Paul W. Litchfield became President of the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation and prepared to bid on contracts for the next Navy airship. In November, 1924, the SS Washington brought to America Karl Arnstein, who had worked on the ‘super-Zeppelins’ that had bombed England, and his ‘Twelve Disciples’. (15) Soon they were in the Akron, Ohio, home of Goodyear’s manufacturing plant for balloons and blimps. The new airship contracts, however, took a while to develop. On September 1, just days before the loss of the Shenandoah, BuAer announced plans to build two large rigid-frame airships capable of carrying its own fighter for self-defense, as well as a new lighter-than-air base south of San Francisco. One airship would be based on each coast. The Navy’s General Board approved construction of only one airship: (16) Admiral Moffett, however, was able to convince those who controlled the funds to approve both airships and the new base. A design competition was held and it was no surprise when Goodyear-Zeppelin was awarded the contract. But the award was protested by one of the competitors and the competition had to be re-done. Again, Goodyear-Zeppelin won (this sounds very much like the modern dispute between Airbus and Boeing for the contract to build 100 new tankers for the USAF). The ‘keel’ for ZRS-4 was laid down finally on November 11, 1929, inside a huge new building (1175’ x 353’ x 211’: 361m x 108.5m x 65m). (Picture 32, above – just for reference: a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier could fit INSIDE the building with room to spare!) The actual design had three keels and 11 main rings. (Picture 33) The airship would be 785’long and 132’in circumference (241m x 40m) and be powered by eight 560hp Maybach engines (17) placed on outriggers. The propellers could rotate 90º in any direction (Picture 34). A 75’ x 60’ internal hangar (23m x 18.4m) could house four aircraft (there would be 5 in ZRS-5). Everything about the airship was huge – 6.5 million rivets in the frame; 33,000 square yards of waterproofed fabric, painted aluminum to reflect the sun; 12 massive helium-filled gas cells. (18) She was completed and christened USS Akron, named after the city she was built in. (19) Admiral Moffett attended the christening. (Picture 35) October 29, 1931 was her official commissioning. She was assigned to Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey and had a 100-man crew commanded by Charles E. Rosenthal, a survivor of the Shenandoah crash. (Picture 36) Her first mission, as might be expected in a BuAer run by Moffett, was a public relations tour across the U.S. (Picture 37) She returned to the East Coast and was fitted with the trapeze for launching and recovering aircraft in March 1932 but before her small air group began serious work, two strange incidents occurred. First, a ‘spy basket’ was tested in late April. The idea was that a ‘basket’ (actually in the shape of an aircraft fuselage) would be lowered carrying an observer who, while the airship itself was within or above a cloud layer, would report what he saw, he and his small craft being all but invisible. This was actually an old idea, the Germans having tried it with an ‘observation car’ that could lower an observer as much as 750-1000 metres .(Picture 38) The ‘basket’ used in the Akron test had sandbags in place of an actual observer which was a good thing as it gyrated wildly side to side: since the airship was to have aircraft for observing, the ‘basket’ was considered un-necessary as well as too dangerous.(20) On May 11, Akron was approaching Camp Kearny near San Diego, California. There were no trained ground handlers nor any mooring equipment as the airship settled down for a landing but it was difficult to control. It had consumed 40 tons of fuel in crossing the continent (out of a total weight of 110 tons) and so it was very light and the morning sun was heating the ground, causing updrafts. Fearing a nose-stand as had happened to Los Angeles, the main mooring cable was cut but some men did not let go of the lines in time. Robert Edsall and Nigel Henton fell to their deaths but C.”Bud” Cowart managed to hang on and be recovered about an hour later. Unfortunately for the Navy, the entire event was captured on newsreel film and played to theatres across America.(21) (Picture 39)

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USS Akron: Lost Before its Promise Delivered

USS Akron: Lost before its Promise Delivered

Akron’s scouting performance in the 1932 Fleet exercises was rated as ‘poor’ but none of her aircraft were aboard at the time nor her pilots honed in launching and recovering from the airship. As a scout, Akron had found the ’enemy’ fleet but the cruisers in that fleet sent up floatplanes to attack. Akron was destroyed ‘several times’ despite the presence of 7 machine guns on the airship. In part, the poor performance was a function of how she was ‘role-played’ when the exercise was set up. Unresolved in 1932 was the issue of whether the airship was to be the main scout, going in harm’s way to find the enemy and using its aircraft for defense and escape only – a view shared by most of the airship’s officers—or having the airship as a passive base far from harm’s way and having her aircraft do the actual scouting – a view shared by the pilots. (22) In July, Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawks were assigned to the Akron. Only eight of these special aircraft were built, two the F9C-1 model and the rest the -2. (23) Serious testing now began. Pictures 40(above) 41, and 42 show aircraft involved in launching and recovering from Akron. The pilots were not entirely happy with the Sparrowhawk, particularly with its range but a look at picture 43, showing the inside of Akron’s hangar, shows why the aircraft had to be so small. It is doubtful that such a small airframe, only 20’ long with a 25’ wingspan, would have been able to accept the weight of a wing-folding mechanism. Empty, the little plane weighed only 622 lbs.(283kilos). Much training occurred in late 1932 and into early 1933 and it might have been Akron’s role to reverse the ‘poor’ rating imposed in the 1932 exercises but that was not to be. Akron had had some minor accidents in its short career (Picture 44) and often required maintenance when its performance envelope was challenged by severe weather but on April 4, only a few short weeks after its sister ship Macon (ZRS-5) was christened (24), Akron on a training mission on the East Coast was lost in a severe storm. No one apparently had thought to provide life-rafts or life-jackets aboard a Navy ship (!), thus there were only three survivors of the 76 men on board. One of the men on board, as an observer and an officer who visited airships as often as possible, was Rear Admiral William Moffett, the ‘father of naval aviation’ and the head of BuAer. His loss would deeply impact not only the airship program but also other projects that he favoured. (25)

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ZRS-5: USS Macon -- a Promise Delivered

Macon was an almost identical sister-ship to Akron but it was somewhat lighter and so was able to handle all five of the Sparrowhawks it had been designed to carry. Her maiden voyage was in March,1933, just weeks before the Akron was lost. When Akron went down she had no fighters on board, thus her Sparrowhawks were transferred to Macon. (26) In October 1933, Macon arrived at her home base, the newly built hangar at Naval Air Station Sunnyvale, California. (Pictures 45 and 46) With the Los Angeles in storage, Macon was the only rigid airship operational in the USN. She had to justify her own existence before more funds would be forthcoming for future airships and everyone involved with her knew this. Thus the great stunt pulled by her Commanding Officer, Lt. Cdr. Wiley,(Picture 47: he is the officer at the right of the picture) who happened to be one of only three survivors from the Akron crash, must be seen as a politically necessary act. In fleet exercises off the coast of California in July, 1934, the Macon and her aircraft not only found the USS Houston, but one of her aircraft dropped a package of that day’s San Francisco daily newspapers on her deck. Everyone knew that the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy and an acknowledged friend of the USN, was aboard the Houston. The President was amused and sent a “well-done” to Wiley and his crew but Wiley’s commanding officer was not amused. (27) Wiley had the idea of removing the Sparrowhawk’s wheels and storing them inside Macon to be re-installed when necessary. The lighter plane would now carry a 30 gallon (135l.)fuel tank under its belly to extend its range.(Picture 48) With the extra fuel, and newly-installed RDF (Radio Direction Finding) equipment (28), it was claimed that the Macon’s Sparrowhawks could scout a 200 mile (320km) path ahead and to the flanks of the airship.(Pictures 49-52) It appeared that the promise of the flying aircraft carrier was at last being met. (Picture 53)


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USS Macon: the Promise Lost

The loss of USS Macon was caused as much by politics as by any other cause for the repairs that might have saved her were never completed. The Akron and Macon had novel design features that gave the airships great strength: primary among these was the triple keel design (29) (Picture 54, above). Arnstein had created a strong but light design (Picture 55) but there was a potential weak area. Unlike other Zeppelins, the tail fin structures did not carry through the body of the airship but were attached to heavy rings in the interior (Picture 56). As well, since the Navy insisted on a clear view of the bottom fin from the forward gondola, and since this fin was prone to ground strikes during handling, it was made smaller. Picture 57 shows that the fins were only attached to two strength rings, instead of three as in the original design. Where the fin meets the body of the airship is where the stress is the greatest but here the attachment is made to an ordinary stringer rather than a strength ring. In 1934 two beams near the fin had snapped and temporary emergency repairs were made. Arnstein, as Chief Engineer, was ordered to strength in area of the fins in stages during normal maintenance periods. He wanted to ground the airship and make all the repairs at once but was refused. In July, Wiley and the Macon find the President but Arnstein sends a warning to the Aviation Safety Council warning that there should be no fast manoeuvres during stormy weather. (30) The repairs proceed but are never completed: strengthening of the top fin will take place during the next scheduled maintenance period in early March. But in February, 1935, Macon is tasked to scout and find the opposing fleet: at 5:00 PM on February 12, the exercise completed, Macon is over Monterey Bay heading north. But to the north is a storm front and the Macon could not get around it: a strong gust then ripped off her upper fin, the only one not yet reinforced, and more damage began to occur. Three cells were lost yet the airship kept rising until finally it reached its pressure ceiling where gas would be vented automatically (otherwise the gas in the cells would expand in the lower air pressure until they burst), then it began to slowly settle down and was torn apart by wave action outside Monterey Bay. This time, however, with life jackets and rafts aboard, only two of the 83 crew members are lost. (31)

An investigation was held and a commission appointed at the request of the President. The commission recommended that the Navy not give up on rigid-frame LTA but the recommendation was never followed up with action or funds. The airship program was dead and events such as the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 only served to prevent it from ever rising again. The beauty of the great ships (Picture 58) seen by tens of thousands as they glided majestically over cities masked the great vulnerability of these vessels to the weather but inspired many a dream and many a speculation. One of the more interesting ideas has an airship base in Hawaii by 1941 and a scouting patrol by parasite fighters from an airship on a routine patrol spots a large group of Japanese naval vessels headed by six aircraft carriers. We know that the Japanese were under orders not to initiate an attack if they were spotted before they arrived in Hawaiian waters – discovered by a ‘flying aircraft carrier’s planes? Certainly this is a good opening plot line for writers and fans of ‘alternate history’. (32)


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Modeling the USN's Airships:

In the first of these series of articles, I made reference to a 1:144 scale model of Zeppelin LZ.41 – hollow, cast resin, huge, and not cheap. (33) The airships of the USN, common as subjects in the modeling world of the 1950’s and 1960’s are out of fashion now: what can be found in plastic today are kits of various Goodyear blimps owned and operated by corporations as blimps are ‘flying billboards’, great for advertising. All of the airships mentioned in this article (except the ill-fated R-38) and a number of the USN’s non-rigid blimps have been modeled in wood and can be purchased on line through various websites (the factory is in the Philippines). But these are display models only and are quite expensive. What follows was culled from a listing from an airship website: I can’t vouch for its accuracy. (34) Paper models exist of a 1:350 USS Macon with a skyhook fight and mooring mast and a 1:200 USS Los Angeles (35) In plastic, all offerings are definitely Out of Production (OOP). With luck they might be found at a swap meet: otherwise, one is restricted to sites that specialize in old kits, or one has to go the E-bay. AMT/ERTL made a 1:520 scale kit (#T572) that could be made as either Akron or Macon (Picture 59-above). Glencoe issued a 1:330 scale model of a USN K-type blimp (#05504)(Pictures 60 and 61). (36) Testors-Hawk had a 1/247 vacuum kit (#301) of the Graf Zeppelin LZ.127 that could also be built as the USS Los Angeles (LZ.126).(Picture 62) The model measured 38” (1.1m) in length. Lindbergh announced a new plastic kit (#70821) which is supposed to be a 1:245 USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), to be released this year (2010)(Pictures 63 and 64). One suspects is may be a re-release of the earlier kit, but perhaps it will be a new tooling. A company called SkyTech Models, now out of business, produced a 1:144 USS Shenandoah (ZR-1); a 1:144 USN K-class blimp; and a 1:400 USS Akron (ZRS-4) – but it may not be possible to find these, even on E-bay. (37) William Brothers produced a 1:32 Curtiss Sparrowhawk which may still be available.(Picture 65) Taubman Plans offers #401, USS Loss Angeles (ZR-3) in 1:384 scale; #402 Akron/Macon in 1:384 and #402X in 1:192; and #403 USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) in 1:384 scale. Finally, although it is not a model, vice-admiral C.E.Rosendahl, survivor of the Shenandoah and first captain of the Akron, wrote “SNAFU – the Strange Story of American Airships.” No doubt an interesting read and it can be found on old book websites.

There are a few further pictures that relate to this topic. First picture 66 shows a really big model, a 1:40 model of USS Akron used in wind tunnel tests. Picture 67 shows the Akron model at the Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida. Picture 68 shows the last surviving Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk held at the Udvar-Hazy museum, Dulles Airport (part of the Smithsonian’s holdings).

Next: USS Ranger – first carrier from the keel up.

SPECIAL NOTE: In Part 9 of this series I had Lexington and Hornet at the Battle of the Coral Sea when it should have been Lexington and Yorktown. A reader was good enough to point this out to me. As mentioned in the introduction to this series, corrections, additions, and commentary are welcome.

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Endnotes and Bibliography:

1.DN-1 was not a success: it made only three flights before it was damaged and abandoned. ‘Dirigible’ comes from the French “diriger” – ‘to direct’ – in this case meaning a balloon whose flight could be directed.

2. Evans, “Airships and the Navy” in USN: A Complete History

3. L.49 was its German Navy designation: its Zeppelin factory designator was LZ-96. The German Army used an LZ designator but the number would be different from the Zeppelin factory designator even though the same letters were used.

4. Eles, “Akron and Macron: Aircraft Carriers of the Sky” IPMS California Model Workshop, p.1

5. Originally, the designation was FA-1 for Fleet Airship.

6. Hayward, J.T., VADM, USN, “Comment and Discussion” in USNI Proceedings , August, 1978 pp.62-67

7. Thus “U.S.S.LANGLEY” painted in large letters on the fuselage of the planes that operated from the U.S. Navy’s first carrier, beginning in 1922.

8. However reluctant Army leadership may have been to avoid further bad publicity, apparently President Calvin Coolidge insisted upon it. With the spotlight on Mitchell, Moffett was able to hold on to his position at BuAer.

9. Hayward, op. cit., pp.62-64

10. The United States had almost a planet-wide monopoly on helium and considered it to be a ‘strategic material’ not to be exported. Nor was it likely that any would be exported to Germany once Adolph Hitler was in power and Franklin Roosevelt occupied the White House. Thus it was that the last great airship liners built in Germany had to be filled with hydrogen, a fact that was to doom the Hindenberg in May, 1937.

11. Hayward, op. cit., pp.63-64

12. Evans, op. cit.

13. Hayward, op. cit., p.64

14. Idem

15. Wortmann, R., Flying Aircraft Carriers, video. Part of the agreement between the two firms was the transfer to Zeppelin of 10% of all outstanding Goodyear stock, thus giving Zeppelin backing for loans it might require.

16. The General Board ‘approved’ meant that it would recommend to the Secretary of the Navy that only one airship be funded. The Secretary of the Navy, a civilian appointed by the President, would then take this recommendation to the President’s Cabinet which would then work with the appropriation’s committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate. A final appropriations’ bill would be worked out and money for the proposal was either included or not. It appears that Moffett had a close personal relationship to the President and thus he had more “weight” than other naval officers.

17. One source (the video) rated the engines at 850hp.

18. Eles, op. cit., p.1

19. Airships were named like cruisers, after cities although technically ‘Shenandoah’ is a valley.

20. Smith, R.K., The Airships Akron & Macon: Flying Aircraft Carriers of the United States Navy and Robinson and Keller, “Up Ship”: U.S. Navy Rigid Airships 1919-1935

21. Smith, op. cit., and Robinson and Keller, op. cit.

22. Eles, op. cit., p.2

23. Idem

24. Ironically, Macon was christened by Jeanette Whitton Moffett, the Admiral’s wife.

25. All the major sources describe the loss of the Akron in some detail. As for Moffett, one of his special projects will be outlined prominently in the next article in this series.

26. Far too light as a carrier fighter, the Sparrowhawk’s small size made it ideal as a ‘parasite fighter’. But only eight were built: 2 F9C-1 models and 6 F9C-2.

27. Nonetheless, Wiley was soon promoted.

28. Akron’s last mission was calibrating RDF transmitters along the East Coast.

29. Wortmann, op. cit.

30. Idem

31. Idem

32. Consider: the Aircraft Carrier Builder’s website began because its webmaster, Zoltan Pocza, was intrigued by the idea of a group build based on the move The Final Countdown. I f the USS Nimitz can be sent back in time, then having airships in 1941 is hardly a stretch of the imagination at all.

33. Found on the AirAlex website: http//:airalex.homestead.com

34. http://spot.colorado.edu/~dziadeck/airship/models.htm

35. www.airshipmodel.com (look under John Hathaway for the 1:350 model)

36. This is apparently a re-issue of a kit originally created and released by a firm called Ringo Toy

37. Sky Tech models “manufactured airship models, 2-5 feet long, in kit and finished forms. This was almost literally, a one-man operation. SkyTech made a number of kits for which they were the only known source…. Last known address was a small shop in a mall: 2373 N.W. 185th , No.290, Hillsboro, Oregon, 97124 USA


Eles, Gerd, “Akron and Macon: Aircraft Carriers of the Sky”, IPMS California Model Workshop

Evans, “Airships and the Navy” in USN: A Complete History

Hayward, J.T., VADM USN (Ret.) “Comments and Suggestions” in USNI Proceedings, August, 1978, pp.62-67

Robinson, D.H., and Keller, Charles L., “Up Ship”: U.S.Navy Rigid Airships 1919-1935, Naval Institute Press, 1982

Smith, Richard K., The Airships Akron & Macon: Flying Aircraft Carriers of the United States Navy, Naval Institute Press, 1965

Wortmann, Robert, Producer, The Flying Aircraft Carriers: USS Akron and USS Macon, video, Spiegal TV Media, 2008

Picture Credits:

Main Picture: Naval Historical Center (NHC) photo # NH98081 USS Akron

Last Picture: NHC photo # 85758

Picture 1: Public Domain

Picture 2: Public Domain

Picture 3: USN, Public Domain

Picture 4: USN, Public Domain

Picture 5: USN, Public Domain

Picture 6: USN, Public Domain

Picture 7: NHC photo #NH 01216

Picture 8: NHC photo #NH72408

Picture 9: NHC photo # NH98221

Picture 10: NHC photo #NH44093

Picture 11: USN, public domain

Picture 12: NHC photo #NH92612

Picture 13: NHC photo #NH57994

Picture 14: NHC photo #NH98228

Picture 15: NHC photo #NH80547

Picture 16: NHC photo #NH57492

Picture 17: NHC photo # NH82257

Picture 18: NHC photo #NH98997

Picture 19: www.airships.net/us-navy-rigid-airships/uss-shenandoah

Picture 20: www.airships.net/us-navy-rigid-airships/uss-losangeles

Picture21: same as # 20

Picture 22: same as # 20

Picture 23: HNC photo # NH84562

Picture 24: HNC photo # NH44097

Picture 25: British Government, public domain

Picture 26: German Federal Archive: Bild 102-12878

Picture 27: http//:oldbeacon.com

Picture 28: http//:oldbeacon.com

Picture 29: NHC photo #NH80774

Picture 30: NHC photo #NH80771

Picture 31: USN, public domain

Picture 32: NHC photo #NH89448

Picture 33: www.airships.net

Picture 34: NHC photo # NH97978

Picture 35: NHC photo #NH42159

Picture 36: www.airships.net

Picture 37: NHC photo # NH97977

Picture 38: Imperial War Museum , public domain

Picture 39: NHC photo #NH84169

Picture 40: National Archives and Research Administration (NARA) 80-G-463185

Picture 41: NARA 80-G-4184-10

Picture 42: NARA 80-G-416532

Picture 43: NHC photo #NH80773

Picture 44: NHC photo #NH42160

Picture 45: USN; www.vectorsite.net/avparsit.htm

Picture 46: NHC photo #85746

Picture 47: USN, public domain

Picture 48: NHC photo #84571

Picture 49: NHC photo #71617

Picture 50: USN, public domain

Picture 51: NARA 80-G-441979

Picture 52: NHC photo # 77433

Picture 53: NARA 80-G-441983

Picture 54: www.airships.net

Picture 55: NHC photo #80769

Picture 56: www.airships.net

Picture 57: www.airships.net

Picture 58: USN, public domain

Pictures 59-64: http://spot.colorado.edu/~dziadeck/airship/models.htm

Picture 65: www.largescaleplanes.com

Picture 66: USN, public domain

Picture 67: Museum of Naval Aviation, Pensacola, Florida

Picture 68: Udvar-Hazy museum, Dulles Airport


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  Photos and text © 2012 by Dan Linton

May 19, 2012