A Summer of Airships

A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) ...

A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) or USS Macon (ZRS-5), over Puget Sound, Washington (USA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, along with the normal mix of articles, I will being writing a series of articles on Airships. Airships have an “air” of romance and adventure, and have made appearances in many movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (where Indiana and his dad rode the Hindenburg). We will not be visiting movie sets, but we will have a chance to learn more about these glamorous airships.

N class blimp

N class blimp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among some of the airships we’ll discuss this summer are the Graf Zeppelin, sister ship to the Hindenburg. The Shenandoah, Macon, Akron, and L-8.

The U.S. Navy blimp L-8 over the aircraft carr...

The U.S. Navy blimp L-8 over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) at the beginning of the “Doolittle Raid” in April 1942. Note the USAAF North American B-25 Mitchell bomber on Hornet´s deck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L-8 is an interesting airship with a mysterious ending. Originally a commercial blimp built and operated by the Goodyear company. L-8 was taken over by the United States Navy during World War Two. The airship was assigned to perform anti-submarine patrols on the west coast of the United States and was stationed at Treasure Island in the center of San Francisco Bay.

August 16, 1942 was just another summer day in sunny California. The early morning fog left a covering of dew on the cloth skin of L-8, adding weight to the airship. Due to the extra weight the normal crew of three was cut to two, Machinists Mate Third Class James Hill was left behind.

Lt. Cody, the pilot, and Ensign Adams were both experience airship men. Ensign Adams had 20 years of experience with airships as an enlisted man before receiving his commission. The two men left Treasure Island  about six in the morning.

A little over an hour and a half later, Lt. Cody radioed in they had discovered an oil slick and were going to investigate. The men were never heard from again. Five hours after L-8 left Treasure Island, the blimp was spotted heading inland over a local beach. The blimp crashed in front of a house owned by volunteer firemen William Morris. Bill was the first man on the scene. When he arrived at the gondola to rescue the crew, he found the door tied open and no one onboard the airship. The mystery of what happened to the crew was never solved and one year later they were declared dead.

In the weeks to come I will tell you more about L-8 and a fleet of other airships.

An inside view of one of the massive blimp han...

An inside view of one of the massive blimp hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, CA. Source: USMCAS Tustin archives.The structures appear in the National Register of Historic Places as #NPS-#75000451. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and there are engineers and businessmen hard at work on a comeback for airships. Nothing like the Hindenburg, but there are many useful purposes for airships today.

The gondola of an airship.

The gondola of an airship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



Filed under Hindenburg, history, navy, ships

5 responses to “A Summer of Airships

  1. That is a fascinating story!!!


  2. J. G. Burdette

    A Mary Celeste of the sky!


  3. Whoo-hoo! Looking forward to reading your series on airships. Sounds like fun.


  4. I’ve always had a fascination with airships. There roles they’ve played were fascinating and they seem to have a lot of untapped potential. I look forward to your thoughts on these! Great Post!