USS Shenandoah (ZR-1)

USS Shenandoah (ZR-1)

USS "Shenandoah" was the first of four United States Navy rigid airships. She was built from 1922 to 1923 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and first flew in September, 1923. She developed the Navy's experience with rigid airships, even making the first crossing of the North American continent by airship. On the 57th flight,Hayward, John T., VADM USN "Comment and Discussion" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" August 1978 p.67] "Shenandoah" was torn apart in a squall line over Ohio in 1925.Hayward, John T., VADM USN "Comment and Discussion" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" August 1978 p.66]

Design and construction

The "Shenandoah" was originally designated FA-1, for 'Fleet Airship Number One' but this was changed to ZR-1. The airship was 680 feet longHayward, John T., VADM USN "Comment and Discussion" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" August 1978 p.64] and weighed 36 tons. She had a range of 5,000 miles, and could reach speeds of 70 miles per hour. The "Shenandoah" was assembled at Lakehurst Naval Air Station between 1922 and 1923, in the only hangar large enough for the ship to fit, Hangar Number One, built in 1921. (Her parts were fabricated beforehand at the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia.) Lakehurst Naval Air Station had already served as a base for Navy blimps for some time, but the "Shenandoah" was the first rigid airship to join the Navy's fleet.

The design was based on Zeppelin bomber "L-49" (LZ-96).Hayward, John T., VADM USN "Comment and Discussion" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" August 1978 p.62] "L-49" was a lightened "height climber", designed for altitude at the expense of other qualities. The design was found insufficient and a number of the features of newer Zeppelins were incorporated into the design, as well as some structural improvements. The structure was built from a new alloy of aluminum and copper known as duralumin. Girders were fabricated at the Naval Aircraft Factory. Whether the changes introduced into the original design of L-49 played a part in "Shenandoah" later breaking up is a matter of debate. An outer cover of high-quality cotton cloth was sewn, laced, or taped to the duralumin frame and painted with aluminum dope.

The gas cells were made of goldbeater's skins, one of the most gas-impervious materials known at the time. Goldbeater's skins were named for their use in beating and separating gold leaf. Goldbeater's skins were made from the outer membrane of the large intestines of cattle. The membranes were washed and scraped to remove fat and dirt, and then kept in a solution of water and glycerine in preparation for application to the rubberized cotton fabric providing the strength of the gas cells. The membranes were wrung out by hand to remove the water-glycerine storage solution and then rubber-cemented to the cotton fabric and finally given a light coat of varnish. The twenty gas cells within the airframe were filled to about 85 percent of capacity at normal barometric pressure.Hayward, John T., VADM USN "Comment and Discussion" "United States Naval Institute Proceedings" August 1978 p.63] Each gas cell had a spring loaded relief valve and manual valves operated from the control car.

"Shenandoah" had a significant edge in safety over previous airships, being the first rigid to use helium rather than hydrogen. Helium supplies were relatively rare at the time, and the "Shenandoah"s used much of the world's reserves just to fill its 2.1 million cubic-foot volume. USS "Los Angeles" (ZR-3), the next rigid airship to enter Navy service, was at first filled with the helium from "Shenandoah" until more could be procured.

"Shenandoah" was powered by 300-horsepower, 8-cylinder, gasoline engines manufactured by the Packard Motor Car Company. The first frame of "Shenandoah" was erected by 24 June 1922; on 20 August 1923, the completed airship was floated free of the ground. Helium cost $55 per thousand cubic feet at the time, and was considered too expensive to simply vent to the atmosphere to compensate for the weight of fuel consumed by the gasoline engines. Neutral buoyancy was preserved by installing condensers to capture the water vapor in the engine exhaust.

She was christened on 10 October 1923; sponsored by Mrs. Edwin Denby, wife of the Secretary of the Navy; and commissioned on the same day, Commander Frank R. McCrary in command.

Early Naval service

USS "Shenandoah" took to the sky for the first time on September 4, 1923.

"Shenandoah" was designed for fleet reconnaissance work of the type carried out by German naval airships in World War I. Her precommissioning trials included long range flights during September and early October 1923, to test her airworthiness in rain, fog, and poor visibility. On 27 October, "Shenandoah" celebrated Navy Day with a flight down the Shenandoah Valley and returned to Lakehurst that night by way of Washington and Baltimore, where crowds gathered to see the new airship in the beams of searchlights.

At this time, Rear Admiral William Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and staunch advocate of the airship, was discussing the possibility of using "Shenandoah" to explore the Arctic. Such a program, he felt, would produce valuable weather data as well as experience in cold-weather operations. With her endurance and ability to fly at low speeds, the airship was thought to be well suited to such work. President Calvin Coolidge approved Moffett's proposal, but on 16 January 1924, "Shenandoah" was torn from her Lakehurst mooring mast by a gale, and her nose was damaged. She rode out the storm and landed safely, but a period of repair was needed, and the Arctic expedition was dropped.

"Shenandoah"s repairs were completed in May, and she devoted the summer of 1924 to work with her powerplant and radio equipment to prepare for her duty with the fleet. On 1 August, she reported for duty with the Scouting Fleet and took part in tactical exercises. "Shenandoah" succeeded in discovering the “enemy” force as planned but lost contact with it in foul weather. Technical difficulties and lack of support facilities in the fleet forced her to depart the operating area ahead of time to return to Lakehurst. Although this marred the exercises as far as airship reconnaissance went, it emphasized the need for advanced bases and maintenance ships if lighter-than-air craft were to take any part in operations of this kind.

Flight across North America

In July 1924 the oiler "Patoka" (AO-9) put in to Norfolk Navy Yard for extensive modifications to become the Navy's first Airship Tender. An experimental mooring mast some 125 feet above the water was constructed; additional accommodations both for the crew of "Shenandoah" and for the men who would handle and supply the airship were added; facilities for the helium, gasoline, and other supplies necessary for "Shenandoah" were built; as well as handling and stowage facilities for three seaplanes. "Shenandoah" engaged in a short series of mooring experiments with "Patoka" to determine the practicality of mobile fleet support of scouting airships. The first successful mooring was made 8 August 1924. During October 1924, "Shenandoah" flew from Lakehurst to California and on to Washington to test newly erected mooring masts. This was the first flight of a rigid airship across North America.

Later Naval career

The year 1925 began with nearly six months of maintenance and ground test work. "Shenandoah" did not take to the air until 26 June, when she began preparations for summer operations with the fleet. During July and August, she again operated with the Scouting Fleet, successfully performing scouting problems and being towed by "Patoka" while moored to that ship's mast.

Wreck of the "Shenandoah"

On 2 September 1925, "Shenandoah" departed Lakehurst on a promotional flight to the Midwest which would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. Testing of a new mooring mast at Dearborn, Michigan was included in the schedule. While passing through an area of thunderstorms and turbulence over Ohio early in the morning of the 3rd during its 57th flight, the airship was torn apart and crashed in several pieces near Caldwell, Ohio. "Shenandoah"s commanding officer, Commander Zachary Lansdowne, and 13 other officers and men were killed.Those killed were:

*LCDR Zachary Lansdowne, Commanding Officer, Greenville, Ohio
*LCDR Lewis Hancock Jr., Executive Officer, Austin, Texas,
*LT. Arthur Reginald Houghton, Watch Officer, Alston, Mass.
*LT. JG Edgar William Sheppard, Engineering Officer, Washington D. C.
*LT. John (Jack) Bullard Lawrence, Watch Officer, St. Paul, Minn.
*CPO George Conrad Schnitzer, Radio Officer, Tuckertown, N. J
*AMM1C James Albert Moore, Radio Generator, Savannah, Ga
*AR1C Ralph Thomas Joffray, Rigger, St. Louis, Mo.
*AMM1C Bartholomew (Bart) B. O'Sullivan, Lowell, Mass
*CPO James William Cullinan, Binghampton, N. Y
*CPO Everett Price Allen, Chief Rigger, St. Louis, Mo.
*AMM Charles Harrison Broom, Tom’s River, N. J.
*AMM Celestino P. Mazzuco, Murray Hill NJ
*AMM William Howard Spratley, Venice, Ill.

Twenty-nine survivors succeeded in riding three sections of the airship to earth. The survivors were:
*Louis E. Allely
*LT. Joseph B. Anderson
*G. W. Armour
*LT. Charles E. Bauch
*CBM Henry L.Boswell
*CBM Arthur E. Carlson
*Warrant Officer Chief Gunner CWO Raymond Cole
*Lester Coleman
*James E."Red" Collier
*Mark Donovan
*John J. Hahn
*Col. Chalmers G. Hall
*Chief Machinist CWO, Shine S. Halliburton
*Thomas Hendley
*Benjamin O. Hereth
*Walter Johnson
*Aviation Machinist's Mate Ralph Jones
*MM2C Julius E. Malak
*CPO Franklin E. Masters
*ACR, Chief Rigger John.F. McCarthy
*LT. Roland Mayer
*ACR Frank L. Peckham
*ACMM August C.Quernheim
*LT. Walter T. Richardson (Naval Reserve, traveling as a civilian observer)
*LCMDR Charles Emery Rosendahl
*ACMM William A. Russell
*AMM1c Joseph Shevlowitz
*Charles Solar
*CBM Frederick J. "Bull" Tobin

The fatal flight had been made under protest by Cmdr. Lansdowne (a native of Greenville, Ohio), who warned of the violent weather conditions which were prevalent in the area and common to Ohio in late summer. His pleas for a cancellation of the flight only led to a postponement. His superiors were keen to publicize airship technology, and justify the huge cost of the airship to the taxpayers, so publicity, rather than prudence won the day. This event was the trigger for Army Colonel Billy Mitchell to heavily criticize the leadership of both the Army and the Navy, leading directly to his court-martial for insubordination and the end of his military career.

The survival of the 29 survivors has been attributed to the fact that the airship contained helium,Fact|date=June 2008 which does not react chemically with air. If hydrogen had been used, the ship probably would have burned - as the "LZ 129 Hindenburg" would twelve years later.Fact|date=June 2008

Shenandoah Elementary School and Shenandoah High School in Noble County, Ohio, where the crash occurred, is named in honor of the ship and crew. Its sports teams are nicknamed "The Zeps".

[] A truck stop, Shenandoah Plaza, located in Old Washington, Ohio was built in the early 1970's in memory of the airship.

See also

*List of airships of the United States Navy



* Wood, Junius B., "Seeing America from the 'Shenandoah'", "National Geographic Magazine", January, 1925.
* "Ill Wind: The Naval Airship Shenandoah In Noble County, Ohio." Gray, Lewis. Gateway Press: Baltimore, 1989
*Robinson, Douglas H., and Charles L. Keller. "Up Ship!": U.S. Navy Rigid Airships 1919-1935." Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1982. ISBN 0-87021-738-0

External links

* [ USS "Shenandoah" (ZR-1)]
* [ Naval Historical Center Article and Images of Construction]
** [ Article and Images during Service]
* [ Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms, a National Park Service "Discover Our Shared Heritage" Travel Itinerary]
* [ "The Wreck of the Shenendoah", 1925 song by Vernon Dalhart]

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