Airships and the US Navy
The Navy's airship program started in June 1915 and lasted until August 1962. During that time, the Navy operated a multitude of lighter-than-air craft, beginning with the DN-1, crafted by the Connecticut Aircraft Company. The designation stems from D for dirigible, N for non-rigid and “1” as the Navy’s first airship. The DN-1 suffered early complications associated with new technology and developing infrastructure to support new technology. And before DN-1 was built, studies were ongoing at the Bureau of Construction and Repair for a future class of dirigibles. In April 1916, the General Board endorsed the development of zeppelins and other mobile lighter-than-air craft. At Akron, Ohio (home of the Goodyear Zeppelin Company), the Navy’s program tested non-rigid airships, free balloons, and kite balloons. During testing, the balloons were found to be an easy target for enemy aircraft and they restricted maneuverability when moored to a ship. During World War I, airships and kite balloons were used in conjunction with seaplanes and flying boats to help protect shipping. They were also used to detect submarines and warn vessels of mines. Most of the airship patrols were carried out off the U.S. east coast and in Europe where they were deemed successful because they were a deterrent to German submarines.
During World War II, there were five different airship classes/types in the Navy’s inventory. Airship operations and expansion was unprecedented. The airship fleet conducted operations in the Pacific, Mediterranean, the North Atlantic, and South Atlantic. When the war was over and the military drew down, the Navy still kept two squadrons that conducted mostly training, search and rescue, observation, and photography missions.
On 21 June 1961, the Secretary of the Navy announced he was going to terminate the Navy’s lighter-than-air program. The last flight of a naval airship occurred on 31 August 1962.
In 1916, the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company purchased land near Akron, Ohio, to build a plant that could produce airships. In 1923, the main Goodyear Company created a subsidiary known as the Goodyear Zeppelin Company to manufacture airships, including airships for the United States Navy and for leisure. By the late 1920s and the early 1930s, among the firm's completed zeppelins were the Pony, Pilgrim, Puritan, Volunteer, Mayflower, Vigilant, Defender, Reliance, Resolute, Enterprise, Ranger, and Columbia. Most of these ships utilized helium to become airborne, while zeppelins originally used heated air or hydrogen. During this period, other companies, especially European ones, were constructing airships to transport passengers. Goodyear also manufactured two airships, the Akron and the Macon, for the United States military during the early 1930s. During World War II, the company manufactured 104 airships for the military at its Akron facility. Following World War II, the Goodyear Zeppelin Company continued to manufacture airships, but it also expanded into producing other types of aircraft and aircraft parts. The main thrust of the company, however, remained the airships. The company now used the airships almost exclusively for advertising purposes. In 1966, the firm created the "Skytacular," a four-color sign that could be flown from blimps and read especially at night by people on the ground. Beginning in the 1950s, the Goodyear airships commonly appeared at major sporting events. The firm manufactured over three hundred zeppelins between 1923 and 1995, but it currently only operates four airships in the United States.
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