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The pride of the US airship fleet, the USS Sehnandoah was ripped apart by a storm over Ohio. Only 14 members of the 43 man crew survived. The US airfleet used Helium instead of, the more flammable, hydrogen and thus the airship did not explode but was just ripped apart.
THE TRAGIC COLLAPSE on September 3 of the Shenandoah, one of America's two great dirigibles of the Zeppelin type, seemed, under the first shock of the news, a grave blow to the cause of American aviation. Yet, if we may judge from the reaction of the nation's press, this disaster, involving tho it does the sacrifice of fourteen lives, will not check the development of planes and dirigibles for both military and commercial uses.
In some quarters, it is true, the destruction of the great silver-gray naval airship, whose beauty had become familiar to millions of our citizens, is still regarded as justifying a pessimistic view of the future of lighter - than - air flying machines. Thus several papers, shocked by the loss of valuable lives, discuss the disaster under such headings as, "Is It Worth While?" "Why Not Abandon Airships?" "The Passing of Dirigibles," and "No More Zeppelins." Some, while admitting that dirigibles might have a future in the commercial field, argued against replacing the Shenandoah with another dirigible.
But "it is not the American way to give up in the face of defeat," declares the Savannah News, which is confident that the loss of the big airship in a very violent thunder-storm over Ohio will not prevent our Government from continuing its experiments with both heavier- than-air and lighter-than-air flying machines. And the note sounded by this Georgia paper finds an echo in all sections of the country. "Americans are not going to give up the task of conquering the air," insists the Buffalo Evening. Post. Henry Ford, too, announces from his son's summer home at Seal Harbor, Maine, that the Shenandoah disaster will not affect his plans for developing airplanes and dirigibles. The men who died, the Albany Evening" News reminds us, "believed in the future of aerial navigation, were willing to risk their lives in pioneering, and would not have America say 'stop.'" "Sacrifice for a 'vision splendid' is never unavailing, and the blood of those who fall in battle for the skyways will become in truth the seed of ultimate victory," declares the Atlanta Journal. "To turn failure into success is the best tribute we can pay to the intrepidity and daring of aviation's fated pioneers," the Newark Evening News assures us.
Such "tragedies of progress" must not discourage us, agree such representative papers as the New York World, Commercial, and Evening Post: Cleveland Plain Dealer, Chicago Tribune, Journal of Commerce, and Daily News Milwaukee Journal, Brooklyn Eagle, Minneapolis Journal, Philadelphia Public Ledger, Washington Evening Star, Baltimore Sun, Boston News Bureau, and Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph. Nor does the attitude of the Government seem to be out of harmony with this spirit.
President Coolidge, a dispatch assures us, will urge the Navy to build another great dirigible to replace the Shenandoah, and carry forward the conquest of the air and Secretary of the Navy Wilbur is quoted as saying that the disaster will cause no immediate change in naval policy with respect to the use of huge rigid airships as an element of national defense." From the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, a dispatch to the New York Times tells us that&mdash
"A new airship of more than 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity, or twice the size of the Shenandoah, will replace that ill-fated vessel, in the opinion of naval officers here. Plans for a ship of this type are said to have been prepared by the Navy Department several months ago, and to be now in Washington.
"The new ship will be designed along lines similar to the giant dirigible now being built by the British Government. Experiments are now being conducted with Diesel oil-burning engines, it is said, in the hope of eliminating gasoline and the attendant hazard from fire."
The Shenandoah disaster created almost as great a sensation in Europe as in the United States, reports A. G. Gardiner in a Consolidated Press dispatch from London but there, as here, we are told, the general opinion is that airship transportation is so important to the world that experiments must go on.
But while public opinion, as reflected in the press, does not seem in a mood to approve any panicky retreat from the field of aviation, neither does it seem content to ignore the problems raised by the Shenandoah disaster. The demand for a full investigation of our naval and military air policy was brought to a head immediately after the accident by the sensational charges of Col. William Mitchell, deposed assistant chief of the Army Air Service, who invited court-martial by declaring in a published statement that the loss of the Shenandoah was "the result of incompetency, criminal negligence, and almost treasonable ad- ministration of the War and Navy Departments." Public in- terest in the subject is now so thoroughly aroused, journalistic observers report, that the whole subject of American military aviation will have to be thrashed out in Congress this winter. In an editorial headed, "Stormy Days for Aviation," the New York Evening World has this to say:
"The effect of the Shenandoah tragedy on the immediate future policy of the country as to aircraft will be determined by the reactions of the members of Congress. In a sense the tragedy is a vindication of the 'old guard,' which has never shared the enthusiasm of the younger officials concerning the military value of the Air Service. The 'old guard,' including Secretary Wilbur, will point to the inability of a structurally perfect dirigible to weather a storm as making their case.
"If it be accepted as true that 'no structure made by human hands' could possibly have withstood the buffeting of the winds before which the Shenandoah crumpled, it will not be an easy matter to persuade Congress to appropriate money to replace the lost ship.
"The attitude of the head of the Navy, the present skepticism of the man in the street, and the traditional unfriendliness of Congress toward large appropriations for military purposes all combine to make the wrecking of the country's only home-made dirigible a serious blow to the development of the Air Service.
"The Shenandoah will certainly not be soon replaced, and while no one will seriously suggest the abandonment of the airplane, it will be difficult to convince the public that it is wise to continue building two-million-dollar dirigibles that are unable to ride a storm."
In this connection it is interesting to read the following comment in the Vancouver Sun, which argues that Canada is no less interested than the United States in the temporary loss of the PN-9 No. 1 and the complete destruction of the Shenandoah:
" If the Hawaii fiasco, the Shenandoah disaster and the attacks of Colonel Mitchell are of prime interest to the American nation, which now realizes that future national supremacy rests in the air, they are of no less import to Canada.
"This country and the United States may be separated politically and economically. But whether they like it or not, the peculiar exigencies of a real defense tie them up forever in air development.
"If that development, a new and highly technical branch of study that will require a tremendous amount of untrammeled creative brain effort, is going to be restricted to what can filter through the musty traditions of Army and Navy, little progress will be made. The future story of North American prowess in the air is being written right now in Washington."
- "The stopping of two of the five motors in the storm.
- "Inadequate fastening of her control and radio cabins, which dropt off.
- "The breaking loose of gas-tanks and the tearing apart of her frame.
- "Centralization of her water supply instead of distribution of it, causing a centered strain.
- "The reported removal of eight of her eighteen safety-valves on her gas-cells, preventing the discharge of helium quickly enough when she shot up in the air.
- "Strain of towing a target blimp at the end of a 500-yard steel cable in the Navy maneuvers off the Virginia Capes."
"Checking up of the stories told by survivors of the Shenandoah indicates that a ' twister' or cyclonic disturbance which wrenched the nose off the Shenandoah was responsible for the wreck. The theory advanced by Capt. Anton Heinen, former Zeppelin pilot, that the removal of eight of the sixteen safety-valves was re- sponsible, is scouted by all of the remaining crew of the dirigible.
"All agree that the actual breaking-up of the ship occurred at or near the 3,500-foot level when the cells were only normally inflated, and point out that had the break been due to the bursting of one or more gas-cells, it would have occurred when the Shenandoah was shot up by an 'air geyser' to a height of 7,000 feet.
"Lieut. Joseph B. Anderson, aerological officer of the ship, states that as the airship started up after coming down from her highest altitude, Commander Lansdowne ordered gas to be valved, but when she shot downward again he tried to steady her by loosing some of the water ballast. He then gave orders to point her nose down and drive through the storm, but at that moment the ship seemed to be seized by two. parallel currents of air, one of which was traveling upward at a far greater speed than the other."
Says another correspondent, writing from the scene of the accident:
"Just what caused the accident is still a matter of doubt tonight, but there were two theories put forward by survivors of the ship. One was that the radio cabin and control cabin, which were wrenched loose and fell to the ground clear of the ship, left holes in the outer covering of the vessel through which the night gale rushed, ripping the helium bags to bits and causing unequal stresses which broke the ship in two. The other was that the gas-tanks broke loose, and in sliding through the ship smashed girders and so weakened the structure that it collapsed."
Capt. Anton Heinen thus explains his theory that the disaster was due to the reduced number of safety-valves for the escape of the helium gas:
"Those fourteen gallant men need not have been killed. An airship might possibly go through her whole career without ever being subject to an emergency such as that which arose on the fateful third of September. Yet it is for just such emergencies that the system of safety-valves is provided. At the time that her extremely able constructors turned her over to the Government of the United States, she was provided with safety-valves sufficient in number to withstand any kind of weather conditions which our past experience had encountered.
"I am afraid that a false feeling of security has brought about a change in the construction of the all-important safety-valve device, which was to safeguard the most precious thing aboard the ship&mdashhuman lives&mdashfrom destruction. From a device used for the protection of human life it has been changed to a device for saving the valuable helium contained in the gas-bags.
"The referred-to change in the plan and construction of the safety-valve system is the primary and only cause of the terrible disaster. As a result we have been deprived of many splendid friends and promising airmen. Then, too, we have lost the wonder ship Shenandoah, that has found a glorious but unnecessary place in the disaster list of airship history.
"In spite of what has happened, the airship, when properly constructed, handled and cared for, is the safest way of human transportation. Years that are to come will prove this to be so. And in the passing of years, with the greater and more pronounced success of airship transportation, will come the realization that the apparent greater regard for the safety of the helium than tor the lives of those now our heroes has brought about this ghastly situation.
"Time will show that the inexcusable change in the construction of the Shenandoah has caused the loss of part of her crew and the ship itself, which was such a tender part of my- heart and my life, and the pride of all who watched her float among the clouds."
According to an Associated Press dispatch, Commander Lansdowne of the Shenandoah, before starting on the trip, had criti- cized the new water-recovery system which was installed some weeks ago. One man quotes him as saying: "I don't like it. It's going to cause trouble in a high wind." The change involved is explained as follows:
"The original water-recovery system distributed the water recovered from exhaust gas of the engines to ballast bags scattered throughout the ship to counteract the loss in weight from gasoline consumption.
"The new system, installed at Section 110, near the place where the dirigible is said to have broken, concentrated a great part of the recovered water in a canvas bag holding three tons at the spot where the ship broke.
"Not only is it believed that the new system concentrated too much weight in one part of the ship, but in addition it is believed that the cutting of one of the main circular ribs of the ship and an intermediate rib for installation of the new system resulted in further weakness. These formed the main structure of the ship.
"The two ribs, or rings, as they are called in dirigible construction, were reunited by a square connection instead of the original circular form, and this also was criticized by Commander Lansdowne in private conversations just before departure of the ship."
But many of the survivors, we are told, say that the accident was caused by "the most feared of storms to an aviator, a 'line squall,' (is this what we call "Wind Shear" today?) which no craft, once caught in its clutches, could have survived. "The line in a line squall," explains Prof. Henry J. Cox, forecaster for the Chicago weather bureau, "is defined by the sudden clash of temperatures or of winds blowing from different directions." Mrs. Lansdowne is quoted as saying that her husband had grave misgivings about taking the Shenandoah over Ohio at this season, knowing the prevalence of such disturbances in that region.
USS Shenandoah Crash Site
The USS Shenandoah crash sites are significant under criteria A and B. The wreck is still remembered more than 60 years later as one of the major events in the early twentieth century history of Noble County and southeastern Ohio. Furthermore, the crash had important associations with the history of the U.S. Navy's airship program and with Zachary Lansdowne, the commander of the airship and an individual of national notoriety in the early twentieth century military history of the nation. Site no. 1. in section 33 of Buffalo Township, surrounds the Gamary farmhouse and was beneath the initial break-up of the airship. Crash site no. 2 lies a little less than a half a mile to the southwest of site no. 1 across 1-77 in Section 5 of Noble Township. The 400' stern section came to rest with its tail fins near the modern property line for the interstate and stretched to the northwest towards a low hillside.
The USS Shenandoah, the first rigid airship built in the United States and the first in the world to be inflated with helium, occupies a major place in the pioneering history of American airship aviation. Commanded and staffed by personnel from the U.S. Navy, it was intended for use as a scouting vessel and followed experience with German Zeppelins during World War I. The Shenandoah’s most impressive flight occurred in October 1924 when she made a trans-continental flight from Lakehurst to the west coast and back. The 9,000 plus mile, 235 hour trip received extensive coverage in National Geographic Magazine and other news publications. The trip was heralded as a forerunner of commercial airship passenger service.
The Shenandoah crashed late morning on September 3, 1925. Word of the wreck spread quickly through southeast Ohio and crowds of spectators gathered to view the three wreckage sites. One estimate placed the number of curiosity seekers as high as 10,000. Upon learning of the disaster J. Edgar Hoover dispatched FBI agents to guard the wreckage and forty Ohio National Guardsmen were also dispatched to the site. Unfortunately they arrived too late to stop the wholesale looting of the wrecks.
Crash Site of the USS ShenandoahView all photos
On September 3, 1925, the airship USS Shenandoah crashed in the hills of Southeast Ohio. Fourteen crewmembers were killed, the wreckage was torn apart by local looters, and the whole disaster foreshadowed the beginning of the end for dirigibles.
In the 1920s, dirigibles and airships populated the skies alongside airplanes. European countries had long used airships for military purposes, and so in 1923 the US Navy launched the nation’s first rigid dirigible, the USS Shenandoah. The Shenandoah would be the first dirigible in the world to use helium, instead of dangerous and highly volatile hydrogen, to keep it aloft. When completed, the Shenandoah was housed in Lakehurst, New Jersey.
The Shenandoah gained notability in 1924 when it completed a transcontinental flight of North America. Due to this well-publicized adventure, the airship, once conceived as a scouting vessel, quickly became more useful to the Navy as a promotional tool. The Shenandoah was scheduled to spend the late summer of 1925 visiting state fairs in the Midwest. It was a mission that apparently did not sit well with the airship’s commanding officer.
Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne was from Greenville, Ohio and was aware that late summer brought sudden, severe and unpredictable weather to the Great Lakes region. When he passed his concerns along to his superior officers, they were only partially heeded. The Navy would delay the Midwest flight to September, but refused to cancel it.
On September 3, 1925, as the Shenandoah started on the publicity tour, she met a powerful squall line that tore the airship in half. Due to the violent destruction of the Shenandoah while it was still airborne, the ship’s crash site is actually three crash sites. The stern section crashed near Ava, Ohio while the bow section was blown along the wind until it landed near Sharon, Ohio. The ship’s control car fell near Ava on what is now Ohio State Route 821. The Shenandoah disaster killed 14 navy aviators, including Lansdowne.
In what today might seem like a stunning display of disrespect to the fallen aviators, locals in the area started looting the crash site almost immediately. On September 16, two weeks after the crash, Justice Department agents and prohibition agents conducted a series of raids in West Virginia and Ohio to recover stolen artifacts from the Shenandoah. According to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from the time, “among the recovered articles…were personal grips of several members of the ship’s crew and a cap said to have been worn by Commander Zachary Lansdowne.”
The Shenandoah disaster would be the first of several crashes that would ultimately push the United States, and the world, away from lighter-than-air flight and toward sole reliance on planes for air travel. In 1933, the USS Akron, another navy airship, crashed in a storm off the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 people. Two years later, yet another storm crashed Akron’s sister ship USS Macon, killing two crew members. Two years after that, the Hindenburg exploded over New Jersey, killing 36 people and effectively ending the common use of airships.
While the looters left very little in the way of a physical legacy of the Shenandoah, the airship was memorialized in 1925 by folk singer Vernon Dalhart with his mournful ballad “The Wreck of the Shenandoah.”
The victims of the Shenandoah disaster were: Zachary Lansdowne, Lewis Hancock, Arthur Houghton, Edgar Sheppard, Jack Lawrence, George Schnitzer, James Moore, Ralph Joffray, Bart O’Sullivan, James Cullinan, Everett Allen, Charles Broom, Celestino Mazzuco, William Spratley.
Sept. 3, 1925: Shenandoah Crash a Harbinger of Grim Future
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1925: Caught in a squall over southeastern Ohio, the Navy dirigible USS Shenandoah breaks up and crashes into a field, killing 14 of the 43 men aboard. It is the first of three major accidents that eventually ends the Navy's experiment with rigid airships.
The dirigible, a lighter-than-air craft with a skeletal framework, saw major action during World War I, when it was used by the Germans, French and Italians in both scouting and tactical-bombing roles. The Germans actually sent zeppelins to bomb London, although the results were far less dramatic than those achieved by the Heinkels and Dorniers a generation later. In fact, the rigid airship proved a disappointment as a weapon of war, especially when its vulnerability to hostile aircraft was factored in.
The U.S. Navy, however, still saw value in rigid airships as scouts for the fleet. After using blimps -- non-rigid airships with no internal skeleton -- for a while, the Navy wanted something with longer range and durability. During 1922 and 1923 it built the USS Shenandoah at the naval air station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. It was the first of four Navy dirigibles: the Los Angeles, Akron and Macon would follow.
Based on designs of the enormous German zeppelins, the Shenandoah measured 680 feet in length and weighed 36 tons. Her six 300-horsepower engines, built by the Packard Motor Car Co., could drive her 5,000 miles at a maximum speed of 60 knots. Although intended primarily for a scouting role, the Shenandoah was a naval vessel and therefore equipped to carry six .30-caliber Lewis machine guns and eight 500-pound bombs.
The Americans introduced one significant safety improvement, replacing the hydrogen lifting agent with non-flammable helium. At the time, the United States was the only country in the world with any stores of helium, and the gas was rarer than hen's teeth. There was barely enough available to fill the Shenandoah to its 2.1 million cubic-foot volume. As for the skeleton, a new alloy known as duralumin -- a blending of aluminum and copper -- was used.
Shenandoah embarked on her maiden flight Sept. 4, 1923, making 56 mostly uneventful passages over a two-year period. She carried out a tactical fleet exercise only once in her career, instead spending most of her time either making goodwill cruises around the country or else grounded, owing to the lack of helium.
On one flight early in 1924, the Shenandoah sustained some damage after getting caught in a storm. It was nearly five months before the ship was airborne again.
Her captain, Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Lansdowne, was certainly cognizant of this when he checked the weather forecast for the Midwest on Sept. 2, 1925. The Shenandoah was embarking on another lengthy goodwill tour en route to an air show, and Lansdowne, seeing that thunderstorms were expected along his flight path, recommended waiting out the weather. He was overruled, and the great airship left Lakehurstlater that day.
Early the next morning, the Shenandoah was over southeastern Ohio and struggling with turbulence when a sudden updraft forced the ship to climb to a dangerous altitude. Its helium gas bags started bursting from the pressure differential. The crew lost control of the ship, which pitched and yawed violently until the strain finally tore her apart. Three of her exterior gondolas were torn away, and the airship broke in two.
Lansdowne, in one of the gondolas, was killed, along with 13 other officers and ratings. Crew members fore and aft managed to maneuver their still-lighter-than-air sections to the ground, and survived.
When a Boeing 737 on a scheduled US Air Flight 427 flight from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to West Palm Beach, Florida, crashed while approaching runway 28R of Pittsburgh International Airport, it instigated the lengthiest investigation ever conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board. It was eventually concluded the deaths of the 132 passengers onboard were a result of a series of failures and jams in the rudder system.
In 1960, the 11th deadliest aircraft crash in US history occurred when a United Airlines Douglas DC-8, collided with a TWA Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation. All 128 on board were killed, along with a further 6 on the ground.
Preserving Shenandoah’s History
Nestled in Noble County is a piece of United States history.
Back in 1925, the USS Shenandoah crashed in Ava. The crash’s history lives on at the Shenandoah Air Disaster Museum.
The museum is in a camper and is packed with artifacts detailing life aboard the airship. Theresa Rayner opened the museum with her late husband Bryan, which opened in 1995 on the 70th anniversary of the crash.
“When you think about the impact this had on Noble County back in 1925, it’s probably the equivalent of when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded,” Pastor and Noble County historian John Powell says. “Noble County was thrust into the spotlight.”
The museum includes various pictures and models of the airship as well as newspaper clippings about the crash. There are also items from the USS Shenandoah, including flattened soup cans and spoons. A collection of DVDs and VHS tapes that reference the airship is also on display.
The Navy built the USS Shenandoah for scouting purposes to help protect its surface ships from enemy submarines. The USS Shenandoah, however, never went on any official scouting missions.
Growing up, Bryan would follow around his grandfather and listened to all the stories about the airship crash. Theresa, on the other hand, didn’t always share her husband’s fascination. It wasn’t until the couple got married that his interest rubbed off on her.
“Once we actually met some of the people whose lives were actually totally changed because of this piece of history, then that’s when I have to say I really got hooked,” Rayner says.
Family members of those who were killed in the airship disaster have visited the museum, including the family of airship Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne, who died in the crash.
Before the museum opened, the Rayners acquired totes full of items relating to the crash which they would drag out every time someone would visit. They decided they needed a place to put the items on display, and the idea for the museum was born.
Visitors from all over the world have visited the museum including people from New Zealand, Canada and Germany.
“It’s exposed a very small rural country area to a lot of different cultures and a lot of different people from all walks of life,” Rayner says.
One of the schools in the area, Shenandoah High School, is named after the crash of the USS Shenandoah.
The mascot for Shenandoah High School is a Zeppelin because the USS Shenandoah was a Zeppelin ship, Shenandoah High School Principal Justin Denius says. A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship named after the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin.
A few years ago, the Shenandoah Zeps were named the most unique mascot in Ohio, Denius says.
“Having a Zeppelin as a mascot, it’s not like you can dress up as a blimp and run around like a tiger, but we’ve been just recently tying our mascot onto our football scoreboard in terms of the Navy star that was on the side of the USS Shenandoah,” Denius says.
One time, when Rayner was in a store in Marietta, her oldest daughter was wearing a shirt and someone in line asked about their Zeppelin mascot.
“I go in to this great big long explanation of the airship and how it crossed here in the county, and that’s our school’s mascot,” Rayner says.
People sometimes ask Theresa why the airship crash remains relevant after so many years.
“We can see all these pioneers in lots and lots of different fields,” Rayner says. “The first men who flew into space were pioneers. Well these were the first men that dealt with a lighter than air craft.”
The disaster that spelled the end of the British airship
It was a late August afternoon in 1921 when thousands of people headed out to see the test flight of the airship known simply as R38. According to the BBC, the R38 had been sold to the U.S. at the end of World War I, but on August 24 — the day of one of the last test flights in the UK before her official acceptance into the US Navy — tragedy struck.
The airship was on a test flight when fog made landing impossible, and the stress caused by a tight turn at high speed snapped the airship in half. The following explosion was so powerful that it was felt all across the city of Hull: windows shattered, people were knocked to the ground, and some were injured by flying glass and debris. Eyewitness reports (via Airships Online) described the R38 twisting in midair with the appearance of a "great wrinkle like a twisted and rolled newspaper," across the bulk.
The airship crashed into the Humber River, and in spite of rescue efforts led by the locals, 44 of the 49 people on board died in the accident. They were buried in a mass grave not far from the crash site, and the tragedy not only ended the UK's interest in using airships in their own military, but it also led to the closure of the Howden military base. Nothing remains of the airship hangars today.
Crash of the USS Shenandoah / Lighter-Than-Air Flight
Crash of the USS Shenandoah
September 3, 1925 On a stormy autumn morning in 1925, the giant Navy airship, christened Shenandoah, crashed near this site. Initially, the Shenandoah was commissioned to perform scouting missions for the Navy however, she would soon be flying promotional missions. The Shenandoah had recently begun a six-day publicity tour across the Midwest when she crashed. The turbulent weather of late summer created strong winds, which ripped the 680-feet long Shenandoah in two and tore the control car from the keel. A majority of the 14 crewmen who died in the crash, including the captain, Lt. Commander Zachary Lansdowne of Greenville, Ohio, were killed when the control car plummeted to the ground. The stern section fell in a valley near Ava and the bow was carried southwest nearly twelve miles before landing near Sharon, Ohio. The Ohio National Guard was called in to control the crowds of spectators who traveled to the crash sites.
Lighter-Than-Air Flight The USS Shenandoah was America's first rigid dirigible and was launched in 1923 at the height of the worldwide enthusiasm for lighter-than-air flight. By the early 1920s, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and France all had airships, some suffered tragic
crashes. In efforts to improve on the safety of European made airships, the Shenandoah was designed to be filled with nonflammable helium instead of hydrogen and became the first rigid dirigible in the world to use helium. One year after her initial flight, the Shenandoah successfully crossed the United States logging 235 hours of flight time. With the crash of the Shenandoah and two other American airships, the Akron and the Macon, the future of rigid dirigibles was uncertain. In 1937, the fiery crash of the German airship Hindenburg brought an abrupt end to the era of the great airships.
Erected 2002 by Ohio Bicentennial Commission, The Longaberger Company, Shenandoah Commemoration Committee, and The Ohio Historical Society. (Marker Number 2-61.)
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Air & Space &bull Disasters. In addition, it is included in the Ohio Historical Society / The Ohio History Connection series list. A significant historical date for this entry is September 3, 1720.
Location. 39° 49.843′ N, 81° 34.445′ W. Marker is in Ava, Ohio, in Noble County. Marker is at the intersection of Marietta Road (Ohio Route 821) and Rayner Road, on the right when traveling south on Marietta Road. Touch for map.
Marker is at or near this postal address: 50495 Ohio Route 821, Ava OH 43711, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Airship Autopsy – Before the Hindenburg, there was the Shenandoah
Source: MIT News Magazine/MIT Technology Review – technologyreview.com
By Michael Greshko and SM
Just before dawn on September 3, 1925, the Shenandoah, an airship that was over two football fields long and constructed from an alloy of copper and aluminum, was engulfed in a violent squall as it floated over southeastern Ohio. For 30 frantic minutes, Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne and his crew tried mightily to control the ship. By sunrise, 14 of its 43 crew members were dead, and the Shenandoah – only two years old – was in pieces on the ground.
Jerome Hunsaker, ScD ’16, who had designed the Shenandoah for the U.S. Navy, wouldn’t get any details of the crash until weeks later, when a colleague wrote to him in a letter that “a local twister” had torn the ship in half.
Hunsaker was a restless innovator in the young field. In 1914, he taught MIT’s first course in aeronautical engineering. In 1919, the NC-4—a flying boat he helped design—became the first aircraft to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. The Shenandoah was Hunsaker’s first rigid airship, and the first American-made rigid airship, period. In designing it, he used new aluminum alloys, hull designs inspired by a captured German dirigible, and more than two million cubic feet of helium. He believed it would be the safest airship ever made.
The Shenandoah in October 1923, a little less than two years before it broke up over southeastern Ohio.
Image: MIT Technology Review