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Airship Design Books, 1918-1922: Finding Aid

Published in September 2018

Summary Information

  • Publisher: United States Naval Academy. Special Collections & Archives.
  • Publisher Address:
    589 McNair Road
    Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5029, USA
    Phone: 410-293-6917
  • Call number: MS 468
  • Location: Special Collections & Archives Department - Manuscripts
  • Title: Airship Design Books
  • Dates: 1918-1922
  • Size: 5.51 linear feet
  • Container Summary: 4 flat boxes
  • Creator: United States. Navy Department. Bureau of Construction and Repair
  • Language(s) of material: English
  • Abstract: The Airship Design Books, produced by the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Construction and Repair, span from 1918 to 1922. The binders consist of the design specifications and planning history of the United States Navy's first rigid airship, U.S.S. Shenandoah (ZR-1), as well as those of the C-Class of non-rigid airships.

Chronology of U.S. Navy Airship Development, 1915-1939

  • In June, a contract is awarded for the U.S. Navy's first non-rigid airship, the DN-1.
  • Chief Constructor RADM D. W. Taylor orders investigations into the feasibility of rigid airships, to be performed by LCDR Jerome C. Hunsaker.
  • In January, the Joint Airship Board, also known as the Joint Army and Navy Airship Board is established consisting of Navy officers RADM D. W. Taylor, LT G. W. Childs, and Assistant Naval Constructor LCDR Jerome C. Hunsaker; Army officers Major General G. O. Squier, Captain C. deF. Chandler, and Captain V. E. Clark; and Starr Truscott as Chief Engineer.
  • In January, the Secretary of the Navy approves the design of the B-Class blimp, ordering sixteen craft, nine of which would be built by Goodyear.
  • In May, the first B-Class airship has its maiden voyage.
  • In October, German Zeppelin L-49 is captured in France and becomes the template for Fleet Airship No. 1 (ZR-1).
  • In October, the first lighter-than-air Naval Aviators are designated.
  • A Technical Committee is sent abroad by the Joint Airship Board to study airship design and construction.
  • The C-Class blimp is introduced, with ten units produced following the end of World War I.
  • In July, the D-Class blimp is authorized with twenty units ordered, five of which would be built.
  • In September, the Joint Airship Board dissolves after recommending the construction of two American made airships and the purchase of two British airships.
  • In December, Goodyear delivers blimp E-1 to the Navy at Pensacola, where it was commissioned the following month as a training craft.
  • In February, Goodyear delivers blimp F-1 to the Navy at Hampton Roads.
  • In July, Congress appropriates funds for the construction of one airship and the purchase of a second from abroad.
  • The U.S. Navy acquires Camp Kendrick near Lakehurst, N.J., for use as the sight of Naval Air Station Lakehurst, home to U.S. Navy rigid airship development and operations.
  • In September, construction begins on NAS Lakehurst's Hangar No. 1.
  • The D-Class blimp is introduced.
  • In May, the towed blimp H-1 is delivered to the Navy at NAS Rockaway.
  • On August 24, British rigid airship R38, intended for transfer to the U.S. Navy as ZR-2, crashes following a structural failure.
  • In February, the Navy accepts the first J-Class blimp, produced by Goodyear.
  • On September 4, rigid airship ZR-1 makes her maiden flight.
  • On October 10, ZR-1 is christened U.S.S. Shenandoah.
  • On August 8, U.S.S. Shenandoah executes the first successful mooring to a ship at sea when she moores to U.S.S. Patoka (Oiler: AO-9).
  • On October 15, ZR-3, later christened U.S.S. Los Angeles, is delivered to NAS Lakehurst by the Zeppelin Company.
  • On October 3, U.S.S. Shenandoah crashes in Ohio after encountering a storm.
  • On October 6, Goodyear finalizes a contract to construct rigid airships U.S.S. Akron and U.S.S. Macon.
  • On August 29, U.S.S. Los Angeles successfully demonstrates a hook-on procedure at the National Air Races, whereby a Navy airplane hooks onto a trapeze suspended from the airship.
  • On September 23, U.S.S. Akron makes her maiden voyage.
  • On October 27, U.S.S. Akron is commissioned at Lakehurst.
  • In June, U.S.S. Los Angeles is decommissioned.
  • On April 3, U.S.S. Akron crashes into the Atlantic Ocean off New Jersey, claiming the life of RADM William Moffett.
  • On April 21, U.S.S. Macon makes her maiden voyage.
  • On February 12, U.S.S. Macon crashes into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.
  • Blimp G-1 is purchased as a training craft. Additional G-Class blimps were purchased in 1943 and 1944.
  • In June, the Navy authorizes the K-Class blimp, to be produced by Goodyear.
  • In December, K-2, the first of over 130 K-Class blimps, is delivered to NAS Lakehurst.
  • The L-Class of training blimps, consisting largely of Goodyear's advertising fleet, is introduced.
  • U.S.S. Los Angeles is struck from the Navy list and scrapped, marking the end of the Navy's rigid airship program.
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Description of Contents

The Airship Design Books, comprising three binders of documentation, span from 1918 to 1922. The binders consist of the design specifications and planning history of the United States Navy's first rigid airship, U.S.S. Shenandoah (ZR-1), as well as those of the C-Class of non-rigid airships.

The Airship Design Books are arranged alphabetically by title into a single series. The first volume, entitled "C" - Class Dirigible Design Book, consists of memoranda, specifications, parts lists, and design drawings. Topics covered include general design specifications, instrument design, a conference on two-engine Navy dirigibles, purchase of British and French dirigibles, dirigible envelope construction, engine performance, Canadian pusher airships, radio equipment, control surfaces, C-4 test flights, D-Class dirigibles, air resistance and speed, construction and specifications of C-7, running light design, and cable tensions. Correspondents include William Sowden Sims, Josephus Daniels, and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

The second volume, entitled Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Book 1 is composed of roughly three sections. Approximately the first third of the volume consists of a diary/log of progress on the design and construction of U.S.S. Shenandoah, spanning from 1920 until 1922. Topics covered include project personnel, experimental cross-section production, progress of design plans, progress of the Aluminum Company of American in duralumin fabrication, discussions of strength calculations with Professor Hovgaard, radiator design, lattice design, side car design, design review by Commander Campbell, reduction gear design, instrumentations, and performance calculations. The middle third of the volume consists of memoranda and other correspondence touching upon topics including project authorization, conversations with Captain Lehman of the Zeppelin Company, control gear, the use of rivets, radiator design, propeller efficiency, fuel systems, and British airship design (R33 Class). The final third of the volume consists of transverse moment of inertia calculations. Contributors to the volume include Charles P. Burgess, Starr Truscott, Jerome C. Hunsaker, S. M. Kraus, Louis H. Maxfield, and Horace T. Dyer.

The final volume, entitled Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Book 2 consists of memoranda, project progress reports, design drawings, and photographs of British airship R36. Topics include notes on rigid airship controls, reports on British R33 dirigibles, design drawing requirements, shop equipment requirements, activities at the Royal Airship Works, construction methods to be employed at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, manufacturing procedures at Short Brothers, automatic gas bag valves, preparations for receiving Airship R38 from the British, performance estimates, armament for airships, offsets and dimensional data for rigid airships, weight and load estimates, wire variations, center of gravity and trim, aerodynamics reports, control surface comparisons, testing of the British R80 airship, bending moment calculations, control surface wind tunnel tests, lift characteristics, the use of calcium chloride as an antifreeze, the loss of airship R34, and comparative endurance data on German and British airships. Contributors to the volume include Starr Truscott, George C. Westervelt, Charles P. Burgess, Horace T. Dyer, and Jerome C. Hunsaker.

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The Airship Design Books are arranged alphabetically by title.

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Access and Use


Access is unrestricted.

Copyright and Permission

The Airship Design Books are the physical property of Nimitz Library. Copyright belongs to the authors or creators of the works, or their legal representatives. For further information, consult the Head, Special Collections & Archives.

It is the responsibility of the researcher to secure written permission to publish, reprint, or reproduce material from Special Collections & Archives. The researcher assumes responsibility for infringement of copyright or literary or publication rights. Please contact the Head, Special Collections & Archives for permission to publish and for further information.

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Acquisition and Appraisal

Custodial History

The "C" - Class Dirigible Design Book was previously cataloged as TL 661.U494 1916. The Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Books were previously cataloged as TL 661.U5 1919.

Provenance and Acquisition

Acquired prior to 1975. Accession No. 340546, 340547, and 340548.

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Related Materials

Related Archival Material

Additional material pertaining to the Navy's lighter-than-air operations at NAS Lakehurst can be found in the Blimp Training Diary, MS 400, Special Collections & Archives, United States Naval Academy.

Materials Cataloged Separately

No materials have been removed from this collection and cataloged separately.

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Processing and Other Information

Oversize plans and documents that could not be readily unfolded were segregated and stored flat during processing.

Preferred Citation

Airship Design Books, MS 468

Special Collections & Archives Department

Nimitz Library

United States Naval Academy

Selected Bibliography

The following sources were consulted during preparation of the historical note:

Rosendahl, Charles E. Up Ship!. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1932.

Shock, James R. U.S. Navy Pressure Airships, 1915-1962. New Smyrna Beach: M&T Printers, 1994.

Swinfield, John. Airship: Design, Development and Disaster. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012.

Althoff, William F. Sky Ships: A History of the Airship in the United States Navy. New York: Orion Books, 1990.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by David D'Onofrio in September 2018. Finding aid written by David D'Onofrio in September 2018.

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Subject Headings

Name and Subject Terms

  • Airships -- Great Britain
  • Airships -- United States
  • Shenandoah (Airship)
  • United States. Navy -- Aviation

Genre Terms

  • Correspondence
  • Design drawings
  • Manuscripts
  • Specifications
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Contents List

Box  1 Folder  1

"C" - Class Dirigible Design Book, 1918-1922

Box  4 Folder  1

"C" - Class Dirigible Design Book - Oversize Plans and Documents, 1918-1922

Box  2 Folder  1

Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Book 1, 1919-1922

Box  3 Folder  1

Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Book 2, 1919-1922

Box  4 Folder  2

Fleet Airship No. 1 Design Book 2 - Oversize Plans and Documents, 1919-1922

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