Today, we explore a lesser known employment of naval aircraft, the USS Shenandoah, an airship. After
World War I, the new prospect of air travel via an airship was appealing to the US Military. Since we are
approximately 30 years before the start of the US Airforce, the US Navy took up the job of testing and
proving out the military capability of an airship.
The USS Shenandoah was the first American built rigid airship and on October 10th, 1923, the ship was
officially accepted as a commissioned vessel of the United States Navy. Her crew consisted of about 40
men, 10 officers and 30 enlisted; give or take a few personnel depending on manning. Unlike the
Hindenburg, the USS Shenandoah used helium to float, not explosive hydrogen. This was good in the
sense that a fiery explosion of the entire ship was not possible, but bad because helium was so
expensive and limited to obtain at that time.
The possibilities of military applications that the Navy was considering for the ship varied from being
able to drop bombs, supply and personnel transport, and being a naval scouting vessel; eyes in the sky.
Unfortunately, due to her limited range, she did not prove to have much military capability. The USS
Shenandoah made 57 flights. Her last flight was met with tragedy when she got caught up in a storm
with a twister, rose to over 6,000 feet, broke apart and crashed. 14 members of the crew lost their lives
in the crash. Today we remember their service.
Check out my previous blog post here.
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