USS Akron: Design
the loss of the ZR-1, Shenandoah, in September of 1925 the Navy Bureau
of Aeronautics, with Admiral William A. Moffett as its chief, recommended
a comprehensive program of rigid airship development. This plan called
for the construction of two large rigid airships and a West Coast LTA base.
The navy's General Board was less enthusiastic, however, and when the matter
was referred to them they recommended only one rigid airship, and only
if the funds were provided outside the navy's normal appropriations.
This token nod to the rigid airship
was unacceptable to Admiral Moffett who in response had a House bill introduced
which called for a replacement ship for the Shenandoah built with funds
from the regular navy budget. Congressional hearings followed and
resulted in the navy's Five Year Aircraft Program, which included authorization
for two large rigids, becoming law on June 24th, 1926. Appropriations,
however, were not made available until 1927. In that year design submissions
for a large rigid airship scout were requested. The winner of the competition
was Goodyear-Zeppelin's entry.
Coincidentally with the construction
of the LZ-126, Los Angeles, for the U.S. Navy, the Zeppelin Company's head
Dr. Hugo Eckener entered into an agreement in October 1923 with the Goodyear
Corporation. Under the agreement the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company of Akron,
Ohio, was to be given North American rights to the Zeppelin Company's patents
as well as key Zeppelin personnel to bring the Zeppelin Company's long
experience in rigid airship design and construction to the New World. In
exchange, the Zeppelin company was given ten percent of Goodyear-Zeppelin's
stock and the knowledge that no matter what the Zeppelin Company's future
would be in the uncertain economy of post-war Germany, the rigid airship
would have a future.
The noisy protest of the American
Brown Boveri Electric Corporation, however, caused another competition
to be held in 1928, but the result was the same. Goodyear-Zeppelin, under
the direction of Dr. Karl Arnstein, one of the thirteen key personnel of
the Zeppelin Company sent to America, had created an innovative design
for the largest airship yet constructed.
Goodyear-Zeppelin's design called for a ship of
6,850,000 million cubic feet, 785 feet long with a maximum diameter of
132 feet, 11 inches. The ship was full of innovations. Rather than standard
Zeppelin main rings, the ship had much sturdier deep main frames which
dispensed with the miles of radial wiring which reinforced the Zeppelin
main frames. In addition, the ship had three keels, as opposed to the one
which had been standard up to that time. One keel was placed along the
top of the ship, with the remaining two 45º below the horizontal.
These provided unparalleled access to all parts of the ship as well as
tremendous strength. The lessons of the Shenandoah and R-38 had been well
USS Akron under construction in the Goodyear-Zeppelin
airdock in Akron, Ohio
The most innovative feature of this
design was the ability of the airship to launch, retrieve, and service
five aircraft for scouting purposes. Approximately one-third of the way
aft was an internal hangar, approximately seventy-five feet long, sixty
feet wide, and sixteen feet wide. Through a T-shaped opening in the floor
of the hangar a trapeze could be lowered onto which the ships five airplanes
could be launched and retrieved from "sky hooks" attached to
the top of the airplanes. Operating as the airship's eyes, these scout
planes extended the scouting area tremendously. More importantly, they
allowed the vulnerable airship to remain far from an enemy's carrier based
The crew's quarters were on either
side of the airplane hangar and included a mess, galley, washroom, and
sleeping quarters for both officers and enlisted men. The crew's quarters
were heated by the cooling water from the engines, a first in rigid airships.
A small control car was built into the hull fore. An emergency control
station was provided in the lower fin.
ZRS-4's lower fin, with emergency control station
visible at the bottom of the leading edge
Because the ship was designed from
the outset for inflation with nonflammable helium-a gas which then only
the U.S. had in quantity-the ship's eight 560 hp Maybach VL-2 engines were
installed within the hull along the two lower keels. They each drove a
propeller at the end of a sixteen foot outrigger. As the engines were reversible
outrigger could swivel the propeller through an 90 degree arc, thrust could
be delivered in any direction for aiding landings.
Akron's propellers were mounted on outriggers
that could swivel through a 90-degree arc. Along with the reversible
engines, this arrangement allowed the propeller's thrust to be delivered
in any direction.
Construction of the new ZRS-4, later christened the Akron,
began on November 7, 1929 at the new Goodyear-Zeppelin Airdock in Akron.
Assembly was similar to that of other airships. The main rings were assembled
on the floor of the hangar and hoisted into place then connected by longitudinals.
The exterior of the airship was then covered with cotton fabric and doped.
Several small changes were requested by the navy,
but only one significant. This involved the fins. In. Dr. Arnstein's original
design the ships fins were long and slender, attached to three of the ships
main frames. However, this design would not allow the captain in the control
car to see the lower fin and check his ship's trim. Thus a design change-Change
Order No. 2-was made, shortening and deepening the fins and moving the
control car back eight feet. As a result the fins were now only attached
to two main frames. The new fins also negated the design loads figures,
which were later found to be too low. However the navy opted to leave the
By late summer 1931 the Akron was complete, and was christened on August
5. On September 23rd, with Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Rosendahl in
command the Akron took to the skies for the first time.
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