Akron - A New Home at Lakehurst
USS Akron: A New Home at Lakehurst
On September 23, 1931 the Akron lifted off from the Goodyear-Zeppelin airfield at Akron, Ohio on its maiden flight. This flight was the first in a series of ten test flights which totaled 124 hours 11 minutes. These test flights included a thirteen hour flight to her home base, the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where she arrived at dawn on October 22 and was brought into Hangar Number One next to the Los Angeles. One week later the Akron was commissioned as a vessel in the United States Navy.
At Lakehurst the Akron's arrival was the culmination of several years work. Since the contracts were signed for the Akron and her yet to be constructed sister ship in 1928 activity at the base had increased precipitously. Men would have to be taught to fly the new airships, so training at Lakehurst increased accordingly. By the time the Akron arrived at Lakehurst there were some three hundred enlisted men and twelve officers, including base commander Captain H. E. Shoemaker, assigned to the base, plus seventy enlisted men and twelve officers of the Los Angeles. The Akron brought with her an additional seventy-five enlisted men and sixteen officers, plus her airplane pilots and mechanics. The many men at Lakehurst had done much work in anticipation of Akron's arrival.
When the navy acquired its first rigid airship, the ZR-1, Shenandoah, docking and undocking was accomplished by assembling hundreds of men to "walk" the ship into and out of the hangar. While improvements in ground handling had been made with the Los Angeles, a dramatic improvement would be needed for the great new airship.
The system which the navy developed was a complicated but successful one. To move the ship into and out of the hangar, the nose was attached to a low mast which rode on two pairs of rail road tracks. The lower fin of the ship was then attached at reinforced points to a stern or "Bolster" beam, so named for its inventor, Lt. Calvin Bolster (CC). The stern beam resembled a long flat car. It weighed eighty-five tons and ensured that the ship remained well controlled as she was entering and leaving the hangar. The mobile mast and stern beam were attached by flexible connectors.
When the ship left the hangar at Lakehurst it was brought to a "hauling up circle" just outside the western doors. There the ship's stern was moved by a small locomotive so that the ship faced into the wind. With the ship pointed into the wind the stern beam was removed. She was then brought to the "mooring out circle" farther from the hangar where the ship could weather-vane into the wind on a taxi wheel on the lower fin. From the mooring out circle the ship could safely depart. The system worked well, and there was only one major incident, in February 1932, when the lower fin broke free of the stern beam and weather-vained into the wind, banging into the ground several times.