Category: Airship Norge







US Navy personnel with strong government support made the decision in early 1921 to construct a rigid airship. The code name of this airship would be ZR-1, later christened on October 10, 1923 as the USS Shenandoah. After years of observing the growing capacity of german airship production, navy personnel decided that the United States would benefit by constructing an airship to be used as a weapons system, surveillance, scouting, and the other military operations.Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin , the old airship pioneer of Germany had certainly left behind an impressive legacy of airship development that was well known throughout Europe. The Germans had constructed eight or more passenger type airships under the direction and guidance of Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin since 1900. Though failure was common, each succeeding airship built show significant improvement over previous ones. However the Count would not be around to see and observe the true giants of the sky as he passed away in 1917.

With construction moving forward under the direction of naval aeronautical engineers, airship Shenandoah was taking shape inside of massive Hangar #1 located at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, N.J. The gigantic hangar completed in 1920 and still standing proudly today housed the Shenandoah until its completion in 1923.

This massive airship,all 680 feet of her took to the skies September 4 , 1923 and successfully made a transatlantic flight later that year. She was equipped with 20 gas cells filled with helium for lifting purposes and powered by six Packard 6-cylinder engines. Almost two years to the day, September 3, 1925, the very first naval airship to ascend would literally come apart in 3 sections over the skies of Ava, Ohio. The massive airship had encountered very powerful convective updrafts proving that natural forces had succeeded in bringing down this behemoth. Not only did the navy lose an airship, fourteen of the 43 crewmen met their deaths that day. Thanks to the adroit and uncanny leadership of Captain Charles E. Rosendahl, he was able to save himself and other crewmen clinging to life in the bow section. All crewmen, including Captain Zachary Landsdowne, within the control car were killed. The stern section due to the presence of helium gas cells, landed with other crewmen, sparing their lives. The bow section with Captain Charles Rosendahl in command landed on a farm owned by Ernest Nichols. He took his young son Charles, age 3, with him that evening when a loud thunderous sound was heard as the Shenandoah fell from the sky. Ernest quickly got some ropes to tie the bow section to a tree because it was flapping uncontrollably due to the presence of helium gas cells. Neighbors also witnessed this tragedy and rushed to the crash site. Looters, hoping to be a part of history, quickly showed up to grab whatever they could from the monster airship.



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sources and credits: Cheryl Ganz, Andreas Horn, Dennis Kromm, Dieter Leder, Patrick Russell, Rick Zitarosa,

Dan Grossman Aviation Historian

secondary sources: William F. Althoff    A History of the Airship in the United States Navy

Articles: Airships, Dirigibles, Zeppelins, &Blimps       The First Zeppelins: LZ-1 through LZ-4

US Navy Rigid Airships


Under the direction of designer General Umberto Nobile, the Italian airship Norge was flown by Nobile from Rome to Vadso in northern Norway and next to King’s Bay on Svalbard. This occurred in early May, 1926. The airship had been purchased by Lincoln Ellsworth in hopes of flying to the North Pole. Both Ellsworth and Roald Amundsen were accomplished explorers.

A serious challenge confronted the explorers as this daring event had never been attempted previously. As is the case with explorers, the greater the challenge, the more they harden themselves for the seemingly impossible task that lies ahead. Many unknowns however can quickly factor in. Most notable are serious forces of nature, the weather: unthinkable coldness, severely powerful winds, constant atmospheric air pressure changes, etc. When the Norge left Svalbard on May 11, 1926 there were 16 men on board. No one aware of what lies ahead.

Under the direction of Ellsworth and Amundsen, both pilot Umberto Nobile along with an experienced navigator, Captain Ruser-Larsen set their sights on the North Pole. Problem #1 developed quickly. The radio antennae iced up ending all radio contact. However on May 12, 1926, American, Norwegian, and Italian flags were dropped on the North Pole.  Weeks later, tragedy knocked on the door of both Nobile and Amundsen. Both men met their fate in slightly different ways.


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