First U.S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

First U. S. Navy Dirigible – 1916

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

Artist rendering of the first dirigible produced for the U.S. Navy.

     On January 22, 1916, The Manufacturers Exhibition opened in New Haven, Connecticut.  One display that drew great interest was a model of a dirigible airship that had been constructed by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven; the first dirigible ever built for the United States Navy.    

     At the time of the exhibit, the airship was in a hangar at the Portsmouth Navy Yard in New Hampshire, undergoing some final preparations before it would sail to Pensacola, Florida, to under go trials and testing.

     The initial order for the dirigible was placed May 14, 1915.  It was reported at that time that the ship would be constructed in New York, assembled in New Haven, Connecticut, and shipped for trials to the Pensacola, Florida, Naval Aeronautic Station, all under the supervision and guidance of the Connecticut Aircraft Company.     

     The model displayed at the exhibition was designed to be towed by a battleship traveling 25 miles per hour against a 15 mph wind to be utilized by lookouts, and spotters for directing ship’s fire during battle conditions.   Traditional balloons had proved to be problematic in this roll due to their lack of stability under these conditions which often resulted in seasickness for the observers.

     The completed dirigible was described as being be 175 feet long, 50 feet tall, and 35 feet in diameter. It would carry a crew of eight, and cost $45,636. 

     The balloon was built with inner compartments that divided the front from the back, either of which could be pumped full with regular air to displace the hydrogen gas so as to make one end of the ship heavier or lighter to aid in ascending or descending.    

     Government specifications required that the dirigible be capable of rising at the rate of 8 feet per second. 

     Fabric for the balloon was manufactured at the United States Rubber Company.   

     On March 13, 1917, with the United States now involved in World War I, contracts totaling $649,250 were awarded to four manufacturers to produce 16 additional dirigibles for the U.S. Navy. 

     The awards were as follows:

     Three dirigibles to be built by the Curtis Aeroplane Company in Buffalo, N.Y., for $122,250.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the Connecticut Aircraft Company of New Haven, CT., for $84,000.

     Nine dirigibles to be built by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio, for $360,000.

     Two dirigibles to be built by the B. F. Goodrich company in Akron, Ohio, for $88,000.  

     During its tenure in business, the Connecticut Aircraft Company build 177 airships and balloons of various kinds.  In 1921 the company was acquired by a Delaware corporation known as the Aircraft-Construction Corporation, and continued to produce dirigible airships under that name. 

     Sources:

     The Sun, (NY) “First Dirigible For The U.S. Navy Will Be Constructed In New York”, May 16, 1915 

     Tulsa Daily World, (Okla.) “U. S. Navy’s New Air Ship Fleet”, August 8, 1915 

     The Sun, (N.Y.) “Model Of First Dirigible Built For U. S. Is Shown”, January 23, 1916   

     The Chickasha Daily Express, (Okla.) April 1, 1916

     The East Oregonian, (Ore.) “U.S. Contracts For Sixteen Dirigibles”, March 14, 1917, (Daily Evening Edition, page 5.)

     The Bridgeport Times, (CT.) “Connecticut Aircraft Plane Will Be Operated By New Delaware Corporation”, September 1, 1921 

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