USS Los Angeles (ZR-3)

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The USS Los Angeles was a rigid airship, designated ZR-3, that was built in 1923-1924 by the Zeppelin factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, where it was originally designated LZ-126. The airship was given to the United States by the German Government as partial reimbursement for U.S. war loans to the allies.

After World War I, there was a short-lived inter-service conflict over the U.S. dirigible service. Major Harold Geiger, attached to the Ambassador's staff in Berlin, agitated the Chief of the United States Army Air Service during the construction of the ZR-3, that the Army should acquire the craft. Geiger even managed to accompany the craft on its maiden flight to the U.S. where it was turned over to the Navy.[1]

After a Transatlantic flight to Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airship was commissioned in the U.S. Navy on 25 November, 1924 at Anacostia, D.C. with Maurice R. Pierce in command. The airship was also switched over from hydrogen to helium gas, which reduced payload but improved safety.

The aircraft went on to log a total of 4,398 hours of flight, covering a distance of 172,400 nautical miles (319,300 km) traveling all over from places in the Pacific to the Atlantic. It served as an observatory and experimental platform, as well as a training ship for other airships.

On August 25, 1927, while tethered at the Lakehurst high mast, a gust of wind caught the tail of the Los Angeles and lifted it into colder, denser air that was just above the airship. This caused the lifting of the tail to continue. The crew on board tried to compensate by climbing up the keel toward the rising tail, but could not stop the ship from reaching an angle of 85 degrees, before it finally descended. Amazingly, the ship suffered only slight damage and was able to fly the next day.

It was decommissioned in 1932 as an economy measure, and was re-commissioned for a period after the USS Akron crashed in April 1933 although it was soon returned to storage. It was finally struck from the Navy list in 1939 and dismantled in its hangar, ending the career of the longest serving airship. Unlike her sister ships, the USS Akron, the USS Macon, and the USS Shenandoah, the Los Angeles' did not meet a disastrous end.


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References

  1. Michael Robert Patterson, "Harold Geiger," Arlington National Cemetery Website, Update: 16 September 2005.