On January 2, 1942 (just weeks after Pearl Harbor), the Navy Airship Patrol Group 1 and Air Ship Squadron 12 are established at Lakehurst, N.J. The U.S. Navy was the only military service in the world to use airships–also known as blimps–during the war.

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The U.S. Navy was actually behind the times in the use of blimps; it didn’t get around to ordering its first until 1915, at which time even the U.S. Army was using them. By the close of World War I, the Navy had recognized their value and was using several blimps for patrolling coastlines for enemy submarines. They proved extremely effective; in fact, no convoy supported by blimp surveillance ever lost a ship.

US Navy Airship patrolling coastline in 1920s

US Navy Airship patrolling coastline in 1920s

Between the wars, it was agreed that the Army would use nonrigid airships to patrol the coasts of the United States, while the Navy would use rigid airships (which were aluminum-hulled and kept their shape whether or not they were filled with gas) for long-range scouting and fleet support. The Navy ended its construction and employment of the rigid airships in the 1930s after two, the Akron and the Macon, crashed at sea.

Wreckage of the USS Akron, a 785-foot Navy dirigible, is brought to the surface off the coast of New Jersey on April 23, 1933. The airship went down in a storm 80 years ago Thursday, when a ceremony will be held to mark the deadliest crash of an airship.

Wreckage of the USS Akron, a 785-foot Navy dirigible, is brought to the surface off the coast of New Jersey on April 23, 1933. The airship went down in a storm 80 years ago Thursday, when a ceremony will be held to mark the deadliest crash of an airship.

In 1937, the Army transferred all its remaining nonrigid blimps to the Navy.

Meanwhile, in the civilian world, the Hindenburg, a commercial dirigible, burst into flames over Lakehurst on May 6, 1937. Thirty-six of the 97 passengers aboard were killed. The explosion was caused by an electric discharge that ignited a hydrogen gas leak; the tragedy effectively ended the use of airships for commercial travel, but they were still used to great advantage in the U.S. military.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Navy had 10 blimps in service; that number expanded to 167 by the end of the war. The only U.S. blimp lost was the K-74, which, on July 18, 1943, spotted a German U-boat. The blimp opened fire on the submarine and damaged it, but only one of its two depth charges released. The submarine fired back and sent the blimp into the sea, but the crew was rescued.

Painting of Battle between K-74 and U-134 off Florida Keys

Painting of Battle between K-74 and U-134 off Florida Keys

The only German blimp involved in the war was a passenger craft, Graf Zeppelin, which was used for electronic surveillance just before the outbreak of the war.

I know there are airships in use today but I wondered if it was just commercial use.  I’ve seen the Goodyear blimp and I think others.  What about the military of the world.  The answer is “Yes”.

In May 2006, the US Navy began to fly airships again after a hiatus of nearly 44 years. The program uses a single American Blimp Company A-170 nonrigid airship, with designation MZ-3A. Operations focus on crew training and research, and the platform integrator is Northrop Grumman. The program is directed by the Naval Air Systems Command and is being carried out at NAES Lakehurst, the original centre of U.S. Navy lighter-than-air operations in previous decades.

Handlers prepare to launch the U.S. Navy MZ-3A manned airship for an orientation flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Nov. 6, 2013. The MZ-3A is assigned to Scientific Development Squadron 1 of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Military Support Division. The Navy blimp is an advanced flying laboratory that is being used to evaluate affordable sensor payloads and provide support for related naval research projects. DoD photo by John F. Williams, U.S. Navy. (Released)

Handlers prepare to launch the U.S. Navy MZ-3A manned airship for an orientation flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Nov. 6, 2013. The MZ-3A is assigned to Scientific Development Squadron 1 of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Military Support Division. The Navy blimp is an advanced flying laboratory that is being used to evaluate affordable sensor payloads and provide support for related naval research projects. DoD photo by John F. Williams, U.S. Navy. (Released)

In November 2006, the U.S. Army bought an A380+ airship from American Blimp Corporation through a Systems level contract with Northrop Grumman and Booz Allen Hamilton. The airship started flight tests in late 2007, with a primary goal of carrying 2,500 lb (1,100 kg) of payload to an altitude of 15,000 ft (4,600 m) under remote control and autonomous waypoint navigation. The program will also demonstrate carrying 1,000 lb (450 kg) of payload to 20,000 ft (6,100 m) The platform could be used for Multi-Intelligence collections. In 2008, the CA-150 airship was launched by Vantage Airship. This is an improved modification of model CA-120 and completed manufacturing in 2008. With larger volume and increased passenger capacity, it is the largest manned nonrigid airship in China at present.[68]

In 2010, the US Army awarded a $517 million contract to Northrop Grumman and partner Hybrid Air Vehicles, to develop a Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) system, in the form of three HAV 304’s.  The project was cancelled in February 2012, due to it being behind schedule and over budget; also the forthcoming US withdrawal from Afghanistan where it was intended to be deployed.

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