The United States Navy’s MZ-3A airship program has been canceled, according to Lakehurst Operations Manager Rick Zitarosa.

U.S. Navy MZ-3A Blimp

MZ-3A (photo:

The MZ-3A crew has been furloughed and there is no pressure watch on the ship, which is sitting unattended at Hangar One at Lakehurst.

The ship is a modified American Blimp Corporation A-170 series commercial blimp that has been operated by the U.S. Navy since 2006.

Zitarosa hopes the program can still be saved but said that possibility is not very likely and that the Navy’s decision seems to be final. “My crystal ball is pretty cloudy right now,” Zitarosa said. He praised the ship’s crew as “one of the finest bunch of people you could ever get together to operate an airship. They all watched that ship like mother hens.”

We will be posting more details later, including possibly a guest post by Mr. Zitarosa with more information about the history of MZ-3A and the latest news.

Dan Grossman with U.S. Navy MZ-3A (Photo: JB-MDL Public Affairs)’s Dan Grossman with U.S. Navy MZ-3A (Photo: JB-MDL Public Affairs)


Happy Birthday, Helium Airships!

by Dan Grossman on December 1, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the first flight of a helium airship.

US Navy blimp C-7

On December 1, 1921, the U.S. Navy blimp C-7 took to the skies inflated with helium. The ship was commanded by Lt. Cdr. Ralph F. Wood, assisted by Lt. Cdr. Zachary Lansdowne, Lt. C.E. Bousch, and CMM Farriss. C-7 made several flights from Norfolk, Virginia, beginning on December 1, including a flight to Washington, DC and back.


Happy Thanksgiving

by Dan Grossman on November 27, 2014

Airship Dirigible Thanksgiving


Zeppelin Wurst

by Dan Grossman on November 23, 2014

zeppelin wurst

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Pan Am’s China Clipper and the End of the Airship

by Dan Grossman on November 22, 2014

On this day in 1935, Pan American’s China Clipper left San Francisco on the first scheduled mail flight across the Pacific Ocean. 

Martin M-130 (

Martin M-130

People often say the age of the airship ended with the Hindenburg disaster on May 6, 1937, but it may have ended with the flight of the China Clipper on November 22, 1935.

Capable of crossing the Atlantic in half the time of a zeppelin, and with a fraction of the crew, Pan Am’s flying boat made the airship obsolete.

The First Mail Flight Across the Pacific

China Clipper being loaded with mail before leaving San Francisco on November 22, 1935

China Clipper being loaded with mail before leaving San Francisco on November 22, 1935

The China Clipper departed San Francisco with a ceremony broadcast nationally on the radio; Pan Am founder Juan Trippe, Postmaster General Jim Farley, and the governor of California were in San Francisco, and the Governor of Hawaii and Manuel Quezon, President of the Phillipines, participated via wireless hookups.

As the highlight of the ceremony, Juan Trippe’s voice came over the radio: “Captain Musick, you have your sailing orders. Cast off and depart for Manila in accordance therewith.”

Six days later — after five legs and 59 hours 48 minutes in the air, crossing the International Date Line between Midway and Wake — the China Clipper landed in Manila.

  1. San Francisco – Honolulu (Depart 3:46 PM, November 22 – Arrive 10:19 AM, November 23)
  2. Honolulu – Mdway (Depart 6:35 AM, November 24 – Arrive 2:0o PM, November 24)
  3. Midway – Wake (Depart 6:12 AM, November 25 – Arrive 1:38 PM, November 26)
  4. Wake – Guam (Depart 6:01 AM, November 27 – Arrive 3:05 PM, November 27)
  5. Guam – Manila (Depart 6:12 AM, November 29 – Arrive 3:32 PM, , November 29)


Atlantic Ambitions and Pacific Reality

Crossing the Pacific was not Pan American’s first goal; the airline originally set its sights on the Atlantic, because the passage between America and Europe was the most prestigious and profitable passenger route in the world.

The Martin M-130 flying boat was built to cross the Atlantic and could have flown the route with ease; the longest leg of the Pacific flight (between San Francisco and Honolulu) was almost 2,400 miles, but the longest leg over the Atlantic (between Newfoundland and Ireland) was less than 2,000 miles.

What stopped Pan Am from flying the Atlantic, and from competing head-to-head with the German zeppelins, was not technology but the British. Britain did not want the United States to have a monopoly, or even a head-start, on a transatlantic airline service and refused to grant landing rights in Britain itself or in the British-controlled stepping stones (Atlantic Canada and Bermuda) across the Atlantic. The British refused to allow an American airline to begin transatlantic service until they had a plane capable of the same flight, but in 1935 and 1936 they were not even close.

The Future of Air Travel

While Pan Am’s clippers flew the Pacific rather than the Atlantic — leaving the German Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin with no competition for transatlantic air passengers in 1936 or 1937 — the airplane was a sign of the future.

Although not as comfortable as Hindenburg, the M-130 was more than twice as fast as the zeppelin and offered its passengers greater luxury than any other fixed-wing airliner of its time.

The lounge of a Martin 130 flying boat

Lounge of a Martin M-130 flying boat

Seating area and sleeping berths on Martin 130 flying boat

Seating area and sleeping berths on Martin M-130 flying boat

And just a few years later Pan Am introduced an even larger, faster, and more luxurious clipper — the Boeing 314 — and was finally obtained permission to begin passenger service across the Atlantic.

Boeing 314 cutaway and seat map

Boeing 314 cutaway and seat map

The first Boeing clipper crossed the Atlantic on May 20, 1939, just two years after the crash of the Hindenburg. The clipper flew between the United States and Europe in half the time of the airship, at far lower cost to the airline, and with more passengers than could have been accommodated in a zeppelin inflated with helium.

Dining room of Boeing 314

Dining room of Boeing 314

Pan Am’s China Clipper flew the Pacific in November of 1935; Hindenburg’s first flight was not until March of 1936. The world’s greatest airship was obsolete before it ever flew.

The age of the airship did not end at Lakehurst, New Jersey; it ended in the board room of Pan American Airways and the drawing rooms of Martin and Boeing.



Today is the Birthday of Human Flight

November 21, 2014

Today is the birthday of human flight. On this day in 1783, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent, Marquis d’Arlandes made the first manned flight in history when they flew over Paris for 25 minutes in a hot air balloon built by the Montgolfier brothers. Happy birthday, helium heads!

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Anniversary of the World’s First Airline; November 16, 1909

November 16, 2014

Today is the anniversary of the world’s first airline. DELAG was established on November 16, 1909, and provided passenger service — including the world’s first transatlantic airline service — using zeppelin airships. DELAG was an acronym for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, or German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd. While many of the flights before World War I were local sightseeing tours, the DELAG airship […]

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Great Photo of Goodyear Blimp “Resolute”

November 13, 2014

A great photo of the Goodyear Blimp Resolute taken over Manhattan in August, 1935, by Dr. Alfred “Ted” Hill. My deep thanks to Kent O’Grady for allowing me to share this wonderful photo from his personal collection.

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New York Times Article on Aeroscraft

November 10, 2014

About Igor Pasternak and Aeroscraft, in today’s New York Times: Pursuing a Shipping Revolution as Big as His Airship   

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A Complete Guide to The Goodyear Blimp

November 10, 2014

I have just published The Goodyear Blimp, Today and Yesterday | A Complete Guide to Goodyear’s Advertising Blimps. Please let me know what you think.

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Silly Zeppelin Movie of the Day

November 4, 2014

This is the interior of the zeppelin in the 2006 movie Flyboys. How did the thing ever get off the ground?

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Happy Halloween from

October 31, 2014
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Hindenburg Size Comparisons

October 27, 2014

It is hard to imagine just how big the Hindenburg was. Hindenburg and United States Capitol Hindenburg and Boeing 747-400: Hindenburg and Goodyear Blimp (GZ-20A): But then again, Hindenburg needed room for interiors like this:  

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Anniversary of Graf Zeppelin’s First Transatlantic Flight

October 15, 2014

On this day in 1928, LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin arrived at Lakehurst after a 111 hour, 44 minute flight across the Atlantic from Friedrichshafen. Hugo Eckener was in command of the 40-man crew and the 20 passengers included Charles Rosendahl and Lady Grace Drummond-Hay. The ship’s first transatlantic crossing almost ended in disaster when a fin […]

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German crew of LZ-126 after arrival at Lakehurst; 90 years ago today.

October 15, 2014

On this day in 1924, LZ-126 arrived at Lakehurst for delivery to the U.S. Navy, to become U.S.S. Los Angeles (ZR-3). These are two photos from my collection showing the German crew who flew the ship across the Atlantic. LZ-126 had arrived from Germany inflated with hydrogen, which was carefully released so the ship could be operated with […]

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90 Years Ago Today: LZ-126 leaves Germany to become U.S.S. Los Angeles

October 12, 2014

90 years ago today, LZ-126 left Friedrichshafen, Germany to fly across the Atlantic and begin its new life in the United States Navy.  The construction of LZ-126 saved the Zeppelin Company, and U.S.S. Los Angeles (ZR-3) became America’s most successful rigid airship.

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Anniversary of the Hindenburg “Millionaires Flight”

October 9, 2014

The “Millionaires Flight” of the Hindenburg was a 10-1/2 hour cruise over New England on October 9, 1936, for 72 wealthy and influential passengers.  The guests were invited to generate support for a German-American zeppelin service and it was said the passengers had a combined net worth of more than one billion dollars, from which the flight got its nickname. Passengers […]

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British Airship R.101 Crashes, Killing 48 – This Day in 1930

October 5, 2014

On October 5, 1930, the British airship R.101 crashed on a hill in Beauvais, France. The impact was gentle and survivable but the ship was inflated with hydrogen, and the resulting fire incinerated 46 of the passengers and crew. Two additional crew members died of their injuries soon after. An Avoidable, Political Catastrophe The crash […]

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Crash of U.S. Navy Dirigible Shenandoah, 89 years ago today

September 3, 2014

On September 3, 1925, the U.S. Navy airship U.S.S. Shenandoah (ZR-1), crashed in Ohio, killing fourteen members of the crew. Shenandoah: A specialized but weak design U.S.S. Shenandoah was based on the design of a World War I German Zeppelin, L-49, that had been forced down in France in October, 1917. L-49 was one of the “height climbers” […]

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Werner Franz, last surviving Hindenburg crew member, has died

August 28, 2014
Thumbnail image for Werner Franz, last surviving Hindenburg crew member, has died

Werner Franz, the last surviving crew member of the airship LZ-129 Hindenburg, died on August 13, 2014, at the age of 92.   The sole living survivor of the Hindenburg crash is now Werner Doehner, who was an 8 year old passenger traveling with his family. Werner Franz was born in Frankfurt-Bonames on May 22, 1922, […]

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