The American Navy’s “Passenger” Airship

U.S.S. Los Angeles was an American naval vessel, but her interiors were designed for civilian passenger service.

Interior of Navy Airship U.S.S. Los Angeles

Built as LZ-126 in Germany, Los Angeles was the brainchild of Hugo Eckener. The Treaty of Versailles prohibited Germany from constructing zeppelins, so to get around that restriction — and save the Zeppelin Company — Eckener proposed building an airship for the Americans as war reparations. The British, who had been bombed by zeppelins during the war, opposed the construction of a new German airship, but a compromise was reached under which the Zeppelin Company was allowed to build the ship as long as it was designed solely for civilian and not military purposes. And so the U.S. Navy’s ZR-3 Los Angeles was built as a passenger airship.

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Dagmara Lizlovs
Dagmara Lizlovs

In Thor Nielsen book, “The Zeppelin Story – The Life of Hugo Eckener” I read on page 145 of my edition that on the delivery flight of LZ-126/ZR-3, Hans von Schiller and Max Pruss had a wooden swallow hung from the altimeter for good luck. According to Nielsen, they had this wooden swallow with them when they flew sorties in World War I. On one such sortie, the wooden swallow was hit by flack and Schiller and Pruss had glued it back together. I asked myself, why would Schiller and Pruss use a swallow as a good luck token and… Read more »

Dagmara Lizlovs
Dagmara Lizlovs

While Eckener put his heart and the soul of Germany into LZ-126/ZR III, not everyone in Germany was happy that LZ-126 was going to become a US Navy airship. According to the book “Graph Zeppelin – The Adventures of an Aerial Globetrotter” by J. Gordon Vaeth there were high German nationalist sentiments, and most of the Zeppelins were turned over to the allies as war reparations. This was as many people saw it, perhaps the last Zeppelin as well as the greatest and the best to be built, and it was going to the US as a war reparation. The… Read more »

Dagmara Lizlovs
Dagmara Lizlovs

“For with a good ship furnish you will I,
And with you will myself go all the way.
Meanwhile go you into your house again,
And put up store of wine and cold meat,
And good bread, which the marrow is of men.
I’ll for you mariners together get.
In Ithaca are good ships, old and new,
Good store, of which I will go choose you one.
The best of all that come within my view,
And make it ready that we may be gone.”

– Homer “The Odyssey”


Eckener put his heart and the soul of Germany into this good little ship that lasted longer than any other airship. She came before the Graf Zeppelin and was finally dismantled in 1938 after years of faithful, reliable service with the US Navy. This ship launched the German passenger airship enterprise in earnest that led to some of the greatest civilian passenger airships ever made.