A guest post by Rick Zitarosa, Vice President and Historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society.
25 August 1927, Naval Air Station Lakehurst: One of the most famous moments of airship history as the USS LOS ANGELES did her fabled “head stand” on the “high mast.”
Some background on this event. The big dirigible had been taken out of the hangar that afternoon for the first time in two-and-a-half months. Her last flight had been in early June when they took her down to meet the cruiser USS MEMPHIS with Charles Lindbergh and his “Spirit of St. Louis” arriving back from Europe; the engines had been in such bad shape they could not be run above “Half Speed” and two of the gas cells were so badly deteriorated that they dared not ascend higher than 1500 feet for fear that any pressure on their cattle-gut animal “skin” linings might cause them to fail completely. (Rather than the original plan to meet the MEMPHIS at sea, they were barely able to meet the incoming vessel at the mouth of the Potomac River, escort her the last few miles to the Washington Navy Yard and then limp back to the safety of the Lakehurst hangar.)
On this day, the airship was fresh from an intensive overhaul that the Navy had reluctantly provided funds for. Tests were to be run for NACA (The “National Advisory Committee For Aeronautics” the direct forerunner to NASA) and called for an 8-hour flight to 10,000 feet for fitted with strain-gauges and manometers for bending/deceleration tests in conjunction with the “next generation” of airships planned. The gas cells were only inflated to 80% and there was about ten hours’ fuel on board.
Lieutenant T.G.W. “Tex” Settle was on the bridge as Officer Of the Deck preparing for the flight around 1500 hours when a cool southeast breeze came in from the ocean. The ship’s nose had been pointing westward. Instead of swinging around to face the new wind the tail began to rise. And RISE!
Rather suddenly, the crew on board realized that *something* was amiss. Yes, the ship had “kited” on the mast before but not like this. Past 45-degrees men began grabbing girders and loose articles like toolboxes, kitchenware and spare parts began crashing forward. (One man, in the rear engine car, yelled out “Holy Christ, I can see NEW YORK!”)
On the ground, at the base of the mast, Commander Rosendahl was freaking out and yelling for the crew at the top of the mooring mast to “trip the ship!” Lieutenant Settle yelled back ” This is the OFFICER OF THE DECK! Do NOT disconnect! ”
Within a minute it was all over. The USS LOS ANGELES did a complete 180-degree headstand and came back down on the other side of the mast facing southeastward. Quickly unmasted and marched back into the hangar, it turned out that damage was minimal, almost nil, most of it caused by falling tools and spare parts. Not sure if they ever *did* end up flying that 10,000 foot “high altitude” flight.
I have heard many stories of airships “kiting” and never thought I’d get to see it, but was actually there at Lakehurst, only a few hundred yards from where this amazing photo was taken, some 86 years later on another August day when the MZ-3A airship did the *same thing* (something that will always make me appreciate the durability of “Lightship” airship products because the entire damage amounted to a broken bungee on one of the landing gear wheels when she smashed down on the ground.)
Did I manage to grab my cell phone camera? Nah! I was too much in shock like everybody else who witnessed it!