In the days before antibiotics, the only treatment for tuberculosis was sunlight, clean air, and good food. What better place than an airship?
Before the 1940s, physicians would send their TB patients to a sanatorium in the mountains or desert in places like Switzerland, Scandinavia, the Rocky Mountains, or the southwestern United States.
The July 1930 issue of Popular Science Monthly proposed placing a sanatorium on an airship and imagined what such a flying clinic might look like.
According to the editors, the illustration was based on information provided by Karl Arnstein of Goodyear-Zeppelin. “The body of the airship would follow the design of the two 6,500,000-cubic-foot airships being built for the Navy. A hospital airship of this size would be able to stay aloft for weeks at a time. An airplane carried inside its hull could maintain communication with the ground and if necessary make trips for special medicines and supplies.”
The clinic itself was located at the top of the airship so patients “would receive the full benefits of sunlight. Its walls and roof would be studded with windows, the panes made of celluloid or some similar material which transmits the healthful rays of the sun.”
The effect of this arrangement on the ship’s center of gravity was not discussed.
This concept is an example of the airship as a symbol of futurism that was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. But while this proposal was never realistic, and the sanatorium movement itself ended with the development of modern tuberculosis drugs — the first was Streptomycin in the 1940s — scientists now recognize that tuberculosis is susceptible to UV light, which stimulates the production of Vitamin D, and that the benefits of sunlight in the treatment of tuberculosis are real.