U.S. Navy Rigid Airships

The United States Navy’s experience with rigid airships is a story of ambition, achievement, and determination, but also politics, mistakes, and disasters.


Intended primarily to conduct long-range scouting in support of fleet operations, the rigid airship was uniquely qualified to perform that role at a time before long-range aircraft and advanced radar. Although they were relatively vulnerable to attack, and would have been rendered obsolete relatively quickly by advances in heavier-than-air technology, large rigid airships still offered capabilities otherwise unavailable in the years before World War II, and might even have provided early warning, and perhaps even deterrence, of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Unfortunately, despite the efforts of devoted and enthusiastic officers, the Navy’s rigid airship program was shadowed by political pressures which sometimes overwhelmed technical considerations, and by a series of mistakes and misjudgments in design and operation.

Wreckage of U.S.S. Shenandoah

ZR-1 U.S.S. Shenandoah

The Design and Construction of ZR-1 Shenandoah The airship U.S.S. Shenandoah was the first American built rigid airship.  Although built in the United States, Shenandoah...
Interior of Navy Airship U.S.S. Los Angeles

USS Los Angeles ZR-3

The USS Los Angeles — by far the most successful of the United States Navy’s rigid airships — was built in Germany by the Zeppelin...
U.S.S. Macon in flight with Sparrowhawks

U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5)

The United States Navy airships U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5) were designed for long-range scouting in support of fleet operations. Often referred to...

USS Shenandoah Crash - Officers and Crew

A list of the officers and crew aboard USS Shenandoah when the ship crashed in Ohio on September 3, 1925.  The names of the 14...
U.S.S. Los Angeles Officers

USS Los Angeles Officers and Crew

Officers of USS Los Angeles circa 1928:   Officers and crew of USS Los Angeles at the end of its career, 1931-1932: OFFICERS Cdr. Alger H. Dresel,...

USS Akron Crash - Officers and Crew

A list of the officers, crew, and guests aboard USS Akron when the ship crashed at sea April 3-4, 1933.  Of the 76 men aboard...

USS Macon Crash - Officers and Crew

A list of the officers, crew, and guests aboard USS Macon when the ship crashed at sea off Point Sur, south of San Francisco, on...
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