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.
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