The Navy’s connection with Lakehurst, New Jersey dates back roughly a century. Today the sprawling 7,400 acre site is littered with various test facilities used to develop the latest in naval aviation infrastructure. Most notably it’s where the seagoing force perfects its catapult and arresting gear technology for its aircraft carriers. But nearly 100 years ago, Lakehurst was America’s epicenter of lighter-than-air transportation. Anchoring the base and its then high-tech mission was the absolutely massive Hangar 1, a structure that once housed the Hindenburg and stood vigil across a grass field during that famous airship’s notoriously catastrophic demise. Later Hangar 1 become the home of a little known replica of a U.S. Navy flattop named CALASSES—it remains the Navy’s largest training aid to this very day. NAES Lakehurst today, with Hangar 1 still looming over the the sprawling installation. The 1920s was truly the age of airships, and the Navy looked to further leverage the budding technology for coastal patrol and maritime scouting duties, with a special focus on anti-submarine warfare. By 1921 the service had established Lakehurst as its headquarters of lighter-than-air technology, and it would also eventually became a hub for its related form of international commercial transportation. Hopes were high that massive dirigibles could “shrink the globe” for civilians and the military alike, and give war planners an unprecedented new mode of long-range aerial support.
Hangar 1 was built upon the Naval Air Station’s founding in 1921. Measuring 961 feet in length and 350 feet in width, with its roofline soaring to 200 feet, the steel, wood, and asbestos-concrete structure was designed to accommodate the largest of airships and had a helium processing and delivery system nearby to service its mammoth tenants. It was also built to accommodate hydrogen-filled zeppelins as well in as safe a manner as possible. Its floor was spark-proof, electrical systems and lighting were explosion proof, among other special treatments. Volatile hydrogen was brought in via railroad tanker cars if needed.
Hangar 1’s counter-balanced doors weigh 2.7 million pounds each, of which there are four. A trolley track system ran through the hangar and out to circular mooring stations beyond to dramatically ease handling of huge airships that would call the hangar home—even if just temporarily. Shenandoah being constructed in and rolled out of Hangar 1. The hangar housed many of the most known airships of the era, including the first American-built rigid airship, the Shenandoah. The Navy’s hulking Macon and Akron airships had also called the base home. In fact, every one of the Navy’s relatively tiny fleet of rigid airships was based in the hangar at some point in time. German Dirigible Graf Zeppelin (LZ-127) (at right) in the airship hangar at Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey. Photo is dated 7 August 1929. Also in the hangar is USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), which had been built in Germany as Zeppelin airship LZ-126 as a WWI war reparation. As airship testing continued throughout the 1920s, the concept of commercial air travel on […]