THE MAIDEN FLIGHT OF ARMY AIRSHIP RS-1 AT SCOTT FIELD
On Jan. 8, 1926, the Army Air Service airship RS-1 made its maiden flight at Scott Field. The RS-1 was the only American-designed and built semi-rigid airship.
The Army planned to put the RS-1 through exhaustive flight tests and long cruises at Scott Field to determine the airship’s true capabilities.
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Just after World War I, the U.S. obtained two semi-rigid airships from its wartime ally, Italy, which became the U.S. Army’s Roma and the U.S. Navy’s O-1. In 1925, the Army felt that 300,000 cubic feet was the maximum volume of lifting gas possible for non-rigid airships and sought to build a semi-rigid airship of 720,000 cubic feet volume to obtain the largest airship possible without violating the Army’s 1919 agreement with the Navy regarding airship size.
The Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation Aeronautics Division in Akron, Ohio, headed by Mr. Herman T. Kraft, designed the new semi-rigid airship, while consulting closely with the Italian semi-rigid airship designer, General Umberto Nobile. The construction contract was awarded to the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation on June 12, 1922, at a total cost of $475,000. The airship components were delivered to Scott Field via rail in early 1925 and Goodyear personnel, headed by Jack Yolton, assembled the airship under the direction of Maj. Norman Peek of the Army Air Service. Enlisted men for the nine-member flight crew were selected by the Commanding Officer at Scott Field and the RS-1 was erected inside the massive 810-foot, three-year-old Airship Hangar at Scott Field.
The RS-1 was 282 feet long, with a diameter of 74 feet, height of 80 feet (93 feet including tail fins), and 74.5 feet width. The airship’s keel was made of duralumin, a lightweight aluminum alloy. The airship’s envelope was covered by several plies of rubberized cotton cloth. The airship was originally powered by four Liberty 12A engines rated at 200 horsepower each, giving a top speed of 70 mph (in reality, at speeds over 56 mph, the RS-1’s nose was subject to structural collapse) and a cruising speed of 55 mph.
The control car was 35 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 7.9 feet high. The engine cars weighed a total of 7,780 pounds and each of the four engines drove two wooden 17.5-foot diameter propellers. At full speed, the RS-1 had a flight endurance of 17.5 hours and a range at full speed of 1,225 miles. At cruising speed, the airship could remain aloft for 30.8 hours with a range of 1,722 miles. When fully inflated with helium, the RS-1 had a lift capacity of 41,200 pounds, a useful load of 11,200 pounds, and a ceiling of 10,000 feet.
From its base at Scott Field, the primary function of the RS-1 was experimental study of the semi-rigid airship type using testing in the Scott Field Airship Hangar or during flights in the vicinity of Scott Field.
In addition, the RS-1 made several long flights, including a visit to Detroit from on Sept. 18, 1926, commanded by the Scott Field Commander, Lt. Col. John A. Paegelow, where it became the first airship to moor to the high mooring mast constructed by Henry Ford at the Dearborn, Michigan, Ford Airport. In July 1927, the RS-1 flew from Scott Field to Langley Field, Virginia, from where it made flights to Bolling Field and Naval Air Station-Lakehurst, New Jersey. The airship returned to Scott Field on 1 August 1927 after flying over New York City, the Hudson and Mohawk River Valleys, and Buffalo.
During the fall and summer of 1927, the airship made two long flights to northern Iowa. The RS-1 was commanded by Capt William E. Kepner from Oct. 14, 1927-Oct. 25, 1928 when the airship made several long flights to Brooks Field, Texas and planned a flight to Hawaii (never realized). (As a General, Capt. Kepner would later go on to command the 8th Army Air Force’s Second Bombardment Division and the 9th Army Air Force in England during WW2, whose units played a major role in the elimination of the Nazi Luftwaffe (Air Force) in the skies over Europe. In the late 1940s, Gen. Kepner returned to Scott AFB to command the Air Technical Training Command).
The RS-1 went out of service in late 1928 after several local flights at Scott Field, due to envelope porosity (gas leakage). While pending a decision to replace the envelope, the RS-1’s parts were placed in storage at Scott Field. However, due to austere economic conditions, the RS-1 was never reassembled and the metal keel, control car, engine cars, and control surfaces were sold to a St. Louis scrap metal dealer for $900.
Sources: U.S. Army Airships (1908-42) by James R. Shock, published by Atlantis Productions, Edgewater, Florida, 2002; Bio: Lt. Gen. William E. Kepner; 375th AMW History Office Archives.