Scott Air Force Base News

December 1938: The end of the Lighter-than-Air Era at Scott Field

Pictured is the Airship Hangar on Nov. 4, 1931.
Pictured is the Airship Hangar on Nov. 4, 1931.

On Dec. 2, 1938, the last section of the mighty Scott Field Airship Hangar was demolished. Scott Field served as the Army’s Lighter-than-Air training school from 1921-37. However, the mission of the Army’s airships ended in 1937 and reconstruction of Scott Field for a planned new mission as the General Headquarters, Army Air Corps, was underway.

The massive Airship Hangar was built between September 1921 and January 1923 at a cost of $1,250,000 (approximately $17 million in current dollars) and was the dominant feature at Scott Field for 17 years. It was 810 feet long, 206 1/2 feet wide, and 178 feet high. The hangar required 195 train car loads of structural steel, 250 tons of concrete-reinforcing steel, one million rivets, and 290 carloads of cement and gravel.

The massive Airship Hangar was built between September 1921 and January 1923 at a cost of $1,250,000 (approximately $17 million in current dollars) and was the dominant feature at Scott Field for 17 years. It was 810 feet long, 206 1/2 feet wide, and 178 feet high. The hangar required 195 train car loads of structural steel, 250 tons of concrete-reinforcing steel, one million rivets, and 290 carloads of cement and gravel.

Designed for LTA operations by Scott Field’s captive balloons and dirigibles, the Airship Hangar had a number of supporting facilities, including an auxiliary balloon hangar, heating plant, two hydrogen plants, electrical substation (today’s Building P-7), and a huge steel mooring mast constructed in 1927-capable of handling the largest Zeppelin-type rigid airships.

The Scott Field Airship Hangar was the first to have a cement tile roof and was one of 27 Army LTA sites (including the Territory of Hawaii and The Philippines. In 1932, the Airship hangar was listed as the fourth among the twenty-three principal airship docks in the world (the first three, respectively, were located at Akron, Ohio-the Goodyear-Zeppelin Plant; Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Lakehurst, N.J.). Although capable of servicing Zeppelin-type dirigibles, none were ever assigned to Scott Field.

Doors for the Airship hangar consisted of two leafs at each end, each leaf weighing 632 tons and were opened or closed at a rate of 14-16 feet per minute by four 27 1/2 horsepower electric motors. If the motors failed, the doors could be opened and closed manually by means of a capstan and muscle power. The hangar also featured a considerable amount of windows and skylights, those leading directly into the hangar interior being made of quarter-inch-thick actinic glass, designed to exclude 85 percent of ultraviolet and 55 percent of infrared ray (both considered harmful to the cotton airship fabric).

The hangar also featured a considerable amount of windows and skylights, those leading directly into the hangar interior being made of quarter-inch-thick actinic glass, designed to exclude 85 percent of ultraviolet and 55 percent of infrared ray (both considered harmful to the cotton airship fabric).

The Airship Hangar was so large that the 100,000 members of the 1920s Army 1925 could have fit inside standing in formation. It had twice the volume of the current Engineering Hangar No. 1 at Scott AFB. Soon after construction, the large size of the hangar created another interesting phenomena-when temperature and humidity conditions were right, rain would occur inside the structure. However, there was no record of rain inside the hangar being a detriment to airship operations.

The Navy inherited the last Scott Field airships when the Army airship program was terminated in 1937 and 13 officers who served in the LTA program at Scott Field became general officers during World War II.

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