Scott Air Force Base News

This month in Scott AFB history, July 1922: Army airship, the ‘A-4,’ arrives at Scott Field

Pictured are the A-4 (left) and S.S.T. docked in the massive Scott Field Airship Hangar, circa 1923.
Pictured are the A-4 (left) and S.S.T. docked in the massive Scott Field Airship Hangar, circa 1923.

On July 27, 1922, the Army airship, Type FC, the “A-4,” arrived at 6 a.m. at its new base at Scott Field, home of the he 10th Airship Company and the Army Balloon and Airship School (recently transferred from Langley Field, Virginia).

The 2,000-mile flight lasted 40 hours and 40 minutes, including maneuvering to seek emergency landing places between Langley Field and Scott Field, The delivery crew consisted of Lt. Orville A. Anderson (Pilot), Lt. James Hammond (photographic officer), and Sgt. Joseph Biedenbach (Engineer and survivor of the infamous airship “Roma” disaster). A local newspaper report stated the A-4 flew over Belleville “low and slow” early in the morning, awakening many residents with its engine noise.

Residents reported the airship was low enough to observe the “A-4” designator painted beneath the nose of the envelope. Several residents were able to rush to Scott Field in time to watch the A-4’s landing. The A-4 joined the British-built S.S.T. "Mullion" airship as part of Scott Field’s growing training airship fleet.

Residents reported the airship was low enough to observe the “A-4” designator painted beneath the nose of the envelope. Several residents were able to rush to Scott Field in time to watch the A-4’s landing. The A-4 joined the British-built S.S.T. "Mullion" airship as part of Scott Field’s growing training airship fleet.

The gondola and envelope of the A-4 were built at the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company factory near Akron, Ohio, Goodyear’s first attempt at control car construction. The A-4 was accepted by the Army on April 22, 1919, and shipped to the Army Airship School at Langley Field on Nov. 7, 1919.

The envelope of the A-4 had a volume of 95,000 cubic feet of hydrogen and was 162 feet long, 33.5 feet in diameter, 47 feet high, and 39 feet wide. The envelope had a total lift capacity of 6,424 pounds and a useful lift capacity of 2,224 pounds. The A-4 normally carried a crew of three men. The control car was 18 feet long, two feet wide, four feet high, and weighed 800 pounds.

Propulsion was provided by a single Curtiss OX-5 engine rated at 70-90 horsepower with a two-bladed 8.5-foot diameter propeller, giving the A-4 a top speed of 46 miles per hour and a cruising speed of 35 miles per hour. Endurance at full speed was 8.5 hours (a range of 382 miles) and endurance at cruising speed was 12.4 hours (a range of 430 miles). The maximum altitude for the A-4 was 8,000 feet above ground level.

While stationed at Langley Field, the A-4 accomplished several notable feats, including landing on the roof of the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio on 23 May 1919 to deliver a Goodyear executive to present a paper on airship design.

In February 1923, the A-4 landed at Belleville Township High School, with the students acting as the handling party.

On Sept. 11, 1920, the A-4 flew in formation with Army airships C-2 and RN-1 in the first demonstration of aircraft direction by radio. In 1921, the A-4 participated in the famous Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell bombing tests against warships off the coast of Virginia, which demonstrated aircraft were capable of sinking modern warships, including battleships.

After arriving at Scott Field, the A-4 served as a training airship at the Army Balloon and Airship School and was docked in the massive Scott Field Airship Hangar after completion in January 1923.

In February 1923, the A-4 landed at Belleville Township High School, with the students acting as the handling party. Around midnight Jan. 23, 1923, the A-4 alarmed the residents of Mount Vernon, Illinois, as it passed low overhead after a flight from Scott Field to South Carrollton, Kentucky, to rescue the crew of Scott Field’s S.S.T. airship, which suffered a mechanical failure, became a free balloon, and drifted helplessly for several hundred miles.

Other feats by the A-4 included a training flight to Springfield, Illinois, along with the S.S.T. to stimulate popular interest in recruiting for the U.S. Army Air Service. The four-hour, 35-minute flight included half an hour circling the state capitol and flying over the city. The aircrews followed railroad tracks on the trip. In another feat, Scott Field launched a free balloon with five crewmembers aboard that landed four hours later in a farmyard near Pocahontas, Illinois—50 miles away.

The A-4 continued serving at Scott Field as a training airship until March 1924. After being condemned as obsolete, the five-year old veteran airship had its engine removed and was moored to a new, 65-foot test mooring mast to determine the durability of the mast in high winds.

After putting the deflated balloon on a train for shipment back to Scott Field, the crew signaled the A-4, which was hovering above Pocahontas. The A-4 descended, picked up the crew, and returned them to base in 50 minutes. Officers at Scott Field stated that this feat was the first time such a recovery had been made by a lighter-than-air craft in this country.

The A-4 continued serving at Scott Field as a training airship until March 1924. After being condemned as obsolete, the five-year old veteran airship had its engine removed and was moored to a new, 65-foot test mooring mast to determine the durability of the mast in high winds. A ripcord was rigged to the A-4’s envelope to deflate should it break free from the mast. After seven hours, sustained 50 mile-per-hour winds eventually ripped four feet from the unmanned A-4’s nose, deflating the airship and causing it to fall to the ground 100 feet from the mast.

  Comments