USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) - Operational History

Operational History

After the highly publicized October 1924 transatlantic delivery flight from the Zeppelin Company works in Friedrichshafen to the US Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, the airship was commissioned into the US Navy on 25 November 1924 at Anacostia, D.C. with LCDR Maurice R. Pierce in command. Its lifting gas was switched from hydrogen to helium, which reduced payload but improved safety.

The airship went on to log a total of 4,398 hours of flight, covering a distance of 172,400 nautical miles (319,300 km) traveling to places in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. It served as an observatory and experimental platform, as well as a training ship for other airships. The length was 656 feet (200 m), about 148 feet (45 m) shorter than the longest Zeppelins. It was noted that the airship had a "useful load ... forty-three tons", "thirty-three tons of fuel", "range of 5,400 nautical miles", "displaced 87.3 tons."

On 25 August 1927, while the Los Angeles was tethered at the Lakehurst high mast, a gust of wind caught her tail and lifted it into colder, denser air that was just above the airship. This caused the tail to lift higher. The crew on board tried to compensate by climbing up the keel toward the rising tail, but could not stop the ship from reaching an angle of 85 degrees, before it finally descended. Amazingly, the ship suffered only slight damage and was able to fly the next day.

In 1930, the Los Angeles was used to test the trapeze system developed by the US Navy to launch and recover fixed wing aircraft from dirigibles. The tests were a success and future American dirigibles were fitted with this system to launch and recover small fighters. The temporary system though was removed from the Los Angeles and never carried any aircraft operational flights. In 1930, the Los Angeles also tested the launching of a glider over Lakehurst, New Jersey.

On 25 May 1932, the Los Angeles participated in a demonstration of photophone technology. Floating over the General Electric plant in Schenectady, New York, crew on board the ship engaged in an on-air conversation with a WGY radio announcer using a beam of light.

As the terms under which the Allies permitted the United States to have the Los Angeles restricted its use to commercial and experimental purposes only, when the U.S. Navy sought in 1931 to use the airship in a fleet problem, permission had to be obtained from the Allied Control Commission. The Los Angeles took part in Fleet Problems XII (1931) and XIII (1932), although as was the case with all U.S. Navy rigid airships, demonstrated no particular benefit to the fleet.

The Los Angeles was decommissioned in 1932 as an economy measure, but was recommissioned for a period after the USS Akron crashed in April 1933. Soon returned to storage, the airship was finally struck off the Navy list in 1939 and dismantled in its hangar, thus ending the career of the Navy's longest serving airship. Unlike the ill-fated Akron, Macon, and Shenandoah, the Los Angeles' career did not meet a disastrous end.

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