Nov 1

100 Years Ago In USN LTA

Thursday, November 1, 2018 12:01 AM


The following is reprinted with permissions from The Noon Balloon.

North Sea LTA (U.S. Naval Institute Archive)

Misidentified North Sea 3 (U.S. Naval Institute Photo Archive)

The late LTAS guru Dr. Dale Topping lamented that in any given book or publication about LTA, at least one photo will always be mis-identified. We often offer gently worded guidance to well meaning LTA-inclusive media to help over previous hiccups, but we are respectful, since we too have to recruit from the human race, and allow too many typos to count. While we LTA nuts realize the photo contains neither a seat nor a depth charge, we held off telling the U.S. Naval Institute it is a North Sea, the engineman did not rate a seat, and that is a bumper-float for alighting on the water. (In the meantime their October issue carried a reader’s comment that he thought the photo might be a “C-class or possibly a D-class,” while the magazine’s editors responded that captions usually come from information on the photo, sometimes written in by the donor.)

On the off chance the U.S. Naval Institute might have been in possession of an image of the long-lost NS-14 that was purchased by the U.S. Navy but not believed to have been flown in the U.S., we got in touch with our UK comrades-in-arms to hopefully offer the U.S. Naval Institute more details. Ed. wrote Dr. Giles Camplin, Editor of Dirigible, and Nigel Wells, Vice Chairman, Airship Association: Hi Giles & Nigel, Proceedings just arrived with this photo as its “parting shot.” Is there anything in the photo, like the mechanic’s watch cap, that would i.d. it as flying in the UK, in the vain hope this could be an image from the NS brought back to the U.S.?

Brian Turpin responded, “The ship is North Sea 3 after it was modified to the design of Flt Cdr J.S. Wheelwright. The officer leaning out of the window of the control car is believed to be Lt Cdr G.H. Abell, who with Wheelwright, was responsible for the design of the modified control and power car. The power car, which in this ship was attached directly to the end of the control car, had two flotation bags underneath and landed on the water on a number of occasions.

NS 3 was based at East Fortune from July, 1917, and was modified there over the winter of 1917 – 1918. After successful trials and acceptance by the Admiralty, NS 3 continued to fly from East Fortune until the night of 21 – 22 June, 1918, when in appalling weather she crashed into the sea with the loss of half her crew of ten. However, the new design was used successfully on several other North Sea airships. The men are:


Born 25/7/1885 Burnt Oak Farm, Edgware, Middlesex Died 22/5/1962.

ABELL George Henry Engineering Officer OBE 19/3/19

Concerning the NS sent to the USA, the Aircraft Record card is for NS 14, built at Kingsnorth in late 1918 with Wheelwright modified cars. She made flying trials on 14 December, 1918, and was then deflated and shipped to the USA. Her subsequent history is a bit hazy but this is what I have:

-Packed up and shipped to America for U.S. Navy, 22 April, 1919.

-Given Navy Bureau serial number A5580.

-Sent to Wingfoot Lake N A S, Suffield, Ohio, for evaluation. Arrived on 17 May. Not inflated.

-On 13 December, transferred to Hampton Roads, Norfolk, Virginia. Arrived on 30 January, 1920.

-Turned over to U.S. Army 22 September, 1925.

-Stricken from the Navy List 28 January, 1926.

So far no records have come to light to determine whether this ship was ever inflated and flown in the United States. I would be interested to know if NS 14 was ever flown in the U.S.”

Art Lewry also responded to add, “Notice the fact that the RR Eagle engine is level with the control car and the struts are actually coming out of the car. The airship is the Wheelwright/Abell modified N.S.3. That is Lt Abell standing on the platform. We could probably narrow down the date to May/June 1918 on patrols or experimental flights over the North Sea. The photo appears in Brain Turpin’s upcoming book.”

Interesting to note that the RR Eagle engines worked really well in this set up as the propellers were direct drive from the crankshaft. As you know, the extension shafts, universal joints and bearings on the early NS-Class airships were very problematic.

Alastair Lawson added, “They are in fact floats for the rear of the ship, to support the engines as a form of undercarriage. I’ve heard people mis-interpret them as fuel tanks, but those were of course held in the tri-lobe part of the outside of the envelope and can often be seen on the earlier NS ships.”

Ed. responded with thanks to all and, in searching for an North Sea airship photo to show the whole ship, thought to ask: (attached) I doubt NS 8 here was carrying huge double flags because Americans were training aboard that day, but rather something more important – perhaps the eleventh hour of Nov.11? Would make a nice 100th anniversary note if anyone has the story.

Art Lewry quickly responded, Yes, definitely something MUCH more important.

NS 8 (Courtesy of the Author)

NS 8 (The Noon Balloon)

NS 8 was flying over Chelsea Stamford Bridge football ground, while a baseball match was held between the US Army and US Navy teams on 4th July 1918. There is an account of the game in the 1919 Spalding Baseball Guide. “An historic celebration of July 4th by the British. The first time British King and Queen recognize celebration of American Declaration of Independence. First pitch thrown out by King George. Significant and historic Baseball Game that was widely covered globally at the time, and has since been heavily documented and published in books. Hall of Famer Herb Pennock pitched for the Navy team which was captained by his Red Sox teammate Mike McNally. Ed Lafitte, Detroit Tigers, pitched for Army. Navy won 2 to 1. Arlie Latham, New York Giants, was the umpire. The first pitch baseball was signed by King George and ultimately presented to President Woodrow Wilson. A young Winston Churchill was also in attendance.”

Video record:

Just recently AA Vice Chair Nigel Wells responded with an image of a typical WWI airship depth bomb:

One of the bombs carried by SS Zero (The Noon Balloon)

One of the bombs carried by SS Zero (The Noon Balloon)