US Army Airships

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Between 1908 and 1942 the U.S. Army had a program to operate airships. With few exceptions, they were blimps, the other three were semi-rigid airships. Immediately after World War I the Army tried to purchase a Zeppelin from Germany. During the 1920s, the Army operated more blimps than the U.S. Navy.


The Union Army operated balloons during the Civil War. A balloon was used by the US Army in Cuba. These were ad hoc and not part of an established branch of the Army. The use of observation balloons by many nations would continue until early World War II. Balloons must either be tethered, or go where they are blown by the wind. The answer, pursued by nations like France, Germany and Britain, was a powered airship, a streamlined shape, with an engine(s) and controls to allow it to be directed where ever the pilot wished.

In 1908 the Army experimented with its first powered aircraft, the SC-1, or Signal Corps number 1. It was a small semi-ridged airship with a top speed under 20 mph and an endurance of just over 2 hours. Following tests at Fort Myer, the SC-1 was sent to Fort Omaha, Nebraska, where the Signal Corps School was located. While the SC-1 was being tested at Fort Myer, the Signal Corps had built an airship hangar and a plant to produce hydrogen gas at Fort Omaha. Fort Omaha became, for a while, the first permanent military airfield in the United States. The SC-1 was scrapped in 1912, and the base at Fort Omaha closed in 1913.

The US Army operated French...
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