Learn about Life in the 1920s

Dirigible Lighter-than-Air Craft Crashes 1900 - 1925

Calling attention to the fact that the story of the development of lighter-than-air craft is a long record of accidents, the New York World points to the following list of the more important disasters of the last quarter-century:


  • 1900—LZ-1, Count Zeppelin's first rigid dirigible, was destroyed by a hurricane on Lake Constance. Up to date 118 Zeppelins have been built at Friedrichshafen, of which only the Los Angeles (ZR-3) remains.
  • 1912—Dirigible balloon America, ready for transatlantic flight, exploded at Atlantic City, killing five.
  • 1913—Zeppelin L-l exploded off Heligoland September 9, killing 15.
  • 1913—Zeppelin L-2 caught fire, October 17, above the Johannesthal Airdrome in Germany, killing 28.
  • 1914—Austrian dirigible Parseval in collision with airplane at Vienna on June 20, exploded, killing seven.
  • 1916—Super-Zeppelin lost, November 25, during test trip. All missing but one.
  • 1918—Zeppelin fell in flames at Dalheim, Germany, July 19. All lost.
  • 1918—Two Zeppelins lost off Norway in August.
  • 1919—S-11, British dirigible, struck by lightning July 16 and fell in North Sea, killing 12.
  • 1919—Semi-rigid dirigible Akron caught fire over Chicago, July 21, and fell on roof of Illinois Trust & Savings Bank, killing 10.
  • 1921—R-34, British dirigible which crossed Atlantic, collapsed at mooring-mast in England, January 1, None killed.
  • 1921—August 24, the ZR-2, built for United States in England, fell in flames into River Humber at Hull, killing 44.
  • 1922—Roma, semi-rigid, built for United States by Italy, plunged to ground near Hampton Roads and struck wires, exploding, and killing 34.
  • 1922— C-3, a 200-foot blimp, burned at San Antonio, October 17, 11 hurt, none lost.
  • 1923—TC-1, Army dirigible, burned during storm June 6, injuring two.
  • 1923—Dixmude, built in Germany for France as the LR-114, lost over Mediterranean, with all hands, 50, December 18.
  • 1924—TC-2, blimp, exploded in mid-air above Newport News, October 10, killing two.
  • 1925—TC-3, blimp, snapt rudder in April and crashed, losing valuable store of helium, but no lives.
  • 1925—Shenandoah buckled and fell, September 3. First rigid helium-filled ship to be lost.

According to a report prepared some time ago for President Coolidge by the Navy Special Board on Naval Defense Policy:

"The Shenandoah cost about $2,950,000, and the Los Angeles (built in Germany) cost $750,000. A 6,000,000-cubic-foot airship once was estimated to cost about $6,000,000. The Shenandoah now could be duplicated for much less, the Los Angeles would cost much more, and the 6,000,000-cubic-foot ships would cost about $4,000,000 each, if four were built.
"The maintenance of the Lakehurst air station was $1,200,000 for the fiscal year 1924, exclusive of the cost of helium.
"The life of an airship aside from accident is not definitely known, but it is estimated to be about five years. These figures indicate the expense involved in any airship program of sufficient size to take any considerable part in national defense."

But when all things are considered, concludes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, "it is absurd even to suggest that because of the tragedy of the Shenandoah the American Government should cease building for the air." But unless Congress, which supplies the money, shares this view, admits the Cleveland paper, "the executive departments will be helpless to prevent surrender so far as the field of aviation is concerned." To quote further:

"The attitude of Congress will, of course, be determined by sentiment back home. It is important, therefore, that the American people shall keep their thinking straight on the subject. There is no shadow of inconsistency between sincere regret over the loss of the Shenandoah's men and sincere determination to go on with the fight.
"Nothing is clearer than that the next few years is to see momentous strides in the utilization of the air for the purposes of mankind. The next great war will be fought above the earth as well as on the ground and at sea. Carriers of commerce will no longer be confined within the limits controlled by ancient peoples. Men have learned after all these centuries how to fly. They will continue to blunder, to write their errors in tragedy, but they will not surrender the progress already made.
"Even if Congress were to say that not another dollar of public funds shall go into aviation—an unbelievable attitude—it could not clear the air of flying-men. Other nations have no such narrow vision of the firmament of the future. A standstill policy at Washington would merely hand over to other Powers whatever advantage may go with supremacy in the air, whether that advantage be economic or military. It would be a policy of abject surrender. The American people would neither demand nor approve such an attitude.
"The Shenandoah will be replaced by a better ship. Men will learn better how to build and how to cope with the shifting terrors of the sky. It would be unthinkable for Washington to abandon its aviation program as it was futile and unfortunate for the Western Indian who lassoed the first locomotive he saw. All progress in one way or another is made by sacrifice."

Source: Literary Digest - October 5, 1929