USS Long Island Theory & Design Part Four

So now Long Island is structurally ready for the screen: 944 feet long, 160 feet in diameter, four engine cars, strong fins, double-deck control car. Now we have to enter completely new territory, remembering the USS Akron and Macon design only had a airplane facility added, after the major design was mature. The resulting heavy, complex truss necessary to spread the loads across the main rings forming Bay VII added no real strength to the airship’s overall structure.

In this case there was no extensive German experience to use as a reference. VADM C. E. Rosendahl recalled the side keel design and the after-the-fact hangar bay, writing, “Having two side corridors did add structural strength, and provided housing for the engines and quarters for the crew. However, they resulted in certain operational disadvantages, and the conventional Zeppelin centerline corridor along the bottom represents a far better solution… For one thing, it was unnecessary and costly to provide, in the airship, an inside hangar capable of housing all five of the ship’s planes. Much simpler facilities would suffice… Such innovations in our 1927 design were daring, in a way, and understandably motivated. But having tried them, we should not repeat them.”

Indeed, a ship designed from the outset as a flying carrier would surely use its heaviest, strongest structural member to handle its toughest loads. Dr. R.K. Smith wrote, “The ZRCV’s nine bombers were stowed in tandem beneath the hull, each plane had its own trapeze; all could be launched within a few seconds. This stowage arrangement dictated a strong keel in the airship, and thus a return to “conventional” airship construction…” This makes perfect sense.

In fact, research for a wartime article in POP MECH magazine adapted one of the Goodyear-Zeppelin designs for the airship-unfriendly vertical frame of the front cover. Herein we see six of the LZ-130 style power cars. We have some sort of  a two-place airplane dropping off, which one could take as a shrunken version of the SNJ (Army T-6) trainer.

Check the size of the pilots in the magazine cover illustration vs. the crew aboard the USS Wolverine next to the SNJ, whose wingspan was forty-two feet (!) The artist sought to make it fit.

There are two major problems with this vision:

First, there is no evidence the Navy considered a purpose-built two seat “miniature” hook-on design. The drawings inside the magazine leaned more toward a full size airplane, arguably a BT-13 or SNJ. As we shall see, packing these completely inside a keel just won’t work, even in a much larger airship.

Why? Remember the square-cube law. Nearly doubling the Akron-Macon 6.5 Mft3 to Long Island’s 12 Mft3 increases the diameter only about 27 feet. That does not translate into a huge area increase in the keel quadrant—perhaps 13 feet on a side.

Additionally, as the second point, the Macon “post-mortem” report argued against housing full sized (particularly larger radial engine, two-seat) airplanes inside the hull, for good reason. The F9C-2, N2Y-1 and slightly trimmed Waco were employed because they were available, and just happened to fit through the USS Akron’s door. Once inside, space was so tight even these small airplanes had to be canted, then eased into the corners. Akron never got to use the aft positions owing to a girder conflict, fixed for Macon then under construction. A completely different arrangement is called for.

We’ve done a lot of study concerning the hook-on airplanes and see a more logical evolutionary development. In the timeline that had not seen the three major accidents that hobbled airship technology, we think Rowan Partridge’s vision of the airship and her bombers being protected by small, highly maneuverable fighter planes is quite logical—and makes great action visuals for the movie as well.

This dual-plane vision was somewhat predicted by Goodyear-Zeppelin, with the ZRCV-like design above, drafted but not publicly detailed during WWII. This 10 Mft3, 16-bay concept, originally designed to tolerate helium, suggests the airship’s largest diameter sections could carry small fighter aircraft along with the bombers. The extra two million cubic feet in our Long Island will seek more of the same; we see the airship carrying nine SBD-Z1s, and eight fighters.

Beginning with Long Island’s bay depth, and moving to the largest-diameter four center bays, we can design a set of flip-up doors that adjust the existent intermediate frame spacing. (Plan shown) Once the trapeze is accommodated, doors large enough to clear the fighter’s tail will suit the SBD fuselage as well.

Then the center four need only two smaller flip-up doors to clear the fighter’s wing tips, allowing it to be brought completely inside. (Above, plan) This drawing shows the outer beams only. In the next drawing, adding the four keels and outlining some of their fuel tanks partially obscures the fighter in this view, looking down through the gas cell. Hooked on, the fighter is raised to a point just above the curved monorail track, and the dolly moved to pin the prop guard just forward of the hook.

The next-to-smallest bays in the extreme forward and aft will not be tall enough to accommodate the fighters. By enlarging the door structure slightly in these two bays, one SBD could be brought higher into the ship to allow access to the underside—to re-arm, or re-attach wheels and hook for runway landing or flattop liaison.

With the keels well into the main ring area, the most tapered-shallow airplane bays fore and aft will only allow the entry of the SBD fuselage up to its horizontal stabilizers. We think this the best bay for the winched accessories: the pilot retrieval basket, and the spy car. Of course either being deployed would call for that bay’s airplane to be launched.  That SBD could be “parked” on the fin’s perch or the car’s perch while the basket or bridle was being used.

A fully loaded midship bay looking down through the gas cell all but obscures the SBD hanging outside (above plan), but shows the fighter planes canted to easily fit outboard. The SBD hook and propguard is not intended to ever reach the monorail in those four center bays, and there is no monorail in the extreme forward and aft bays.  During transits the SBD’s hook release handle would certainly be secured with a pit pin to prevent inadvertent release during egress.

Looking from forward (plan view) the fighters would actually be canted for storage with respect to the keel, only facing forward as seen here when the SBD was gone and they were positioning for launch or after recovery. The trapeze would be winched into position to prevent a conflict with the fighter’s wingtips.

(Below plan) As seen from the side view, a centermost bay is recovering an SBD while the fighter is about to be dollied into stowage position. Outboard keel and ballast bags not shown for clarity.

A detail insert shows the fighter plane handling dolly (above). Each of the duly equipped four bays’ twin dollies are slightly bent to ease travel along the curved I-beam. A bearing plate allows rotation to allow the wings’ tips to clear the stowed SBD canopy.  Just as on the Akron/Macon, the fighter plane’s weight was transferred to the assembly by bringing it up the trapeze to near full height, then pushing the dolly and its bearing-mounted dual dangling arms along the curved I-beam to straddle the aft prop guard mounting. Reaching down from the platform above, a crewman would insert a fat load pin through one arm, through the airplanes’ hook mount structure just forward of the hook, and then finally through the other dangling arm. The load pin would be secured with a spring clevis.  Then the cockpit hook release would be tripped to allow the airplane to fall onto the load pin. With hook wide open, the trapeze would be winched up out of the way, and the little fighter dollied outboard for storage. Once outboard, aft and canted clear, the trapeze would be winched into position for the next evolution.

The ZRCV could have been built even as late as 1942, and certainly would have if FADM King had been able to push it through. Not suffering from the manpower shortage on the US coasts and shipyards, ZRCVs could have been assembly-line produced for deployment with the fleets on both coasts. Captains Barkely and Buckley told us in their book so long ago: since the Germans had been making a new Zeppelin every six weeks back in World War One, our Liberty-ship-every-three-days capability could easily have supplied a fleet of hydrogen-borne ZRCVs to hasten the end of the maritime war.

Our flying carrier USS Long Island is ready for the screen.  All the years of toil and treasure – not to mention the lives of so many people – need not be relegated to the dustbin of history. Let’s allow our audience the chance to see what might have been!

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