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Sky Ships: a History of the Airship in the United States Navy (25th Anniversary Edition)

20 December 2020

Sky Ships: a History of the Airship in the United States Navy (25th Anniversary Edition), William F. Althoff, 2016, ISBN 978-1-59114-213-3, 318 pp.

Sky Ships: a History of the Airship in the United States Navy (25th Anniversary Edition) by William F. Althoff

The Naval Institute Press has recently released a wonderfully done 25th anniversary edition of Althoff’s Sky Ships: a History of the Airship in the United States Navy. It is well produced, large in format and William Althoff  has again regaled readers with the U.S. Navy’s (USN) Lighter-Than-Air (LTA) program as well as the  context of the times in terms of technology and decision making factors.

Althoff has been writing about the Navy’s LTA programs for a long time and there isn’t much he has not pondered or left without investigation. His understanding of the non-rigid and rigid airships has readers comprehending their missions, atmosphere of working aboard them and thinking through the most active of the Navy’s LTA years. LTA was in competition with conventional aviation for quite a while—much longer than most are aware—and LTA was the only competition for long distance and transoceanic flight. It’s no coincidence LTA created the first airline as well as the first flight attendant. Careers, business enterprises, successes and tragedies are intertwined in this history—but Althoff’s expert writing style makes it all clear without loss of any drama in those moments.

Althoff also looks at many sides of events to explain what many have overlooked or glossed over. For example, most know Imperial Germany’s Hindenburg caught fire while landing at the Navy’s Lakehurst NJ facility—but it is Althoff who explains the detail of cooperation between the USN and Imperial Germany regarding  LTA flight and design. Additionally, the Navy was developing the concept of an LTA Merchant Marine and tested routes with the USS Los Angeles. Athoff also concisely describes the use of non-rigid ZPG-2W designs in the mid-1950s to provide DEW line radar coverage in defense against USSR bombers. Each of these three blimps had a twenty-one man crew aboard and comprised some of the first tactical airborne control aircraft in a rapidly changing world.

Sky Ships ends with several appendices complimenting an abundance of images and drawings. The images give the feel of the largeness involved in this era with immense designs and even more enormous hangars. It is a book rich in history and comprehension which would be welcome by anyone with the interest in USN LTA flight.


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