John Lust Oral History
Naval Airship Association Oral History Project
Mr. John Lust
March 17-30, 1996
by Michael J. Vinarcik
The rigid airship, to me, represents the greatest example of mankind’s ability to give life to a dream. The great rigids of the early 1900’s strained the available technology to its limits and beyond, and only through the sustained efforts of a few visionaries were they brought to life. I was born too late to see the great rigids, although I have seen relics of their existence (such as the Goodyear Airdock). These relics still inspire many; there is hope for the future. Today, in the 1990’s, there is still interest in lighter-than-air flight. The Zeppelin Company is constructing the N-07, a new-technology airship that will serve as a prototype for a new series of semi-rigid. Companies in North America and Europe are designing airships of all sizes. But none of these efforts match the huge scale of the great rigids Akron and Macon. Many of these efforts will fail due to lack of funding and public interest. It is unlikely that any great rigid will ever again sail through our skies. As I stand here in the twilight of the last survivors of the Navy’s airship program, I feel compelled to help record the experiences of these men. They have seen an important part of history, and helped usher in the era of naval aviation. Their experiences are too valuable to lose forever. My greatest regret is that this project is so late; only a handful of rigid veterans are still alive, and two have died within six months of this project’s inception. I am working as rapidly as possible to contact the remaining crewmen, and hope that I am in time.
Michael J. Vinarcik
Naval Airship Association Oral History Project
May 6, 1996
I wish to thank the following individuals for their support of this project: Angela, my wife, whose patience, support, and understanding have sustained me throughout this project. Without her assistance, this effort would never have been completed. Commander John A. Fahey, USN (Ret.), President of the U.S. Naval Airship Association. He understood the urgency of this undertaking, and supported it fully. Captain John A. Kane, USN (Ret.), the Treasurer of the U.S. Naval Airship Association, whose kind words when I joined the NAA indirectly inspired this effort. Commander Edmund B. Kasner, USN (Ret.), head of the NAA Historical Action Team, who has encouraged me and supported this project. Colonel Richard D. Crosby, USA (Ret.), NAA Oral History Coordinator, who has allowed me to pursue this project with his full support. Mr. John Lust, the first participant in this effort. I could not have hoped for a better initial interviewee; he has given me many hours of his time and gone above the call of duty to make this effort successful.
I wish to thank the following companies and organizations for their support of this project:
Adobe Systems, Incorporated, who donated Acrobat Capture and Catalog (software used to electronically publish this document). Ms. Sandy Kaye provided this software, and her generosity has enabled me to realize the full scope of this
project. DSS Corporation, (Ms. Gloria Kay), who provided a transcription machine to the NAA at a reduced cost.
United States Naval Airship Association Lust, John
Oral History Project
May 6, 1996
Lust: My name is John Lust, from Butler, New Jersey. I joined the Navy the day I was seventeen years old. I enlisted in the Navy, and was transferred then to Norfolk, Virginia for “boot,” or recruit, training. And after recruit training, I put in for Aviation Pilot, Heavier-than-Air.
Q: What year was this, sir?
Lust: 1929. There were ninety-some of us that put in for this; out of the ninety, around forty passed the mental test, and thirteen of us passed the physical test. So thirteen of us were a class, and went to Hampton Roads Air Station for ten hours of instruction in airplanes. They called that the “Pilot Elimination Course,” and they eliminated the whole squadron after 10 hours. Not that we weren’t any good, because at that time the quota was filled. My second choice was Aviation Mechanic, and I was transferred to the Aviation Machinist’s Mate School in Great Lakes, Illinois. After I graduated from that, I saw on the list of air stations you could go to, whichever one you wanted, provided there were openings. I chose Lakehurst, New Jersey, since I was from New Jersey, and from there I got hooked up into lighter-than-air. I was in the Lakehurst Air Station's ground crew for a year; we handled all of the non-rigid ships and the big rigid ship the Los Angeles. From there, I was transferred to the rigid airship training school.
Q: Where was that located?
Lust: In Lakehurst. In that school, we had instruction in the morning, classroom instruction on rigid airships and their handling, in the morning, and the afternoon was practical work. And when the Los Angeles flew, she would take about fifteen students aboard. Every flight she flew that I could get on, I went on. And we got training on the airship Los Angeles. We also had six hours of training in free balloons.
We flew in those, and also we had about 8 hours in each of the non-rigid airships we had there—you call them blimps. Then after the lighter-than-air training school was over, I was transferred back to the landing crew. From there, I made Aviation Machinist’s Mate Third Class, and from there I was transferred to U.S.S. Akron. She was brand new, and she had just come to Lakehurst. I flew various trips on her, not as many as I would like to have flown. In July of that year, 1932, I was in an automobile accident, a very bad one, and I was in a Navy hospital in Brooklyn for eight months. When I was discharged from the Navy for disability reasons, that same month the Akron crashed off the Jersey coast and killed seventy-three men; there were three survivors. The man who took my place went down with it also. From then on, I was a civilian again. But I always kept in touch with my former shipmates, those who are left at Lakehurst. At the time, when I was going through the lighter-than-air school, there were only about three hundred or so of us qualified in lighter-than-air training. That’s all we had, the whole complement.
Q: Was that on the East Coast, or both facilities?
Lust: That was the total; there was no Moffett Field yet at that time. Macon wasn’t built yet; she wasn’t finished yet. She flew three or four months after the Akron went down, and she went to the West Coast. So that ended the whole career for me, but I always kept in touch with everyone there, and I was always interested in that. And when the Naval Airship Association started, I was a charter member, and joined that right away. In the meantime, we had two little reunions in Lakehurst while Admiral Rosendahl was alive yet. Of course, I knew him always as Commander Rosendahl in the years when I was in Lakehurst. He made admiral before he retired. He had two reunions there, and he only had them just for the rigid airshipmen, no one else. Of course, he passed away right after that. That ended that part of it. We were going to start a little association of our own, but never got around to it. But I’m very happy with the Naval Airship Association. And we have, now that we know of, seven of us in the country who flew on rigid airships. There may be others, but no one has surfaced yet. We’ve tried different ways of finding people, but most of them have passed on by now.
Q: I was very surprised to find that there were any still left.
Lust: We had three in Florida; one died. Now there are two in Florida; and three in New Jersey, and two in California, that we know of. There may be others. Captain Kane is searching for others.
Q: What can you tell me about the classroom instruction that you received at the Lighter-Than-Air School? Was it mostly theory, or operations?
Lust: It was theory, and from the beginning, when they come out of the hangar, what orders you have, what stations you are on, who’s in command and who’s engineering officer, all those different posts. There were always four hours on, four hours off; there were actually two crews on there, there had to be, since sometimes you flew for two or three days. They could fly for a week or two weeks; as long as you had food and fuel, you could keep on going.
Q: Were you there when the Akron’s tail was damaged? (Feb 22, 1932)
Lust: Yes, I was. I wasn’t on that flight; the House of Representatives was there. I was helping take the ship out of the hangar; in fact, I was operating the starboard winch at the time. A cable snapped, or sometime gave, and away she went. She had just cleared the hanger, and it was a good thing she had. Otherwise, it would have knocked the whole tail off. That was a very sorry thing, because Commander Rosendahl (captain of the ship) had a lot of criticism since the ship was built. He had finally got the House of Representatives and some Congressmen to come and take a ride in the ship. In fact, it was Washington’s Birthday. They were right
there that day; there was a heavy crosswind blowing. Normally, we wouldn’t have taken the ship out of the hangar. But they were there already, and of course, you had to do something. I often think of how he must have felt after that. That was an awful blow.
Q: I understand there was a similar incident in Germany when taking a ship out in unfavorable conditions.
Lust: That was on the Hindenburg or the LZ-130. That was the Hindenburg; Eckener was alive then, and he gave the captain hell because the captain came out and had the elevators up too quickly, and the tail was too close to the ground. In other words, he was making a quick takeoff. It was forbidden to do that.
Q: What were the typical duties of the LTA students when they flew on the Los Angeles?
Lust: A number of students from the rigid airship training class were taken aboard. The aviation mechanics went to the engine cars to study, and observe the procedures of the aviation mechanics on duty. The aviation riggers went to the keel of the ship to observe the procedures of the riggers on duty. The riggers take care of the keel of the ship, where all the helium cells and the ballast tanks are located. There were always two riggers in the control car; one handling the elevators, the other handling the rudder. The elevators were in the stern of the ship, and were hinged to the horizontal fins. The rudders, also in the stern, were hinged to the vertical fins.
Q: They had quite a few cables running back to the stern, didn’t they?
Lust: I wondered, too, why they had so many cables. Even in those years, hydraulics were coming in, and they could have had hydraulic systems and done away with those cables. They stretched out too much and they had to have coil springs to take care of the slack.
Q: Were they a maintenance problem?
Lust: Yes, well, not a problem, but they required maintenance.
Q: So the riggers operated much of the ship, and the machinist’s mates tended the engines?
Lust: When the riggers were in the keel, they would check each gas cell to see what condition it was in. I’ve forgotten how many gas cells there were in the Akron, about twelve or so. That was quite a job to watch all of those and record them. And also, checking on the fuel to see how much was used and how much was left in the tank?
Q: I assume that there was someone responsible for tallying all of this to keep the ship in trim?
Lust: That was all done in the control car. They had toggles there to release ballast or helium.
Q: Who tended the water reclamation systems on the Akron? Was it the machinist’s mates?
Lust: The exhaust, after it left the engine, ran through those, and from there it went on into the keel, and by gravity, fell down into different tanks. That was quite troublesome on the Akron, the recovery system, it leaked a lot. Of course, that was a brand-new ship. It was different from any other ship ever built. On the Macon, they changed that system around a little.
Q: My understanding is that they got it working well enough to take one entire set out so the ship flew with three per side instead of four. How well did the gearbox drive for the propellers operate?
Lust: Very well. They had no problems with that. The only problem they had was with the Akron, on the West Coast trip (I didn’t make that trip either). I was told I was going to make it, and I was waiting in line to get on the ship, and somebody else got ahead of me, an older man. I was too young in those years, anyhow. On the way back, she lost a propeller over the Oakland Bay. Of course, they had that problem landing when one person was killed. That was a sorry thing for Commander Rosendahl, too.
Q: What happened?
Lust: Well, we use the term that a ship was “light,” in other words, it wanted to raise up. They didn’t want to release helium because it was too expensive. So they were trying to land the ship at Camp Kearny, (Camp Kearny, near San Diego, California. This incident occurred May 11, 1932.) where they had the expedition mast, and they couldn’t get the ship down. They got down close enough and the ground crew had hold of the lines; they were an inexperienced ground crew and got pulled up with the ship. She went back up, and one fellow was saved. At Lakehurst, we always had orders there, in the ground crew, always go up five or six feet off the ground and then drop off and don’t go any further.
Q: My understanding is that it was preferable to fly the ship on the “heavy” side and use dynamic lift to keep it airborne.
Lust: That’s why we had the water recovery system. If you burned one hundred pounds of fuel, you liked to get back one hundred pounds of water if you could. She was very light at Camp Kearny; they should have valved off a little helium and forgotten about it.
Q: Do any other incidents come to mind that may be of interest?
Lust: To hook on planes was very interesting to watch. There was a big “T” opening in the bottom of the ship; they would slide these panels back in the shape of a letter “T,” like an airplane was shaped. They were biplanes, Sparrowhawks*, small biplanes. The trapeze would drop down, and the plane would come along and hook into that. After he was hooked in, the engine was cut, and he was fastened securely, they would bring the trapeze back into the hangar. They would put the ship on X crossframes there. They would slide the plane on trolleys; each corner would have a plane, and in the center would be the commander of the squadron. He
would be the last one in and the first one out. *Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawks; purpose-built fighters assigned to the Akron and Macon
Q: Did the Akron carry much mail on its flights? I have a few covers from Lakehurst.
Lust: There was something. We didn’t carry mail regularly. I think the Macon did something like that, too.
Q: I have a cover labeled “Tactical Training Flight” stamped in and out at Lakehurst in the 1930’s.
Lust: A tactical training flight with mail aboard? I never knew that. I was never interested much in that. When I was at Lakehurst, the Hindenburg landed there a few times and they had mail and I could have sent letters to people and I never bothered. I was seventeen years old; I had other things on my mind! You had to do what the Navy did in those years.
Q: I guess you took it for granted since you were around them so much.
(A brief pause in recording)
Q: What did you do after you were discharged from the Navy?
Lust: Well, the family of my father had a lumber and building material yard, a lumber yard. It had a big millwork shop with it. That’s the reason I went into the Navy. I hated that type of work. But, of course, when I came out, I was paralyzed on one side of my face and my eyes were crossed. I couldn’t get a job anywhere, of course, so I went to work back in the lumber yard. I worked there for maybe a year or so, and I got into an argument and left again. I got a job in a local airport for a while, and that wasn’t nice work at all. I was used to working in the Navy, with other people, one took care of the other. At this little airport, one was jealous of
the other. I couldn’t take that, so I went back to the lumber yard. I stayed there, then. I went to school then, and learned a little something, and I got to sell lumber in time. I was running the yard and working in the millwork shop. When my father passed away, I took over the whole yard. I ran it for fifteen or eighteen years and then I sold it. It was a quite nice business; I sold it when I was too young. I sold it just before inflation came in. That wasn’t good. I lost out good on that one!
Q: Would you say that the Navy was a positive experience for you?
Lust: Yes. I was going to stay in there until I had my twenty years, and retire at age thirty-seven. I was Aviation Machinist Mate Third Class, and I had my exam for Second Class passed already, and after that make First Class and then Chief Petty Officer, and then go on for Warrant Officer if I wanted. I had everything figured out, and didn’t worry too much about anything else. Everything was taken care of; all we had to do was buy our own uniforms. The first hundred dollars worth as a recruit you got free; from then on, you bought as you needed. We got fifty-percent flight pay, too! That wasn’t bad, either.
Q: Were there special uniforms on board ship?
Lust: Dungarees and leather jackets. We were issued leather jackets with tight sleeves and tight waists so nothing would catch on it. In naval aviation, as soon as you were in, you got a leather jacket.
Q: Did it get cold at the altitudes at which you operated?
Lust: Yes. The Los Angeles was very cold. Of course, down in the engine cars it warm. In the Akron, it was the same way. In the keel of the ship it was cold. Of course, the control car was warm, and the engine rooms. The Akron had no engine cars, it had engine rooms. They were warm. They had eight engines on the Akron. She was a nice ship, though she had a lot of little flaws that were taken care of little by little. I always said the Navy was wrong to build the Macon right after the Akron. They should have had the Akron for a year or so and flown the hell out of it and got all of the bugs out of and all of the mistakes and then build the Macon. It would have been a different ship.
Q: There were some incremental improvements, but...
Lust: There was no other ships in the world built like the Akron and Macon. The engines were inside, she had a trapeze for aircraft. There a lot of things that were different, and they had to be tried out first. The Germans didn’t get their first airship they had to be a success, either. They had quite a few there before they got going on it.
Q: There were some incremental improvements in the Macon, but you think they could have made more significant ones if they had delayed construction a bit?
Lust: Well, they didn’t know what to change! The Akron was only about a year and six months old, and things were turning up every flight. Everything was recorded. If they had waited a year or two and built the Macon, things would have been different. But of course, the deal was with Goodyear, we build one for five million, and the second one would be much less. Goodyear couldn’t lay off all these people and wait for the Navy for two years and then start building again by calling all these people in. You can’t do that.
Q: I think the Macon was around half the cost of the Akron.
Lust: In the Navy, we didn’t bother much about the money; we let the taxpayers worry about that!
Q: The Navy liked to fly the ship to the mast, not the ground, correct?
Lust: They would come in and gradually come in slowly and lose altitude. When they got to a certain altitude (they could tell by eyeballing it from the control car), they would release two one-inch manila lines. Maybe they were a little bit larger than one inch. A port and a starboard one; they were called “yaw lines.” And these lines would be taken by a group of men on the ground. They would hook other lines onto these, with toggles on them. “Spider lines,” they would call them. Maybe a dozen men would grab hold and keep the ship from weaving from side to side. The ship wouldn’t yaw then; she was steady. Then the metal cable would
come out of the nose of the ship; the pawl in the front. It had to touch the ground before you touched it to discharge the static electricity, otherwise it would give you a shock. Then this cable was hooked onto a cable from the winch in the mast. As soon as they were hooked together, they would start the engines on the mast and pull this cable in. And the cable would pull the ship right to the mast. This cup would hook into the cup on the mast, and she was fast. Then the stern end would drop down and she would be fastened to a car with railroad wheels on it. There was a circular track built around the mast, quite an engineering feat. When
that was hooked on, as the ship yawed in the wind, the car would move. Up to 360 degrees, if it had to. That’s the “riding-out circle.” They had another circle in line with the hangar. The mast was moved by itself, self-propelled, right to the other circle. There was a spot for it in the center. On this circle, there was a large railroad car, that looked like a large flat car. It had three winches on it; and the tail end of the ship would be put on this car, fastened down, and the winches would take up the slack of the metal cables. The cables were inside the ship, also. And then this whole car would run around the circle until it was even with the
hangar. There was another set of track that led right to the hangar, about half of a mile away. The center winch on this car would pick up the circular wheels and drop down the horizontal wheels. We then had spreader bars, all the way from the “beam,” this car with three winches on it, all the way to the mast, which was about six hundred feet away. There were two sets of those. Spreader bars are round bars about ten or twelve feet long hooked together. When the mast would start to go, the spreader bars would take the shock of moving this car, so it wouldn’t be pulled by the ship.
Q: So you wouldn’t stress the ship?
Lust: That’s correct. Then you would put it right into the hangar, real nicely. This whole operation sounds complicated, but it worked out very well. As a matter of fact, about a dozen men could land the ship and hook it onto these different cars mechanically, the mechanical handling gear, and put it in the hangar. It would take maybe about three hundred men to handle
the ship otherwise. It was well-engineered, and it was the first time it was done…the Germans didn’t have this. Now, as years would go on, say we kept airships that were successful, they would improve on this handling gear, also. In time, it would be child’s play. They had two cars on the circular track at Moffett Field that they would put the spider lines on; we never saw that at Lakehurst. I didn’t, anyway.
Q: I believe the Patoka* had yaw booms to handle some lines, also. *The U.S.S. Patoka was an airship tender, converted from a fleet oiler by the addition of a mooring mast.
Lust: Yes, they did.
Q: Did you ever moor to the Patoka?
Lust: No, I never did. The Akron didn’t have too many moorings to the Patoka because it was so big around. They had to take something off the decks so the airship could swing around over the ship. The Los Angeles and the Shenandoah, the one before that, were narrow.
Lust: Yes, slender. The Akron did hook to the Patoka, but it was ticklish. As she swung over the ship, they would hit the bridge. They had to lower the bridge or make some other changes. I have an entire engineering book on this mechanical handling gear; I could send it to you and let you copy it. It explains it very nicely for the Los Angeles and the Akron, and things we didn’t have but that they had later on at Moffett Field. While they were building this mechanical handling gear, I got to Lakehurst in the ground crew. We also helped with that. When we weren’t handling the ship, we were building this mechanical gear, or some parts of it, anyhow. Lieutenant Roland, who was a Lieutenant in those years, was in charge of the ground crew there. He and the engineers would work out these different things, and we and the crew would help out and splice lines and do this and that. They would try different ideas and reject them or add onto them, it didn’t go overnight by any means. Quite technical; to you, it would be nothing.
Q: That’s one reason why I’m so impressed by the rigids; that so much was done with the technology of the time.
Lust: And also there was so little money to do it with in those years; because those were Depression years. The officers had to be very careful with the money that they spent.
Q: It’s really impressive. Even the German ships during the first World War; we didn’t understand the metals, we didn’t have computer modeling and other tools to help understand the aerodynamics. Much of the technology was “build it and test it,” empirical observations. But they worked!
Lust: I will send you a list that I have of all of the men that were lost on the Akron. This is a Navy press release of the next day in 1933. It has all of the officers and enlisted men, their names and next of kin and where they lived. I also have one of the Macon, when she was ditched…I don’t like that word “ditched,” when she was lost off the West Coast. Only one man was killed, the radio operator; he was a good friend of mine.
Q: What was his name?
Lust: Dailey (E.E. Dailey). In fact, he was in my lighter-than-air class. I’ll send you a list from the lighter-than-air class. I got this from another man who has died, in the meantime, on the West Coast. He was at Lakehurst at the same time I was, he went to the same class I did. His name was Hinsburger; I met him at the reunion, and I hadn’t seen him in thirty years. We got to talking, and he said he had a list of our graduating class. I said, “Send me one.” So I had copies made of it. That was list was made in December,
1931. I have so many other things, I keep forgetting. I’m in my eighties, now.
Q: You seem…
Lust: Right on? Yes! Although one ear doesn’t function at all, it was hurt in that accident. There was a fractured skull, pushed in a little. The other ear seems to be working all right.
Q: If there is any other material you think of, please let me know.
Lust: I just finished Ninety Years of Ford; from when he started right up to 1990. A beautiful history of it.
Q: It’s a pretty good company; they treat me pretty well.
Lust: Well, I’m a “Ford man.” As a matter of fact, I was hurt in a Ford car, the Model A. A roadster…it turned over three times.
Q: You were practicing to be a stunt man?
Lust: <laugh> No, I wasn’t even driving it. It was my car, but someone else was driving it….one of those two o’clock in the morning deals. That was a long time ago. Almost everyone I was acquainted with in Lakehurst, most of them have passed on now. There are seven of us left, and two of those are incapable. One has Alzheimer’s, the other has a walker. That’s the one in Florida.
Q: I’ve sent letters to all of them; you’re the first one to respond. I received the list from George Allen*. *George Allen, USN (Ret.), past president of the USNAA)
Lust: It must be the list I gave him.
Q: I’ve also spoken with Captain Watson* in Arizona…*Captain George Watson, USN (Ret.), also a rigid airship veteran, age 94 at the time of this project
Lust: There’s something else I’ll send you. In Buoyant Flight* last year, there was somebody who wrote in there about the Akron; saying that his research, he’s looked things over, and the storm didn’t affect that ship at all…it was mishandling of the crew. Brother! *Buoyant Flight is the magazine of the Lighter-Than-Air Society, Akron, Ohio
Q: What did you think of that?
Lust: I’ll send you that letter. I called Mr. Brothers*, and he put it in Buoyant Flight, whatever issue that was. I got a reply from Captain Watson; he said, “Bully. Finally, somebody has enough nerve to stand up and say something.” *Eric Brothers, editor of Buoyant Flight and a member of the USNAA Historical Action Team
Q: So you think the storm affected it?
Lust: Definitely. It shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Q: Well, we didn’t have good weather forecasting; that was one thing that worked against the airships.
Lust: Commander McCord* and Lieutenant Commander Wiley** did the best they could with the weather information they had. *Commander Frank McCord, last captain of the U.S.S. Akron, **Lieutenant Commander Herbert Wiley was an experienced airship captain and the final captain of the U.S.S. Macon, at this time he was executive officer of the U.S.S. Akron
Q: Wiley survived the crash, though.
Lust: Oh, yes. He retired as an admiral, too. He was a very able officer, although he wasn’t too outgoing. Of course, I didn’t know him personally there, but I flew different times with him there. I thought he was very capable. He flew with Commander Rosendahl; he was Commander Rosendahl’s executive officer while Commander Rosendahl had the Akron. Wiley knew what he was doing.
Q: I’ve come across references that suggest Wiley shouldn’t have dumped as much ballast as he did when he lost the Macon; that the ship was close to being in trim.
Lust: What happened there…I don’t know. The editor of Buoyant Flight before Mr. Brothers suggested they could have brought the ship back if they tried. That’s a lot of baloney. They couldn’t have brought that ship back; I’ve talked to different crew members who were on that flight, especially one who’s alive in Lakewood right now, I see him once a month.
Q: I think I sent him a letter…
Lust: Baker? Commander Willaim A. Baker, USN (Ret.), also a rigid airship veteran, Commander Baker also has participated in this oral history program
Lust: Iannaccone? Mr. John A. Iannaccone, also an airship veteran
Lust: Well, Baker said that as the fin broke off, on the Macon, a bunch of those gas cells, Zero, One, and Two [were punctured]. That made dead weight there. I mean, dead weight. Naturally, there’s no helium in the stern end, right? That kept breaking more girders as you went forward, then the next cell would go, then the next, and the next. That’s why they had to dump all of the ballast, to get up in the air there and try to level the ship off and come down easy, which they did. All were safe, except for the radio man and a Filipino or some such.
Q: I read that the weight of the fin was roughly equal to the loss of lift from the ruptured cells; but this entire unsupported section was crumpling the rest of the frame?
Lust: Absolutely. Once you lose a cell, that section of the ship is dead weight. That section hangs down, and girders break, and you puncture the next cell. Like dominos, you know. The same thing happened to the Akron, I think. They had the same amount of time in the air, the Akron and Macon. The same amount of flying time, and they were similar ships.
This concludes the first interview with John Lust, conducted on March 17, 1996.
Q: I came across a reference in Commander Tobin’s address that referred to a wind-driven propeller that they would lower from the Shenandoah to pump the fuel around; did they have a similar arrangement on the Akron and Macon?
Lust: No, they didn’t have anything like that. Of course, the Shenandoah was an early model. I think there were improvements from the time of the Shenandoah to the Akron; there were quite a few years in between.
Q: Did you have a mechanism for shifting fuel around if necessary, or would you just jettison it?
Lust: I don’t recall shifting fuel around, although I know there were provisions made for it, but I never saw it done.
Q: I understand that they had a telegraph system aboard, like a normal surface ship, to signal the desired engine speed to the engine cars.
Lust: You’re talking about the commands from the bridge to the engines, correct? Of course, the Akron had eight engines, four to port, and four to starboard. In the control car, the engineering officer had a row of toggles, with round disks with the speeds listed: “Stop,” “Go,” “Full Speed,” “Half,” and such. You would pull the toggle and turn the handle to whatever speed you wanted, that would send the information to the engine car. A bell would ring [in the engine car], and you would see the handle move on this round disk. And it would say “Standard Speed,” “Stop,” “Slow,” or whatever. You would pull your own toggle to show that you understood and it was carried out. It was very simple! They called it the annunciator system.
Q: Was there a separate system to indicate propeller tilt?
Lust: That was on the annunciator also, but I never saw it done. We never tilted our props while I was on board. As far as I know, engines #7 & #8, the forward engines, and #1 & #3, the two after engines, one on each side of the ship, were the only ones that I know of that tilted their propellers. You can’t have all eight engines tilted; you might want more speed ahead or reverse; if all the props were tilted they wouldn’t do any good.
Q: You indicated that the engines on the Akron were in engine rooms; was there a catwalk around the engines for you to walk on to service them?
Lust: On the Akron and Macon they had, on each side of the ship running the whole length of the ship, a walkway; we called it a keel. The Los Angeles and the German ships and the Shenandoah had a center keel; from the center keel there were walkways that would go to the openings that would go down to the engine cars. On the Akron and Macon, we had engine rooms, because the engines were inside. You could walk down the keel to whatever engine room you wanted, and open the door and walk right in! There were four engines on each side, of course.
Q: Was the engine sunk into the floor, or was it placed at an appropriate height?
Lust: The engine sat on a cradle, and you walked around the engine. The controls were at the forward part of the engine. You could get to any part of the engine that you wanted. You could walk right around it. Every half an hour, by the clock, and you had to record this in writing in your log, you had to oil the tappets. They were individual cylinders on these engines; in other words, if in number five cylinder something went wrong, you could take the whole cylinder casing off and it would show you the piston. They were individual!
Q: There were individual heads?
Q: So they were designed to allow you to service the engine while it operated?
Lust: That’s correct. Every half hour you would oil the tappets; they were on top, with no covering on them. And you went around and squirted oil on them and recorded it in the log.
Q: What other routine tasks did you have besides oiling the tappets?
Lust: Well, of course, you checked the instrument panel constantly, and saw how the oil pressure and temperature were. That was about all you did; you sat right there and watched it, and when the annunciator changed and the bell rang, you sprang right to action and pulled the toggle.
Q: Was there a radiator system for cooling the engine?
Lust: There were radiators, but they were outside in the airstream.
Q: And the exhaust was ducted into the water recovery system?
Lust: The exhaust would go into the water recovery system and go through the whole height of the ship. It would come back and go into tanks along the keel.
Q: You said that the engines were designed for easy servicing. Were you well-equipped enough to make fairly extensive repairs while in flight?
Lust: Each engine had a complete set of tools for all minor repairs. We never did any major repairs while in flight. Whatever you needed, the tools were there for you to work with. If something was wrong with one of the engines, the engineering officer would come with his assistant and the head chief petty officer, and they would figure out what to do with the engine. In fact, with the Macon I think that they changed an engine while at an expeditionary mast in Florida. An area called Opa-Locka, I think. That’s where they used to land the rigid airships in Florida for the Navy. They changed one engine while something was wrong there; they shipped an engine down from Lakehurst, and changed it while it was hanging at the mast. I wasn’t there, but I was told this.
Q: Who manufactured the engines?
Lust: These were German engines, Maybach engines, five hundred fifty horsepower each, twelve cylinders. They were directly reversible; they had two sets of cams.
Q: These were diesel?
Lust: No, gasoline. The Hindenburg had diesels, and so did the ship they builtafter her and never flew too much, the LZ-130. They had Daimler-Benz diesels.
Q: Were there provisions for drawing electrical power from the engines, or was there a separate generator?
Lust: There was a 120-watt generator on the ship; it was taken care of by a regular mechanic. It was the same type you would have on a boat; a separate generator to make electricity.
Q: Any thing else you can think of interest when it came to running the engines?
Lust: There was nothing to it! Everything was provided there for you: instruments and toggles and such.
Q: You had a four-hour watch, correct?
Q: So you had a two-watch system, two crews?
Lust: That’s correct.
Q: Here’s a question a little bit off the beaten path: How was the food?
Lust: The food was very good. They had coffee twenty-four hours a day, and sandwiches if you wanted them. They had regular meals; a nice breakfast. They didn’t go lunch and dinner, it was three meals a day. They had a very nice galley and very good Navy cooks. We always had good food.
Q: So if you wanted a snack, it was easy to get.
Lust: If you were off watch, and went down to the galley, you could sit down and there was coffee there for you. And it was a nice galley, with a long table and benches on each side where you could sit down. Very comfortable and very nice. Of course, on the Shenandoah they didn’t have that. That was long before my time, but they only had coffee and sandwiches, I think.
Q: How would you pass the time when you were off-duty?
Lust: Most would go to the sleeping quarters and rest a little. I used to walk around the ship and see what I could see because the four hours would go quick. I would look at the gasbags and stuff like that; of course, you weren’t allowed to go into the control car. You could walk around and pass the time away, or go to the galley. They had acey-duecey boards there; that was a kind of game popular in the Navy. Sometimes two or three guys were there, so you could get a game going and pass the time very quickly.
Q: Was the emergency control room in the tail off-limits?
Lust: No, but it was a long way back there! Of course, the ship was seven hundred and eighty-five feet long. I was in there a couple of times, but it was crowded, so I didn’t hang around there much.
Q: Was the view any good?
Lust: Yes! The best view was on the Los Angeles, the #1 engine. That’s the first engine in the stern, it hung in the center. From that car, you could see everything! On the Akron, the only view was through the hole for the outrigger. You could see, but it was a limited view.
Q: Weren’t there also openings on the top of the ship?
Lust: Yes, there were large ventilators on the top of the ship that would release whatever gas was released. Some of the riggers would go up there and check things during flight. Outside was off limits to us, though. I have a book that I loaned to a fellow by the name of Calande*, he was a mechanic on the Akron, also. *Eugene "Pete" Calande, Mr. Calande will also be included in this oral history project
Q: Mr. Calande also has responded to my inquiry.
Lust: He has this book, called the Zeppelin Mechanic*, written by a German. It’s a softcover, and very interesting. They repaired an engine in flight; the whole procedure is right there in the book. Well-written, and written in everyday language, too. It was written in German, and then translated. *The Story of a Zeppelin Mechanic, Bentele
Q: The Akron was covered with canvas, correct?
Lust: No, it was mercerized cotton, and it was painted with dope. The dope would stretch the material.
Q: Like model airplane dope?
Lust: That’s correct. They had the same covering as the airplanes of those years had. When I went to the Aviation Mechanic’s School in Great Lakes, we were taught that it was mercerized cotton number so-and-so.
Q: It was silvered to reflect, correct?
Lust: Yes, to reflect the sun’s rays.
Q: What about the gas cells?
Lust: They were experimenting with different types of materials to hold the gas in these cells. The Germans used something called goldbeater’s skin; I guess you’ve read about that.
Q: It was intestinal linings.
Lust: Yes, from the stomach of an ox or such. They were pasted on there. Goodyear was experimenting with other things, since it was time consuming and they would rot very quickly, also.
Q: So they were looking for something more durable and easier?
Lust: In the latex line or such. We weren’t too interested in that, since the riggers took care of it.
Q: You had mentioned that they were working out bugs and experimenting on the Akron during almost every flight.
Lust: The biggest bug for us was the water recovery system; you had to fix a leak here and there. It wasn’t a nice, smooth-running affair. When the Macon was built, they changed it.
Q: So you had to nurse the water recovery system?
Lust: No, not nurse it. It worked quite well, but you had a leak here and there, with vibration. These were very light tubes, and would vibrate and crack.
Q: So the ship was steady, but these tube would vibrate?
Lust: Yes. The ship was very steady, except you would notice it when you went over mountainous areas; you would yaw a bit from side to side. They were a very smooth ride otherwise.
Q: Were there problems with the trapeze?
Lust: It didn’t work as well...the trapeze in the Akron was built in Lakehurst after the Akron was built; she came to Lakehurst without it. They cannibalized it from the Los Angeles and re-modeled it and fit it to the Akron. Then the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia fabricated the parts for that. It worked quite well, but the Macon’s was improved from mistakes that they saw on the Akron. It seemed to work OK; they would drop the planes and hook them on and it worked quite well.
Q: You had mentioned that the elevator cables had to be tended and shortened fairly regularly.
Lust: Well, not regularly; the Akron didn’t have that many hours. They were checked over by Aviation Metalsmiths; they took care of the wiring. By the way, this fellow Clarke* on your list, we didn’t know he was around at all. I think Captain Kane** got him to surface. I know he was a rigger on the Macon; I think he was on the controls when she went down. I know Conover*** was.
*William Clarke, Mr. Clarke (87 years old) was too ill at the time tof this project to participate
**Captain John C. Kane, Treasurer, U.S. Naval Airship Association
***Commander Wilmer Conover, USN (Ret.), rigger on the U.S.S. Macon, Commander Conover was unable to particpate in the project due to the onset of Alzheimer's Disease
Q: The Los Angeles was kept at Lakehurst and was dismantled later.
Lust: Yes, they experimented with her. They had her on the mast, and left her out there in all kinds of weather. They would check the wind velocity and how she rode; I was not there, but I was told this. They never flew her, though.
Q: Did you ever see the ZMC-2?
Lust: Oh, yes. I helped land that thing many times in the landing crew.
Q: What can you tell me about it?
Lust: It was built right up there near Detroit, by Upson. She was quite a ship, although quite hard to manage because she was so short and fat. She was very maneuverable. Iannaccone* was on the ZMC-2; a mechanic for it. The ZMC-2 was in a smaller hangar, Iannaccone was working down there. I didn’t know him too well in those years. Lieutenant Dugan** was the one who piloted it the most. Do you have the book written about Lieutenant Dugan? It was written by Hook. It tells all about the ZMC-2 at the beginning.*** *Mr. John A. Iannaccone, Lakewood, NJ, ** Lieutenant Hammond Dugan, killed on the Akron, his widow donated a collection of airship related materials to the Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, MD, ***Sky Ship, Hook
Q: There is a collection of his papers at the Maryland Historical Society that his wife donated.
Lust: I think she was from Maryland originally. He was a very nice person; he could handle that ZMC-2. He was really a pro at it! They tell me that when the temperature would change, the helium would expand or contract. They tell me that when the helium would contract, they could hear the metal creaking. She was a very nice little ship.
Q: To land it, they would just drop lines?
Lust: Yes. Sometimes they would land it quite “light,” and you could barely get it down. She had a different arrangement for the control fins in the stern. She had quite a few fins, spaced differently. That was handy, since if the stern gets too close to the ground during takeoff, the fin would hit. She wouldn’t do that.
Q: So it had better ground clearance?
Q: Were they operating other non-rigids?
Lust: Yes, the J-3 and J-4.
Q: The J-3 was lost when it searched for the Akron?
Lust: It shouldn’t have been there in the first place, in that storm. It was a clumsy, clumsy ship. They were early models; the control cars and engines hung below. They weren’t attached to the hull, like modern nonrigids. All the Goodyears, and the later non-rigids the Navy got, the control cars were connected to the ship. But on the J-3 and J-4, they hung below, like on the World War One blimps.
Q: The Shenandoah control car also was suspended by cables, correct?
Q: So you think the fact it was an older design and went into the storm caused its loss?
Lust: All the German ships were built that way; the first one they built with the control car against the main structure was the LZ-100. The control car hung below all of them until the last twenty or so. I think the reason they hung below was to get a better view of the stern. It was a very clumsy affair; you can look at pictures and see what an odd arrangement it was.
Q: So at Lakehurst you had the big rigids and a few blimps operating.
Lust: Yes, the J-3, J-4, and ZMC-2. And we had a kite balloon. A tethered balloon, like they used in World War One for observation. We flew in that at different times. They used to test parachutes from the balloon; in other words, they had dummies made up, the same shape as a man. They weighted 150-200 pounds, and they strapped a parachute on these dummies, and hung them on the basket of the kite balloon. They would pay the winch out and let the balloon rise to a thousand feet or so. They would pull the lever and release the lever and drop the dummy. A line was tied to the ring of the parachute, the part you would pull to release the parachute. It would be fifty or one hundred feet long.
Q: A static line?
Lust: Yes. That would give it so many feet of free fall, and they would keep on testing until they tore one. It was all recorded by the parachute men there. As a matter of fact, they had a parachute school in Lakehurst. We would get flight time in the kite balloon. If you needed more hours, you would get a few rides in the kite balloon.
Q: So to maintain your rating, you needed a certain number of flight hours?
Lust: That’s right. When we went to LTA school we had to fly in it, too. I didn’t like it too much. When they released that parachute, there was a slack in the cable that held the balloon to the winch, and you drop this weight, and you would go up. It would stretch out that cable and it would stop with a certain jerk. You would think, “What if that cable broke?”
Q: You could always take a parachute from a dummy!
Q: What sort of accommodations did you have on the ground?
Lust: When I first arrived, they had an old, wooden barracks. I guess they were there from World War One. They were very comfortable, very nice, steam heated and all that. While I was there, they were building new quarters for us, solid brick buildings, VERY nice. They had nice “head,” or bathrooms. All modern, and half a dozen sinks so you wouldn’t all have to crowd on one. The original ones in Lakehurst were quite crude. The new buildings were like dormitories.
Q: I assume the officers had separate quarters?
Lust: Yes, the chief petty officers had their own quarters. The commissioned officers had the BOQ (Bachelor Officers’ Quarters). Lakehurst was quite a large area, and as you left the hangars you would come to the mess halls and then the barracks, and then the new dormitories were built next to that. About half-a-mile up further is where the officers’ quarters, with the administration building in between.
Q: So the chief petty officers were in the same barracks?
Lust: No, they had their own quarters. That was a very nice rating in the Navy. He was the backbone of the Navy; he knew everything and did everything in his category.
Q: Like a sergeant in the Army?
Lust: Well, a sergeant just bulls around there with the men; the chiefs have ratings: mechanics, bosun’s mates, gunner’s mates, quartermasters. That’s quite a rating. Different uniform, of course. Very nice. They were real gentlemen. You ran the engines, the riggers tended the ship, and the chiefs had all the experience and headed the departments. In fact, in my engine room, Chief Petty Officer Joseph Shevlowitz was in charge of that engine. He was a Shenandoah survivor. A very capable man; he would explain to you how to run the engine, how to act, he new everything.
Q: Did each engine had its own chief petty officer?
Lust: As far as I know. We had one chief petty officer, CPO Russell, was in charge of all Aviation Chief Machinist’s Mates. He had no engine car, he went from one to another. Each car had a chief or first class in there.
Q: How many men did they have in each engine car? Two?
Lust: No, one man. But in my case, there were always two because I was learning. I would be in there with Shevlowitz. He took me under his wing, and showed me things, and he would leave the car and I would run the engine alone while he wasn’t there. He would go out into the keel at talk to different people while I was standing watch. If the annunciator changed, I would change it since I knew what to do.
Q: And the riggers had their own chief officer?
Lust: Yes, they were called Chief Bosun’s Mates. A rigger was a rating in the Navy years back when they had old-fashioned airplanes when they had wiring and such to hold them together. In those years they had Aviation Rigger’s Mates, who did the splicing of wires and things like that. But then, after modern metal planes came in, they dropped that rating. But that left lighter-than-air riggers with no ratings, so they made bosun’s mates out of them.
Q: In the control car, you had the captain, XO, engineering officer, and rudder and elevator men?
Lust: And the aerologist officer. Maybe about five or six officers, each with their own station. They had about eleven, and the others were off-watch.
Q: Did the XO have the “flip” side of the captain’s watch?
Lust: When the captain was on duty, he would give the orders, and the XO would countermand them or follow them up or make suggestions.
Q: In the Akron and Macon, how would you get from the lower keels to the upper one?
Lust: There was a ladder arrangement that went to the center keel and up to the upper. In wartime, I think they would have machine guns up there. I imagine they would...they’d have to. I mean, a plane comes overhead, they have to shoot it down!
Q: Were there winches on board to handle the nose cone or the spider lines?
Lust: The nose cone was paid out by hand, and the winches for the spider lines were on the beam. No winches on the ship. The cables would hook into the side of the ship, and then down and around and up to the next one. One cable would control the whole side.
Q: So you had to thread it?
Q: How long would that take?
Lust: It seemed to go quite quickly. I was always running the winch. I would pay out the winch, and stop when they said stop. Then the order would come to pay it in or out. We would back it in very slowly until we had all the wire nice and tight and give it an extra jerk. You didn’t do it yourself, you had orders to do it. There was chief there to the side, and he would hold his hand up to “Stop,” “Go,” or whatever. You couldn’t see the whole thing from the winch. After we got used to it, it went quite quickly. It took a few landings to get it right, and they kept changing it here and there until they had it the way they wanted.
Q: I was reading about the riding-out circle and mooring circle...
Lust: At Moffett Field, they had one circle. That’s all you needed anyhow. Of course, the German ship would come in and land there, and they could use that circle out of everyone’s way.
Q: To park it there?
Lust: Yes. It was hydrogen-filled, and that kept it away.
Q: You were saying how “Lucky” Deal got his name.
Lust: Back in September 1925, Deal was on the flight list for the Shenandoah, but he had his time for the month. His friend, Joffrey, he didn’t have his time, so he took Deal’s place, and was killed. After a few years, he married the widow.
Q: And he survived the Akron crash, also.
Q: You were one of eight children?
Lust: Yes, the second-born. I have one older sister, all eight of us are alive. My father and mother have passed away.
Q: You had mentioned that you were born in Cuba?
Lust: My father had been well-trained in the lumber and millwork business. His brother, Dr. Benedict Lust, had learned of a large coconut plantation on the northeast coast of Cuba, and asked my father to go down there and look it over. When he arrived there, he soon realized that blight was prevalent and most of the trees were dying; also, that the group running the operation was going bankrupt. This same colony also owned a large lumber-manufacturing sawmill, which was also not producing (mostly because of inexperience and poor management). My father, who was forceful and energetic, decided that with proper management this could be a success, so he bought it. He then returned to Butler, where he married Anna Berberich. They returned to Cuba to start a new life and family in a strange country. The town we lived in was called Palm City, in the province of Camaguey. Itwas in an extremely rural area, with no doctors, nurses, stores, or electricity. The only transportation was by horseback. The inhabitants were all Cubans, and a few European mechanics. My father hired them and got his mill going.
Together, my parents studies Spanish at night with the aid of a Coleman lantern. They adapted themselves to this alien and rustic life and learned to understand and appreciate the native Cubans. Under my father’s energetic and forceful management, the mill turned out to be a huge success. He manufactured orange and vegetable crates for the United Fruit Company, shipped Cuban mahogany to the United States, lumber to the Cuban government, and timbers for bridges and railroad ties. My mother, who had been a skilled secretary, helped immeasurably, typing all his correspondence and taking care of the bookkeeping. She wrote all his letters, not only in English, but also in Spanish and German, as needed. Five of their children were born here, and grew up (rather wildly at times), racing bareback across the savannas and attending a small, rural school. The oldest, Leona, was sent back to the United States to attend a private school in Princeton.
My mother’s mother came down occasionally to visit, see her grandchildren, and bring many supplies that were unavailable in this backwater. As the years went on, the political climate became very fragile, and there were frequent insurrections in the area. Because of this, and because of the very inadequate schooling for their children, my parents decided in 1922 that it was time to return to the Unites States. They bought a house on Valley Road where we lived for many years. There was a large barn on the property (it had once been a farm), and my father converted this into a millwork shop and bought machinery as needed. He also bought a sawmill, and because his millwork shop was in a residential area, he later decided to move the entire operation to a more industrial area.
Here he bought a mill that had at one time manufactured excelsior, a product used at that time as packaging material. It had locally been known as “The Excelsior Tract.” Here he operated the sawmill, manufactured special millwork and built sheds for a lumber yard. When his first car of lumber arrived (I will never forget his chagrin) it was delivered to the Butler railroad station, a half-mile away. The stationmaster informed him that since it had not been consigned to “The Excelsior Tract,” he would have to pay an extra hundred dollars to have the car rolled up to his siding. That was an oversight he would never make again, and he changed the company’s name to “Excelsior Lumber and Millwork Company.”
There were hard years for him during the Depression, when he had to borrow money just to meet his sizable payroll and keep his men working, but he pulled through despite it all. After his death in 1959, I owned and ran the business for fifteen to eighteen years, with the loyal help and encouragement of my wife, Jane. Since I retired, my wife and I have been very active in boating circles. (During my boating career I have owned seven different boats.) All seven of them have beennamed Shenandoah, after the first rigid U.S.-built airship. Our last boat was a thirty-six-foot fiberglass Hatteras sports fisherman-type with twin diesels. We sold it several years ago, but I still maintain my standing and interest in the U.S. Power Squadron, and we attend all their functions.
Our interests now are gardening (mostly vegetables), and trying to outwit the groundhogs which are determined to feast on our plants. I also have a small shop adjacent to our home where I do some minor woodworking.
Q: What is your wife’s maiden name?
Lust: Jane Ahren. Now she is Jane Robinson Lust; she’s of Scottish descent,
from many years back.
This concludes the second interview with John Lust, conducted on March 30, 1996.