Lieutenant Commander Zachary Lansdowne
"Prior to the start, Lieut. Commander Zachary Lansdowne of the United States Navy, a passenger on the R-34 at the invitation of the British Admiralty said, There is no doubt whatever in my mind, or, I believe, in the minds of any of the crew, that we will get over without difficulty.
Commander Lansdowne is a firm believer in the practicability of the lighter-than-air machine, and has devoted all of his time during the war (WWI) studying this branch of aviation. It was very good of the Admiralty to extend an invitation to our Navy Department that an American be included in the crew on this pioneer flight. I see no particular reason why the Admiralty should have selected me, but, believe me, I am glad of the opportunity. As I understand it, we will not attempt any speed trial. We will cross as quickly as possible, avoiding adverse winds, but at the same time not overlooking any opportunity for observations likely to be of aid in the future to navigators and airship pilots crossing the Atlantic." (from the New York Times, July, 2, 1919.)
Map from Flight: The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, Royal Aero Club, 10 July, 1919, London
R 34 Airship Log, July 5, 1919, 12.30 p.m.—Lunch. The petrol question has become distinctly serious. Shotter has been totalling up the available petrol resources with anxious care. We have 500 miles to go to New York, and, if we do not get any wind or bad weather against us, we will do it all right with two engines, assisted occasionally by the third engine. We can't afford to run all five at once owing to the petrol consumption. Lieut.-Com. Lansdowne, of the United States Naval Airship Service, sends a signal on behalf of R34 to the United States authorities at Washington and Boston to send destroyer to take us in tow in case we should run out of petrol during the night. The idea is that we could then be towed by a destroyer during the hours of darkness and at dawn cast off and fly to Long Island under our own power. Let us hope that this won't be necessary. It is now rainy and foggy, which is the kind of weather that suits us now, as rain generally means no wind. (from "The Log of H.M.A. R 34 Journey to America and Back" by Air Commodore E. M. Maitland.) No tow was necessary.
British R 34 after landing at Hazelhurst Field, Mineloa, Long Island, New York on July 5, 1919.
Following the first east-to-west transatlantic flight, which also set a record for the longest time in the air (108 hours, 12 minutes), Lt. Cmdr. Lansdowne, whose story of the trip was printed in the Daily Telegraph, stated:
I thoroughly believe that the future of the airship for commercial aviation has been established. I make this assertion from my personal observation aboard the R.34. I earnestly hope that America in this matter will keep pace with our progressive cousins across the sea. Such coordination, I firmly believe, will augment, if that is possible, the close relationship that binds the two great English-speaking peoples.
Zachary Lansdowne was awarded the Navy Cross for "distinguished service" on the first east-to-west transatlantic flight from East Fortune, Scotland to Mineola, NY by British airship R34 from 2-5 July 1919.
See the entire New York Times article by Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Lansdowne from July 7, 1919.
USS SHENANDOAH (ZR-1) under construction at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey 1923
After construction was completed at NAS Lakehurst in August 1923, Zachary Lansdowne remarked: We now have in the rigid airship perhaps the safest known means of transportation. I cannot see any danger whatsoever that might possibly occur to personnel or passengers. Following several test flights in September and October, the USS Shenandoah was christened on October 10, 1923 under the command of Cmdr. Frank R. McCrary (Naval Aviator #91). On February 11, 1924, Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Lansdowne (Naval Aviator #105) assumed command of ZR-1 partly because of disagreements between McCrary and Anton Heinen, German consultant of ZR-1 designer Cmdr. Ralph Weyerbacher, based on an article in Time Magazine. Rear Admiral William Moffett, chief of the USN Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer), chose Lansdowne primarily because of his experience with rigid airships. Commander T. G. W. Settle, USN Executive Officer, described Lansdowne as ...a capable, experienced airship officer; he flew and handled his own ship (the only airship captain in our service who has done this, to the best of my knowledge), he was in no sense a 'prima donna' and desired only to be left alone to operate the ship as a naval vessel.
Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Lansdowne on the USS SHENANDOAH in 1924
First mooring of a rigid airship to a surface ship
The USS SHENANDOAH moored to the airship mast of the USS PATOKA on August 8, 1924
First round-trip transcontinental flight
The USS SHENANDOAH (ZR-1) over Point Loma San Diego, CA Harbor, October 16, 1924
Planned by and carried out under the command of Lansdowne, the 19-day transcontinental flight started on October 7, 1924 and covered 9,317 miles without the use of a hangar. Beginning at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, ZR-1 headed southwest to Texas, then along the Mexican border and up the west coast to Seattle, Washington. On the return trip, the ZR-1 backtracked as far as Fort Worth, Texas, then headed north through the Midwest before turning east to NAS Lakehurst. The Secretary of the Navy commended Lansdowne for the successful completion of the longest journey ever made by an airship... The trip demonstrated the capability of airships. In 1924, no transcontinental air passenger service existed, and the only transcontinental airmail was between New York and San Francisco. Thus, many people considered the USS SHENANDOAH's transcontinental flight as the precursor to future commercial passenger service.
First high-frequency radio equipment carried and used on aircraft
Because they weighed much less than the half-ton, medium-wavelength radio sets of the day, the Naval Research Laboratory at Bellevue, Washington designed powerful, new, light-weight, low-wavelength radios for use in aircraft. The first high-frequency aircraft radio was used on the ZR-1 control car in July of 1925.
Besides being the first helium-filled rigid airship, Lansdowne's SHENANDOAH made several other airship firsts:
1925 Navy Issue High Frequency Receiver
The USS SHENANDOAH (ZR-1) moored to a mast at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey.
On September 3, 1925, the USS SHENANDOAH crashed near Ava, Ohio during bad weather. Lt. Cmdr. Zachary Lansdowne was among the 14 crewmen killed. There were 30 survivors including Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Rosendahl who became a Rear Admiral and Chief of Naval Airship Training Command during WWII.
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The USS SHENANDOAH bow section in southeastern Ohio after the crash September 3, 1925.
Zachary Lansdowne was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
Photo by M.R. Patterson, October 2007 (Arlington)
Read Time Magazine's report of the Naval Court of Inquiry into the crash of the SHENANDOAH.