Tag Archives: Maybach VL-2

18 September 1928

Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Firedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)
Graf Zeppelin over the airship hangars at Friedrichshafen. (The Lothians collection)

18 September 1928: The rigid airship, Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, made its first flight at Friedrichshafen, Germany.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (the Zeppelin Airship Company). The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

During the next nine years, Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights, including an around the world flight, and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

In his excellent history of the Royal Air Force leading up to the Battle of Britain, Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, describes how Germany used Graf Zeppelin for reconnaissance missions, occasionally overflying the British Isles in poor weather due to “navigational errors.” The airship was scouting for radar sites and RAF radio frequencies. (This airship may have been Graf Zeppelin II, LZ 130.)

Both airships were scrapped and their duralumin structures salvaged.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23–26 August 1929

Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, at Mines Field, Los Angeles, 26 August 1929. (M.J. Ford)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (18xx—1954)
Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868—1954)

The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, 8 August 1929, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first aerial circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ-127was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.
A dining room aboard Graf Zeppelin.

After refueling at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station, Tokyo, Japan, Graf Zeppelin started east across the Pacific Ocean on 23 August, enroute to Los Angeles, California. This leg crossed 5,998 miles (9,653 kilometers) in 79 hours, 3 minutes. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean.

LZ 127 arrived at Mines Field (now, LAX) at 1:50 a.m., 26 August 1929. There were an estimated 50,000 spectators.

Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside.
Airship Graf Zeppelin, D-LZ127, at Los Angeles, 1929. A Goodyear blimp is alongside. (M.J. Ford)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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8 August 1929

Dr. Hugo Eckener (1868–1954)

8 August 1929: The rigid airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127, under the command of Dr. Hugo Eckener, departed Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey, heading east across the Atlantic Ocean on the first circumnavigation by air. The flight was sponsored by publisher William Randolph Hearst, who had placed several correspondents aboard.

Graf Zeppelin was named after Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August Graf von Zeppelin, a German general and count, the founder of the Zeppelin Airship Company. The airship was constructed of a lightweight metal structure covered by a fabric envelope. It was 776 feet (236.6 meters) long. Contained inside were 12 hydrogen-filled buoyancy tanks, fuel tanks, work spaces and crew quarters.

A gondola mounted underneath contained the flight deck, a sitting and dining room and ten passenger cabins. The LZ-127 was manned by a 36 person crew and could carry 24 passengers.

LZ 127 was powered by five water-cooled, fuel injected 33.251 liter (2,029.1 cubic inches) Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 engines producing 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each. Fuel was either gasoline or blau gas, a gaseous fuel similar to propane. The zeppelin’s maximum speed was 80 miles per hour (128 kilometers per hour).

The route of the flight was from Lakehurst NAS to the LZ 127 home base at Friedrichshafen. Germany. After refueling, it continued across Europe, Russia and Siberia, non-stop to Tokyo, Japan, where it moored and refueled at the Kasumigaura Naval Air Station. This leg crossed 7,297 miles (11,743 kilometers) in 101 hours, 49 minutes. After five days in Japan, Graf Zeppelin headed east across the Pacific Ocean to Mines Field, Los Angeles, California. This was the first ever non-stop flight across the Pacific Ocean. The distance was 5,986 miles (9,634 kilometers) and took 79 hours, 54 minutes. The transcontinental flight from Los Angeles back to the starting point at Lakehurst NAS, 2,996 miles (4,822 kilometers), took 51 hours, 13 minutes.

The total elapsed time for the circumnavigation was 21 days, 5 hours, 31 minutes. The route covered 20,651 miles (33,234 kilometers). The actual flight time was 12 days, 12 hours, 13 minutes, an average of 68.786 miles per hour (110.7 kilometers per hour).

Airship Graf Zeppelin, LZ 127. (Alexander Cohrs)

Graf Zeppelin made 590 flights and carried more than 13,000 passengers. It is estimated that it flew more than 1,000,000 miles. After the Hindenburg accident, it was decided to replace the hydrogen buoyancy gas with non-flammable helium. However, the United States government refused to allow the gas to be exported to Germany. With no other source for helium, in June 1938, Graf Zeppelin was deflated and placed in storage.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 February 1935

USS Macon (ZRS-5) recovering two Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk scout biplanes. (U.S. Navy)
USS Macon (ZRS-5) recovering two Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk scout biplanes. (U.S. Navy)

12 February 1935: The United States Navy rigid airship USS Macon (ZRS-5), under the command of Lieutenant Commander Herbert Victor Wiley, crashed into the Pacific Ocean off Monterey Bay, on the central California coastline. The airship soon sank to the sea floor, approximately 1,500 feet (457 meters) below. Of the crew of 76 men, 74 survived.

Captain Herbert Victor Wiley, United States Navy

Lieutenant Commander Wiley was a 1915 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. He had previously served aboard the U.S. Navy’s first rigid airship, USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) and then commanded USS Los Angeles (ZR-3), 1929–1930. He had been assigned as executive officer of USS Akron (ZRS-4) and had been one of only 3 crew members to survive the wreck of that airship off the coast of New Jersey, 4 April 1933. He took command of USS Macon in June 1934. During World War II, Captain Wiley commanded Destroyer Squadron 29 (consisting of thirteen Clemson-class “flush-deck” destoyers) with the Aisatic Fleet, and later, the Colorado-class battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). He rose to the rank of rear admiral before retiring in 1947.

USS Macon was built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation at Akron, Ohio. It was launched 21 April 1933, and commissioned 23 June 1933.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) under construction at the Goodyear Airdock, Akron, Ohio, 1933. (U.S. Navy)

Macon was constructed of duralumin ring frames and girders, covered with a fabric envelope. The rigid airship was 785 feet (239.3 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 132 feet, 10 inches (40.488 meters). The overall height was 146 feet, 2 inches (44.552 meters). The airship displaced 7,401,260 cubic feet of air (209,580 cubic meters). Lift was provided by 6,500,000 cubic feet (184,060 cubic meters) of non-flammable helium gas contained in 12 rubberized fabric gas cells.

Macon had a dead weight of 108.2 tons (98,157 kilograms) and a useful lift of 160,644 pounds (72,867 kilograms).

Maybach VL-2 60° V-12 in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

Propulsion was provided by eight water-cooled, fuel-injected, 33.251 liter (2,029.077-cubic-inch-displacement) Maybach VL-2 overhead valve 60° V-12 gasoline engines producing a maximum 570 horsepower at 1,600 r.p.m., each, or 450 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. for cruise. In addition to gasoline, the VL-2 could also use blau gas (similar to propane) as fuel. The engines were reversible and drove Allison Engineering Co. out-drives, which turned three-bladed fixed-pitch, rotatable propellers. The VL-2 is 6 feet, 5 inches (1.96 meters) long, 3 feet, 0 inches (0.91 meters) wide and 3 feet, 2 inches (0.97 meters) high. It weighs 2,530 pounds (1,148 kilograms).

The airship had a maximum speed of 75.6 knots (87.0 miles per hour, 140.0 kilometers per hour).

USS Macon was armed with eight Browning .30-caliber machine guns for defense. It also carried five Curtiss-Wright Airplane Division F9C-2 Sparrowhawk reconnaissance airplanes in an internal hangar bay. These were small single-place, single-engine biplanes, with a length of 20 feet, 7 inches (6.274 meters) and wingspan of 25 feet, 5 inches (7.747 meters). The Sparrowhawk had an empty weight of 2,114 pounds (959 kilograms) and loaded weight of 2,776 pounds (1,259 kilograms).

The F9C-2 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 971.930-cubic-inch displacement (15.927 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Whirlwind R-975E-3 (R-975-11, -24 or -26) nine-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.3:1. The R-975E-3 had a normal power rating of 420 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m., and 440 to 450 horsepower at 2,250 r.p.m. for takeoff, depending on variant. These were direct drive engines which turned two-bladed propellers. They were 3 feet, 7.00 inches to 3 feet, 7.47 inches (1.092–1.104 meters) long, 3 feet, 11 inches to 3 feet, 11.25 inches (1.143–1.149 meters) in diameter, and weighed from 660 to 700 pounds (299–317.5 kilograms).

The Sparrowhawk had a maximum speed of 176 miles per hour (283 kilometers per hour), a range of 297 miles (478 kilometers) and a service ceiling of 19,200 feet (5,852 meters).

The airplane was armed with two fixed Browning .30-caliber machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

Four of Macon‘s fighters, Bureau of Aeronautics serial numbers A9058–A9061, were lost when the airship went down.

Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk, Bu. No. 9056. (U.S. Navy)
Curtiss-Wright F9C-2 Sparrowhawk, Bu. No. A9056. (U.S. Navy)

During an earlier transcontinental flight, USS Macon had encountered severe turbulence while crossing mountains in Arizona. A diagonal girder in one of the ring frames failed. Temporary repairs were made, but permanent repairs were deferred until the next scheduled overhaul.

On 12 February 1935, the airship flew into a storm near Point Sur, California. The ring frame failed and the upper vertical fin was lost. Pieces of broken girders punctured several of the aft helium cells.

With the loss of helium, Macon lost rear buoyancy and began to settle. To compensate, all engines were run at full power and ballast was released. The airship began to climb with a nose-up pitch angle. When it passed 2,800 feet (853.4 meters) altitude, it reached its Pressure Altitude Limit. At this point, expanding helium began to vent from the gas cells. Macon continued rising until reaching 4,850 feet (1,478.3 meters), by which time it had lost so much helium that the engines could no longer keep it airborne and it again began to settle toward the ocean’s surface. The descent took twenty minutes.

One sailor jumped from the airship, but did not survive the fall. Another swam back to the sinking ship to collect personal belongings and drowned. The rest of the crew was rescued by the light cruiser USS Richmond (CL-9).

USS Macon was the U.S. Navy’s last rigid airship. For the next twenty years, all lighter-than-air craft were non-rigid “blimps”.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) is seen from directly below as it passes over San Diego, California, 9 February 1934. (U.S. Navy)
USS Macon (ZRS-5) is seen from directly below as it passes over San Diego, California, 9 February 1934. (U.S. Navy)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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