|Manufacturer||Goodyear Aircraft Corporation|
|Maiden Flight||6 December 1938|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseThe K-class airship was a non-rigid airship, or blimp, that was developed from early 1930s designs. The Goodyear Corporation had been using airships for advertising purposes since 1925 and they became the foremost producer of airships in the United States. In 1937, the US Navy ordered a prototype airship from Goodyear that was larger than Goodyear's standard advertising and passenger blimp. The prototype was designated the K-2 and was the first of the K-class design. K-2 first flew on December 6, 1938 in Akron, Ohio and ten days later it was delivered to the Navy's Lighter-Than-Air station at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The K-2 was the largest non-rigid US Navy airship up to that point but the envelopes of the K-class blimps that followed were increasingly a little larger with each group ordered. The final K-class envelopes held 425,000 cubic feet of helium.
ww2dbaseLike other airships, K-class ships were primarily used for anti-submarine patrols and convoy escorts in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans as well as the Caribbean and Mediterranean Seas. Airships also patrolled for mines, looked for shipwrecked crews, and searched for downed airmen. In the K-class, all crew members and equipment were carried in a forty foot long control car, or gondola, suspended from the bottom of the envelope. The airships were equipped with early radar, sonobuoys, and magnetic anomaly detection equipment. The K-class carried one .50 caliber Browning M2 machine gun and four Mk-47 aerial depth charges. An aircrew of 10 normally operated the K-class ships, a command pilot, two co-pilots, a navigator/pilot, airship rigger, an ordnanceman, two mechanics, and two radiomen. The ability of the airships to loiter for hours, operate at low altitudes, and fly at low speeds uniquely enabled the lighter-than-air craft to fulfill their anti-submarine warfare mission.
ww2dbaseThroughout World War II, airships were stationed along all major American shipping corridors as far south as the coast of Brazil. Plans were made early on to extend the airship's reach into the Pacific with a mooring mast built on the Ewa Plain on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, but no airships ever travelled to Hawaii. K-class airships, along with L-class and G-class, escorted numerous merchant convoys through U-Boat filled waters without ever losing a ship to submarine attack. Those who served in the airship service are very proud of that fact. Navy Airship Patrol Squadron ZP-14 flying K-class blimps from Craw Field, Port Lyautey, French Morocco (now Kenitra Air Base, Morocco) also successfully denied German U-Boats the use of the Straits of Gibraltar from June 1, 1944 through the end of the war. In early 1945, airships in the Mediterranean region also escorted the convoy carrying Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to the Yalta Conference in the Black Sea.
ww2dbaseOfficially, only one American airship was lost to enemy action and it was a K-class. On July 18, 1943, the K-74 of ZP-21 was shot down by U-134 in the Bahamas 140 miles east of Miami, Florida. The entire crew escaped the control car but eight hours after the attack, one crewmember drowned following a shark attack shortly before all others were rescued. This was the only airship confirmed to have been shot down but actually may not have been the only one. On July 2, 1944, K-14 of ZP-11 was searching for a U-Boat thought to be operating 23 miles off the coast of Maine. The blimp lost buoyancy, settled tail first into the Atlantic, and 6 men were killed. This has always been classified as an accident but holes were found in the after end of the envelope that could have been bullet holes. Post-war U-Boat records do not list a U-Boat in the area at the time.
ww2dbaseThe Navy's Lighter-than-Air program generally and the K-class airships in particular continued their successful service after the war with the last K-class blimp retiring in 1959. Throughout their lifespan, 134 K-class airships were built and all were delivered to the US Navy.
US Navy publication: Kite Balloons to Airships...the Navy's Lighter-than-Air Experience, 1986
US Navy Records & War Diaries
Naval Airships Association
RBF Consulting: The Tustin Hangars-Titans of History, 2008
Defense Media Network
Military History Now
Steampunk Empire: K-Class Navy Blimp
Last Major Revision: Dec 2014
K-Class Airship Timeline
|6 Dec 1938||The K-2 airship took its first flight over Akron, Ohio, United States.|
|Machinery||2 Pratt & Whitney 'Wasp' R-1340 Radial Engines (550hp each)|
|Armament||1 Browning M2 50 cal machine gun / 4 Mk 47 160 kg (350lb) Aerial Depth Charges|
|Speed, Maximum||125 km/h|
|Speed, Cruising||93 km/h|
|Range, Normal||3,537 km|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939