The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #15327   Message #2247576
Posted By: catspaw49
28-Jan-08 - 10:37 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
Subject: RE: Lyr Req: Wreck of the Shenandoah
I wanted to come back here and add a few things that aren't really important to the song but relate to the actual events surrounding the Shenandoah. It seems the tale of this airship has touched my life at a number of different points so it made me want to come back here and put a few more details on her story that may not matter except to me and a few other nuts.

Afterwards much was made of Captain Lansdowne's unwillingness to do this flight but as usual, a number of different stories have come together over the years and now are taken as truth, when in fact it has blurred the truth. The first of these was that Lansdowne was pressured to make this flight against all good judgement. While it is true that he hated using the Shenandoah for political missions to help the Navy keep its air programs alive and fund both LTA and fixed wing programs, he was in fact an naval officer, academy trained, and knew this was part of his job as Captain of what was at the time, the best piece of promotional material the Navy had.

What Zachary Lansdowne wanted was to make the flight on his terms and to that end had lobbied Navy honchos to postpone it past the thunderstorm season. Like him, I am Ohioian born and bred and agree the summer months can be terrible in all of the Great Lakes states and this promotional tour was designed to cover that portion of the midwest.   It had been originally scheduled for June but a letter sent by him to his superiors made the case to postpone it til latter.

Here is where a major portion of the later blurring comes into play. In the letter he asked to delay the flight until after the thunderstorm season and then, in parentheses, the word "September." Did he mean it was okay to go in September or that September was the last month of the storm season? Whatever way it was he took the flight without complaint when it was rescheduled for September. Well, he did complain but because he detested using the big airship for anything less than operational purposes. To the Navy though, this WAS an operational purpose.

Lansdowne also stated to others that he "would be glad when this flight was over." Later this was taken to mean he had bad feelings toward the entire venture, a premonition if you will. But as one of the very best airship men in the United States and as a well trained and well tested Naval officer, he was not a man who believed in clairvoyant feelings nor was he the type to be stricken with self doubt. Once underway there were very few men in the entire world who could handle an airship as well. Back then to advance past his current rank of Lieutenant Commander he would need additional sea duty and that's where he was going next. This was his last flight as Captain of the Shenandoah and though he was an airship man he was also anxious to get on with the upward climb of his career which the sea duty would provide. Sadly this statement when combined with his previous request regarding the summer months have come together to form a myth that takes honor away from the man that Lansdowne was and turns him into a frightened whiner......something that Zachary Lansdowne most certainly was not.

His wife testified against the Navy and refused to give up her truthful testimony that he did not wish to make the flight. Again though, he didn't want to make ANY flight that wasn't operational in nature. Frankly, he was right. But without the bucks which a promotional tour could provide many Navy programs would be lost or, God forbid, be given to the Army. But somehow over the years we have come to believe that he had premonitions of the disaster due to all of the above. He didn't. He was a line officer and wanted to keep the bullshit stuff to a minimum.

The ship itself was an interesting contradiction. Shenandoah was the most modern of the rigid airships and boasted many firsts. But although many would not or could not admit it, the day of the rigid was over and subsequent ships like the Akron and the Macon were basically exercises in futility. On the other hand, to most of the population in 1925 she was simply amazing and sight to behold as we might view the Space Shuttle were it toured around the country. She seemed quite modern and was as monstrously large as anything that has ever taken to the air.   Think about it......If you watch the Super Bowl this week, the entire field WITH the endzones would be only HALF of her 680 foot length. I mean really.....think of what that must have looked like only a few thousand feet overhead. Kinda' boggles my mind!

When she was unable to avoid the two storms which were converging upon her that early morning many possiblities for her loss were put forth. Everything from engines to valving of the helium was blamed and probably, as in any air disaster, there are a multitude of factors which all had a part. The one thing that was not well known at the time was something with which we have become all too familiar today and that is wind sheer. Most histories of the wreck say she was "wrenched apart" or twisted by the storm. What has become apparent with years of hindsight and analysis is that Shenandoah may well have been the first victim of wind sheer. It is also probable that her extreme length, almost exactly one eighth of a mile, put her not just in one weather event but two at the same time.

Hopefully this all adds a bit to the story. I've been around to a few of the larger libraries and also was able to purchase a couple of good books lately including a nice text named "Shenandoah Saga" by Thom Hook(LOL...even got me an autographed copy!), written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her commissioning. A small but authoritative text by C.L. Keller also provided some good information in a very cut and dried, informational format.

Although I've been unable to meet the Raynors who run the museum in Ada, I have visited the three crash sites in the past weeks and it brings you somehow a bit closer to the events of that day over 80 years ago. I-77 passes directly next to the place where the stern section came to rest and there is a sign and a flag toward the back of that field, basically unreadable from the interstate while at speed.   I wonder how many people go past everyday and wonder why there is a flag in a remote field and if they can read the name U.S.S. Shenandoah on the sign how many have even the slightest idea about what it might be about. But then that's to be expected isn't it?