200 Plus

Huge Plans for Lakehurst Site

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Nov 27, 2019

For most of World War I, the military operations at Camp Kendrick, in Lakehurst, had been kept secret because they dealt with the testing of chemical weapons. With the coming of peace, the operations became known, and by the spring of 1919 speculation grew as it was announced that the Navy planned to buy the facility from the Army. Most people learned what would turn a secret base into one of the most famous locations in the world when the Philadelphia Public Ledger broke a story on July 7, 1919.

“Plans are being completed for the building of a huge dirigible at the naval aircraft factory at League Island Navy Yard, similar to the British airship R-34, which has just crossed the Atlantic in an epochal flight, according to Commander Coburn, U.S.N., in charge at the factory. … In about a year this machine will attempt to fly from here to Europe, probably being the first American dirigible to try to emulate the feat of the R-34.

“An airfield will be established at Lakehurst, N.J., which will be one mile square and will contain hangars and accommodations capable of housing the great blimp.”

The commander outlined the project for the press, saying, “The plans for this dirigible are virtually completed … and in some small details the actual construction is about to begin. The parts for the machine will be built at the factory here. The gauges, propellers, framework, all of the mechanical devices and appliances which go to make an aircraft of this type a piece of wonder construction, will be completed at this plant and then the whole apparatus will be taken to the field at Lakehurst and assembled.

“Our own men will do the work, both here and at Lakehurst, and the only reason that we cannot assemble the dirigible at the navy yard is because there is not a field here which is large enough to serve as an assembling ground. A field at least a mile square is needed and of course we cannot find such a territory in the yard. … Therefore the field at Lakehurst will be utilized. This tract of land was formerly an army site, but it has now been taken over by the navy, and the work on the hangars will soon be started.”

The proposed Navy dirigible “will be similar in most respects to the R-34 … but our task in constructing this aircraft will be immeasurably more difficult than that which faced the British, for they used as a model the German dirigible L-33, which they captured without destroying any of the parts and which was always before them when they made the R-34 and others of that type. … Without such a model our work will be attended with many difficulties and will proceed more slowly, but in a year I expect to see the American ‘boat’ swing up from the fields at Lakehurst and start on her journey across the sea.”

The Navy’s plan was staggering. If the dirigible was to be assembled at Lakehurst, the hangar had to be completed in less than a year. The Long Branch Daily Record explained on July 10, “New Jersey is to have the credit of erecting the first big airship in this country that will be as large as the British dirigible R-34, and the State also will have the first airfield expansive enough to accommodate aircraft of such great (size).

“It is the intention of the Navy Department to establish this airfield at Lakehurst, covering an area of a square mile. It will be equipped with hangars and anchorages of sufficient capacity to accommodate the largest airship ever built. The parts of the craft will be made probably at Philadelphia navy yard, and workmen will assemble them at the projected field at Lakehurst.”

While early reports focused on the dirigible, it was the hangar that would become one of the wonders of the modern world. The Akron Journal of July 25 noted, “A thirty million cubic feet hangar for dirigibles has been ordered by the navy department. The site for the structure was selected at Lakehurst, N.J., and work will begin at once. … It was stated that the proposed hangar would be the most capacious single room in the United States and probably in the world.”

The next day the Asbury Park Press began to fill in details.

“Plans completed by naval engineers and approved by Secretary Daniels, call for the erection at Lakehurst, N.J., of one of the largest dirigible hangars in the world. Construction will be started immediately with a view to completion in time to house the dirigible, which the navy is to purchase abroad and bring to this country next spring.”

As the size of the hangar was announced, it became clear it would be a massive undertaking.

“The hangar will be constructed entirely of steel and will be 300 feet long, 265 feet wide and 174 feet high, with provision for additional sections as needed. The building is designed to house one 10,000,000 cubic feet dirigible and two smaller ones or two 5,000,000 cubic feet ships. No dirigibles of even the latter capacity have as yet been constructed.

“The hangar will be larger than the concourse of the Union railway terminal at Washington. The great concourse is 760 feet long, 126 feet wide and 50 feet high.”

Those dimensions were for the inside unobstructed floor space.

“The outside dimensions of the hangar are even greater. The space actually occupied will be 920 feet long and 352 feet wide. The doors, of which there will be four, two at each end, are 129 feet wide and 174 feet high.

“The steel tonnage will exceed 6,000 tons, and the cubic contents of the building will be 50,000,000 feet. It will be covered with colored, corrugated asbestos, which will make it fireproof. A series of windows and skylights on all sides will afford ample light, while there will be numerous staircases and two huge elevators leading to the roof. In the spaces between the great trusses will be placed numerous shops for the use of the aviators.

“Three railroad tracks will run the length of the hangar.”

On Aug. 12, just over a month since the project was announced, the Asbury Park paper reported, “Work on the huge dirigible hangar under construction here for the navy department is being rushed by engineers and mechanics. Officials say that by the time the hangar is completed America’s first great rigid dirigible will be ready for assembling at the field here.

“Announcement has been made by the war department that the proving grounds near here used during the war for experimenting on and testing deadly poison gases are to be continued for that purpose. It is reported that 40,000 additional acres will be added to the present government reservation.”

One week later the Lakewood Citizen gave an update.

“Arrangements were made recently between the Navy Department and the Central Railroad of New Jersey, by which a spur, 8000 feet long (one and a half miles) will be built into Camp Kendrick, to haul in the supplies for the huge hangar to be erected there, and also the parts of the big blimp, which is (to be) assembled at Kendrick.”

Meanwhile at the site, “A large force of engineers is already on the ground at Kendrick, and several hundred workers. Some are clearing off the ground; some are driving piling on which to erect concrete foundations for the big hangar; some are at work grading and laying the siding in from the railroad; others are building roads, etc. It is said that they want all the labor they can get and are anxious to get more men. All the cottages around Lakehurst have been bargained for by officers and higher paid men among the construction force. The workers who are brought from a distance will probably be housed in the barracks.”

As hangar number one nears its 100th birthday, it is hard to believe it was erected in such a short time and is still there.

Next Week: The “Big Room.”

tpfcjf@comcast.net

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.