Saturday, October 07, 2006

Gasbag Blogging

Lawyers, Guns and Money recommends itself by its name, the quality of its writing, and, as a special treat, their wildly popular (at least to 33% of this blog's contributors) Sunday Battleship Blogging.

Those who know me know that I think battleships are cool. However, battleships are trumped on my Coolness Scale by Zeppelins. Although thank God Count Zeppelin developed them and not, say, Count Schmidt. Schmidts are not cool, no matter what.*

Not many people (although more than the number of readers of this blog) know that the US Navy experimented with Zeppelin-type airships between the world wars. Shenandoah, Los Angeles (an actual Zeppelin delivered as part of Germany's war reparations to the US), Akron and Macon served as long-range scouts for battle fleets. Akron and Macon actually had hangars for scout aircraft built into them, and were able to launch and retrieve planes in flight.

Unfortunately all but USS Los Angeles were lost in crashes and the Navy turned its attention to blimps and aircraft carriers to fill its reconaissance needs. (Los Angeles' career was not without incident, as this photo of the ship's adverse reaction to a tailwind and atmospheric conditions demonstrates.)

One of the most fun things I ever did was ride in a 1927 trainer airplane that was used by Navy pilots learning to take off and land from USS Akron. For my birthday Laura had gotten me a "biplane ride" at this field in Fredericksburg, VA, and she figured it would be the same as a flight she had taken on her 18th birthday in one of the ubiquitous Stearman trainers - plane takes off, plane flies level at low altitude for a bit, plane lands. When we got to the airfield, I was given a choice of the "regular" flight or "aerobatic" flight, described by the kid running the ticket booth as "loops, barrel rolls, things like that." To Laura's horror, but I suspect not surprise, I chose the aerobatic ride in what turned out to be not only a smaller but probably older plane than the stock Stearman.

There was a momentary pause as I was fitted with a parachute, but the ride itself was like a roller coaster, only starting at about a thousand feet and with no rails, and BETTER THAN ANY ROLLER COASTER EVER. Loops, Immelman turns, barrel rolls, stall dives, the whole thing, all piloted by a guy who flew Continental for a living. There was a longer momentary pause prior to landing at the (literally a) field: as we came in over the treetops and power lines at the edge of the field, the pilot cut the engine and we glided in for a landing.

*I am referring to eponymously-named things invented by people named Schmidt, not the people themselves. To my recollection I have met very few Schmidts and was not predisposed to consider them uncool.

Update 10/8: Asteriskal part changed to reflect the fact that I know at least one Schmidt. Apologies to KS.


jjv said...

66%. I watched 10 greatest fighting ships on cable yesterday with they boys. As the tween wars battleships fired the boys yelled "volcanos!" Also, did you ever see that Angela Jolie movie, somebody and the world of tomorrow where everyone has zepplins? Also, the Rocketeer has good Zepplin scenes if I remember correctly.

Dave S. said...

Every Angelina Jolie movie has zeppelins in it. I can't believe you passed that one up.

I did indeed see Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It was disappointing but it set the bar so high that it couldn't have been anything but. Clearly we did not share our near-monopoly on helium with Sky Captain's pals.

jjv said...

ARRGGGGGGHHH!!!!! I can't believe I let it go either! The ignominy.