In honor of Alan CrossHometown: Foley(Submitted August 21, 2008 by Bob Cross)
Narrative as told by Alan Cross: We had delivered a new blimp from NAS Lakehurst to the operating squadron at NAS Glynco, GA. It was planned that our crew would be flown back to Lakehurst in a day or two by heavier-than-air craft. After a full day of sitting around, our captain called us together and told us we'd been ordered to ferry an old blimp back to Lakehurst for teardown. He was very upset and gave us our liberty cards, telling us whatever we did that night in town was all right with him. We later learned he'd argued all day against flying this old ship. We went to the closest beer hall and tried to drink as much beer as we could.
About the time we were full we met a chief petty officer that, when told we were the crew ferrying the old ship the next day, took us in his car to his own secret bar. Somewhat after closing time he dumped us back at the base bunk room. We were rousted out for flight well before daylight. On the East coast the hours around dawn are usually the quietest and safest for blimp launches. When we saw the ship in the hangar we collectively gasped. I had never seen such a decrepit flying machine in my life. Paint was missing from the car and there was an emergency landing wheel rigged to the bottom of the car with nylon strapping. One propeller was different. We quickly learned that the ship had made a bad carrier landing some weeks previously and tore the landing gear off while wiping out a prop on the carrier's flight deck. The destroyed prop had been replaced by a WWII vintage fixed pitch prop salvaged from a junked transport plane and that the bag or envelope was two years overage for legal flight. A blimp's bag is made of multiple plies of rubberized fabric and is supposed to be taken out of service after a certain number of months of inflation, all adjusted and governed by the amount of sunlight it received while in service. The ship was underinflated to reduce the strain on the fabric and we were warned to not exceed 50 knots airspeed. Blimps of that type were normally limited to 65 knots airspeed redline.
We and our chow box were placed on the ship and the entire base ground crew maneuvered us out of the hangar by hand. We started our engines and were airborne. We had no sooner got airborne than we shut down the engine that had the improper prop. The makeshift prop was causing severe engine vibration.
We then established a course for Lakehurst and about 9:00 AM the pilot got on the intercom and asked our rigger to check the food box. He said, "Lets see if those bastards sent us off on this mission with nothing but crackers and water too." The rigger soon called back and said that the food box was filled with bread, onions, butter and steaks. The pilot said, "Lets just have a steak smothered in onions on bread for a starter." The navigator and the co-pilot were too hungover to want to eat so the rigger and I had the second and third steaks. As a matter of fact there were enough steaks that we ate them all the way to Lakehurst, fried in butter and smothered in onions fried in butter. We encountered some head winds while moving up the coast and with our airspeed limit of 50 knots occasionally could only make good about 15-20 knots ground speed.
We arrived at Lakehurst in a dead calm about 9:00 PM and carefully made a long straight-in approach. The ship was rolled into the tear-down hanger and secured and we went home for some well-earned rest. During that same night, the ship's bag split lengthwise and the car crashed to the hanger floor. Our luck had carried us just far enough. Blimps have gone down with huge rips in them and with the bag full of machine gun holes and always sank slowly enough to save the crew but none had ever split full length before.
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