History of Moffett Field
McDonough, a former school teacher, volunteer at the Navy Museum
Treasure Island and an Electronics Technician in the Navy during the
War, has been involved with preserving the history of Moffett Field
the last ten years. As President and Co-director of the Moffett Field
Society, Bernie and other volunteers recently celebrated the
of the museum, closed since 2002, in the remodeled building
used to house the Computer History Museum.
will recount the history of Moffett Field from the purchasing of the
its use as a facility for lighter than air craft during World War II
present day activities, and describe some of the exhibits, photographs
other artifacts available for viewing at the museum. He will also
to clean up Hangar One, and register the huge facility as a national
began his talk by explaining that Hanger One, the big building on
Moffett Field, was originally built to house rigid airships up to 900
feet long and about 170 feet in diameter. At the time the Navy built
it, they had ten 750 foot long airships in their plans. It turned out
they only had four of them that made it into service. The first was the
Los Angeles, which they got from the Germans at the end of WW I, was
657 foot long. The first one built in the USA was the Shenendoah, 681
feet long. Then the Akron, the Macon, which were 785 feet long and had
tanks that held 6,500,000 cubic feet of Helium in their balloons. To
date they are still the biggest Helium airships ever built. A major
driving force behind the airship program was Admiral Moffett, whose
name is still on Moffett field today.
Akron and Macon airships were built by the Goodyear-Zepplin Corporation
in Akron, Ohio. Some of the technology came from the Germans who
developed it during WW I. They had many nifty features including four
scout planes they could send out to look for enemy ships or fleets.
(This was before the days when RADAR automated scouting.) Cruising
speed was about 40 to 50 miles per hour, but top speed was more like 85
MPH. Generally the only time they went full speed was when they were
dropping or picking up airplanes.
rigid airships weren't the safest aircraft ever designed. The Akron
went down during a severe weather event with Admiral Moffett and a crew
of 75, 73 of whom died when it fell out of the sky. Luckily, 3 crew
members were rescued. Something similar happened to the Shenendoah. The
Macon patrolled for Naval craft off the pacific coast until an accident
of some sort caused the upper tail fin to fall off, puncturing too many
of the Helium bags for it too stay aloft. It settled on the ocean about
12 miles off Point Sur, where all but two of the crew were able to get
on the life rafts and escape. Unfortunately one guy who had lost his
glasses jumped while his end was still 175 feet up, and he died. The
other casualty was somebody whom they think asphyxiated himself
accidentally by trying to breathe Helium without realizing it. After
that the Los Angeles was retired to Lakehurst, where it was used for
tests for many years and then taken apart in 1939.
Field was an agricultural ranchero for many years, up until the early
1900s, when the pieces were sold to smaller farmers. A Naval Board
studied the Pacific Coast, and concluded that the Santa Clara Valley
was as good a place as any to host lighter than air craft, so a local
citizens group put together the land parcel the Navy needed for the
airfield and sold it to them for a dollar. Hanger One was built there
in such a way that it lined up with the prevailing winds in the area,
making it easy to get dirigibles in and out of the building. Since then
many other buildings and some runways and other stuff have been added
to the facility.
finished his talk by inviting everybody to come on down to the Moffett
Field Museum, which is open Wednesday to Saturday from 10 AM to 2 PM in
Building 126, where the Computer Museum used to be housed. All you need
to do to get onto the base is show a valid photo ID to the guard at the
gate. For more information, please visit:
Q&A a number of interesting points came up:
airplanes were called Sparrowhawks. They were single seat biplanes with
hooks that attached to the airships. If you want to see a film of one
taking off and landing, come on down to the museum.
Helium to keep the planes aloft mostly came from oil wells near
Amarillo, Texas. At first it was very expensive, but eventually got a
lot cheaper. Hanger one had a plant that could be used to repurify the
stuff if it got contaminated with normal air, using cold temperatures
and charcoal filters, etc.
crew was about 80 people because there were eight engines, and each one
needed a crew of three people, and they needed three shifts of them so
the thing could operate continuously. The rest of the crew were
officers for the bridge and Sparrowhawk pilots.
they couldn't afford to vent Helium to control altitude, the
sides of the airship had condensers on them to collect water for
ballast from the engine exhaust. The condensers were sized so that they
could collect water slightly faster than the engines burned fuel.
Navy stopped developing lighter than air craft because improved fighter
technology made them very vulnerable to attack, and also because the
aircraft carrier could carry more airplanes further and was much easier
to defend against attack.
are PCBs in the walls of Hanger One. Actually, there is only one type
of PCB, but it is a quite poisonous one. A few years ago the Navy
painted the building with a coat of sealant, and that stopped the
polluting for a while, but now it has started again. At this point they
would rather tear the building down for $30 Million than ask for
another $3 Million to repaint it every three years. The historical
society is looking for ways to keep Hanger One hanging on.