With its W.W.II wartime tour of duty long since over, the control car (or gondola) of a U.S. Navy lighter-than-air airship, more popularly known as a blimp, is being restored in a hangar at the New England Air Museum.
Designated K-28, it was built in 1942 by the Goodyear Aircraft Corporation of Akron, Ohio, to specifications set down by the U.S. Navy.
NEAM’s airship control car is one of 134 K-types built between 1938 and 1944 for the purpose of anti-submarine patrol and convoy escort duty. At the beginning of hostilities with enemy countries, allied merchant shipping carrying vitally needed supplies to our allies suffered very heavy losses due to submarine action all along the coastal waters of the United States, the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Only 4 “K” ships were available for operations at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941. Realizing the need for added protection of these important vessels, the fleet of reliable blimps was steadily increased to a strength of over 15 squadrons, including one stationed in French Morocco, North Africa, protecting the waters of the Mediterranean.
Throughout the period of hostilities, over 530 vessels were sunk by enemy action along the Atlantic coasts of the United States, the Caribbean, Central America, and Brazil. However, not one vessel was sunk by enemy submarines while under escort by an airship! Furthermore, over 950 persons were rescued as a result of airship operations. In addition to their major wartime duties, airships performed many other useful missions including search operation, rescue operations, observation, photo reconnaissance, mine operations, and assistance to vessels and personnel.
The K-ship, with envelope, was 218 feet long, 54 feet wide (maximum), and was filled with 425,000 cubic feet of helium. Prop blast could also be diverted into two smaller envelopes for maintaining the shape of the bag as the helium expanded and contracted from altitude and temperature changes, and for trimming the aircraft as fuel was pumped from auxiliary tanks into the two central tanks. A pair of Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp engines powered the aircraft to a top speed of 75 mph.
The K-ship gondola undergoing restoration at NEAM was delivered to the Navy at Lakehurst, NJ on 10 December, 1942 and served during W.W. II as an anti-submarine escort.. In 1946, Goodyear bought K-28 back from the Navy for use in advertising experiments and as the “Puritan”, one of the famous Goodyear Blimps, it toured most eastern and midwestern states before retirement and storage in 1948.