The Navy's last airships were sophisticated vehicles and lighter-than-air advocates of the day believed them to be competitive with other airborne vehicles in the Naval Aviation inventory, particularly in the areas of airborne early warning (AEW) and antisubmarine warfare. One of their strong points was the ability to remain in the air for long periods of time. Every opportunity was taken to demonstrate this unique capability and in the process many new records were established.
ZPG-2W and ZPG-3W airborne early warning airships flying out of Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, were a part of the Navy air defense effort from 1954 to 1962. Assigned to the Inshore Barrier, they provided radar coverage in the area between the DERs on the Contiguous Barrier and the ground-based radars of the Inshore Barrier. The ZPG-2W and ZPG-3W blimps were assigned to Airship Airborne Early Warning Squadron 1 (ZW 1). The airships normally patrolled Station 6 of the Atlantic Inshore Barrier, off the northeast coast of New Jersey, every other day. The airships were equipped with a complete CIC, including radar operators and air intercept controllers. The airship patrol was hampered from its inception by limited funding, which restricted flight hours and the availability of aircraft for air intercept controller training. At one point ZW 1 was restricted to a hundred flight hours per month, a paltry amount considering a single airship's endurance.
With the first ZPG-2W delivered to Lakehurst in May 1955, production and operation of the ZPGs continued, interrupted by a suspension cable failure problem that resulted in grounding the ships for replacement with redesigned cable assemblies during the summer. By end of 1955 the first delivery of a ZPG-2W to ZP-3 had been completed.
Beginning January 14, 1957, a continuous patrol was maintained for 10 days, 200 miles off the coast of New Jersey, by personnel from the Naval Air Development Unit, South Weymouth and Airship Airborne Early Warning Squadron 1. The weather proved to be the roughest part of the test. It was the worst the area had experienced in 35 years. The crews and their airships dealt with snow, freezing rain, icing, sleet, fog, rain, zero temperatures and high surface winds. During the patrol, all military and commercial aircraft were grounded due to severe weather, but the airships kept going and continued their patrols without mishap.
On June 28, 1957, ZPs 1 and 4 were disestablished, and ZX-11 was disestablished on December 1 of that same year. Before the ZPG-3W made her first flight in July 1958, production of the 12 ZPG-2s and five ZPG-2Ws purchased had been completed and the -2s had set a number of records for extended-duration flights.
In July 1959, CINCNORAD requested that the Navy move ZW-1 to San Diego to provide better radar coverage for southern California, but the Navy declined, due to the absence of airship facilities in San Diego and lack of funds to construct them.
Four ZPG-3Ws were delivered, but a fatal accident to the first one at sea in the summer of 1960 and a change in early warning mission left the ZPG-2s as the major LTA long-endurance aircraft.
On November 30, 1959, ZP-2, the oldest airship patrol squadron in the Navy, went out of business. ZW-1 was redesignated ZP-1 on January 3, 1961, and continued as an ASW squadron. On June 21, 1961, the Secretary of the Navy announced plans to terminate the Navy's LTA program. Operations continued into the fall of 1961, when all fleet operations were ended. By the end of October 1961, ZPs 1 and 3 were disestablished. They were the last operating units of the Navy's LTA branch. Two research and development ZPG-2s continued their special assignments as a flying wind tunnel and an ASW research laboratory through August 1962, and then all Navy LTA operations came to an end.
During the following decade, various individuals and organizations attempted to rekindle the Navy's interest in LTA. These attempts were generally not successful although some minor studies on LTA were conducted.
The Navy purchased five nonrigid airships from Goodyear in 1954 for the airborne early warning mission. Originally ZP2N-1Ws, they were redesignated ZPG-2W in 1954 and EZ-1B in 1962. The ZPG-2W was equipped with an APS-20 air search radar inside the gas envelope and an APS-69 height-finding radar mounted on top of it. It carried a crew of twenty-one and had an endurance of over two hundred hours.
The airships employed by the Navy after WW II included the operating types used in the war, as well as some modified and several new types/classes. The G and L-types were used briefly in the postwar period. By 1947 all of the L-types had either been sold, stricken or placed in storage. Some of the G-types were still in service with the Naval Airship Training and Experimentation Command in 1947. During WW II the designations that applied to these four airship classes were ZNP-K for the K-types, ZNN-G and ZNN-L for G and L-types and ZNP-M for the M-type.
In April 1947, the Navy's General Board modified the airship designation system by dropping the "N" which stood for non-rigid. This was done because the board had scrapped the rigid airship program. After the "N" was dropped, the designations became ZPK, ZTG, ZTL (T was used for training vice N) and ZPM. These changes were published in.
WWII 1947 1953 1954 1962 G ZNN-G ZTG K ZNP-K ZPK ZP2K ZSG-2 ZP3K ZSG-3 ZP4K ZSG-4 ZP5K ZS2G L ZNN-L ZTL M ZNP-M ZPM N ZPN ZPG-1 ZP2N-1 ZPG-2 SZ-1B ZWN-1 ZP2N-1W ZPG-2W EZ-1B ZWG-1 ZPG-3W EZ-1C
On 19 April 1954, model designations for airships were modified to conform with designations for heavier-than-air aircraft. Similar to the system the Navy used for its other aircraft, the difference was the inclusion of the builder's initial in the airship's designation. Basically, the envelope designation letters "K" and "N" were replaced by manufacturer's letters, standard suffix numbers and letters were uniformly applied and the patrol class of airships was divided into patrol and antisubmarine classes. The changes were as follows: ZP2K became ZSG-2; ZP3K became ZSG-3; ZP4K-ZSG-4; ZP5K-ZS2G; ZPN became the ZPG-1; ZP2N-1 - ZPG-2; and ZP2N-1W - ZPG-2W.
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