What It Was Like Flying

Flying Was Always Exciting But Tiring

Getting ready for takeoff in ZPG-2N blimp

It always seemed like there were delays when it was time to go fly in our blimp. I was always anxious to get up flying and turn on all my electronics equipment to see what was going to need adjustment or repair. Everything could check out OK on the ground, but often the shaking the vacuum tubes got on takeoff would require something to be repaired before it would work in flight. I got a lot of satisfaction out of keeping the electronics equipment working and operating it, especially when we were on exercises with the fleet and hunted real submarines during the "cold war". We were officially designated a Combat Aircrew and authorized to wear the Combat Aircrew metal wings insignia on our dress uniform.

Timeout in the galley, 2nd deck in ZPG-2N

On the long 20 to 30-hour missions, we were on duty 4 hours and off 4 hours. The Nan-ship was built with sufficient space and facilities to be rather comfortable. It had an upper deck with nine bunks and a galley area equipped with stove, oven, refrigerator, and sink. Shown here is one-half of the eating area, which also served as a lounge area. It was a nice place to take a break from the "war" going on below.

Cake baked in flight in ZPG-2N blimp.

One time our two mechanics decided to bake a cake on the mission during their off-duty time. They said they put helium in it to make it the world's lightest cake! Do you think it took both of them to hold it down?

Galley and sleeping area, 2nd deck of ZPG-2N

The meals were prepared by whoever was our best cook on the crew. Right now I can't remember eating a single meal on a mission - and know I never cooked any. I guess the meals were not very memorable, either good or bad.

The entrance to the nine sleeping bunks area is seen in this snapshot. I can remember how good it felt crawling into one of the top bunks when I went off my 4-hours of duty on a long mission. After 20 or 30 hours of flying with 4-hours on duty and 4 hours off duty, my time and space got all mixed up. The bunk was a really special safe place for a few hours to sort things out and rest. Nobody bothered me, and the warmth and sound of the engines were more comforting than any place I've ever been since. The way the bunk area was nestled up to the big helium bag was a lot like being a fetus inside a big round belly.

Cleanup in ZPG-2N, 2nd deck.

On these long missions we got a bit dirty and sweaty, but we had good facilities for cleaning up. However, we really could have used a shower on board! After we landed and unloaded our equipment, the shower was the first place I headed for back in the barracks.

Homemade cookies by mail from Mom.

We worked well together as a crew. I never saw any "personality problems" between crew members. I think we all respected each other's skills. We needed to depend on everyone to do his job, or we might all go down at sea. Here I am sharing some of Mom's homemade oatmeal cookies with officers on the crew.

I remember this incident and picture well! We were waiting for takeoff on a long mission and received a radio message to standby for delivery of some important electronics parts. So there we were with 60 ground handlers holding the airship bow lines, the engines were running, and the ship was bucking anxiously ready to climb into the sky. In a few minutes my buddy Dave came speeding across the mat in a truck. He signaled to open a hatch for the important box. The box was a shoe box with cookies from mom. He had checked my mail for me, knew what was inside the box, and thought it was important to have on the mission. It was! Thanks, Mom. Thanks, Dave.

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Flying with autopilot and radar in fog.

The pilot's compartment was spacious and well equipped with radios, instruments, and an automatic pilot. That made cruising really a treat up there with the huge windows. We could even open some of the side windows and hang out and take pictures.

There were many opportunities for any crew member to sit in the right-side copilot seat when not much was happening. It was nice to cruise along looking out the big windows. At the time of this snapshot we were just churning our way through the fog about 50 to 70 mph (80 - 112 kph) and there wasn't much to see or do except listen to the radio as we made our way to our destination. On this occasion the pilot couldn't see anything in the fog, so the navigator, radar, and autopilot were depended on to fly us where we were going.

Radioman on ZPG-2N.

One of my duties while flying was maintaining high-frequency radio contact with the base and other airships. We used Morse code to send position reports every hour and send regular text messages. We usually sent to our buddies as fast as we could. I guess it was a radioman's version of wrestling with your buddy to see who was strongest. However, there was a camaraderie among radiomen that was very important. Many times the weather was bad, and radio transmissions were extremely poor. That radio circuit was the only link we had with someone for weather reports, instructions, and help. Sometimes it took many tries to get the message through in bad weather. It helped a lot when I had an understanding buddy on the other end of the circuit doing everything possible to help.

I remember one night we were returning from several hundred miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, and there was a really big storm moving up the coast fast. The headwinds had us slowed to just a few knots per hour advancement towards home. We were even flying VERY low and close to the water where the wind was slower. All around us there was lighting, and I was ready to give up my $80 a month flight pay! The crew commander told me to stay in touch with the base and keep repeatedly reporting our position. Not said, but understood to mean "so they could come find us if we went into the ocean."

I tuned up the 90 watt ART-13 transmitter for maximum output and constantly stayed on the circuit, going nearly deaf from the static crashes in the earphones from the lightning all around us. Only about one or two letters in each word were readable on the circuit. I was sending everything extremely slow and repeated each letter until each word was acknowledged received. We kept churning away all night into the headwinds with very few miles progress each long hour. It was a long night!

At dawn, the wind let up a little and we started making some headway. We arrived back at the base in the afternoon, and I remember that we got an extra day off after that mission. I was really grateful and happy to see my buddies who sat up all night with me on the radio circuit.

Bomb and torpedo rack on ZPG-2N

A memorable place where I loved to be alone and rest for awhile, was over the armament rack at the stern of the car. There was about a two by three foot shelf extending out on each side of the car. This is where we hung the torpedoes. The racks were at deck level, and a panel opened down and out over each. I loved to lash myself with a line to something and lean out over the edge of the shelf in the wind and look down at the vast ocean.

We often spent many hours just cruising low and slow. Once I asked our crew commander if I could use the winch to troll for fish sometime. He didn't think I was serious, I guess and said, "Sure." When I showed up one mission with a hook about 6 inches across, he stopped me fast! I was serious and thought we could handle a shark easily with the winch. I wonder what would have happened when we landed with a 12 foot shark hanging from the stern of our airship.

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© Copyright 2002, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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