There's more than one way to wreck an airship


Well. That looks a little off, doesn't it?

The USS Los Angeles was a Navy airship, built as part of German war reparations from World War I. Early in her career, the Los Angeles was drained of hydrogen and refilled with non-flammable helium. Good idea, that. But it wasn't enough to make her accident-proof. This photo was taken on August 25, 1927, after a sudden change in the wind direction caught the back end of the moored Los Angeles.

Within moments, she was completely vertical.


The Naval History and Heritage Command doesn't say whether anyone was on board at the time. It would have been a hell of a ride, if there were. The Los Angeles only sustained a small amount of damage from this accident, but it was enough to prompt the Navy to switch to a safer mooring system.

This photo is public domain, and given to the Naval History and Heritage Command by Richard K. Smith, author of the book "The Airships Akron & Macon", 1974. But I ran across it thanks to reader lazzo51, who posted the photo to the BoingBoing Flickr Pool. Much appreciated!


  1. It’s in the public domain, but Flickr! offers to sell it to you, via Getty. Just an example of how the copyright parasites feed from our cultural inheritance.

    1. Flickr is made of user generated content.

      The vast majority of images uploaded to flickr are originals and the people that upload them the original copyright holders.

      In this case, it’s lazzo51 who has uploaded the image, claimed it’s “All Rights Reserved” and chosen to licence the image through Getty Images.

      Flickr can’t really be held responsible for this.

  2. I wish some of the great airships survived. I would love to see one in the skies today, they looked so awesome!

  3. Well, that would certainly spill Captain Sulu’s tea.

    Still, I can’t think of a Navy gig I would have loved more in 1927 than piloting this beast!

  4. I wonder if those are Sailors hanging on the rope on the back. I hear that was a popular way to die for airship ground crews.

    1. “I wonder if those are Sailors hanging on the rope on the back.”

      Thanks ever so much, now I can have delightful nightmares tonight.

  5. According to Peter Kleinheins’ “Die Grossen Zeppeline,” there were 25 men on board at the time of this mishap. Nobody was hurt. Damage was caused by loose items falling through the ship into the nose.

  6. For years my great aunt had the gas regulator valve from the Los Angeles in her garden in Houston. Her husband, Jack Yolton, was the first man to fly in a helium-filled balloon and served on the committee that investigated the crash of the Hindenburg.

  7. Anon (#2): The great airships are alive and well, though you don’t hear about them so much. But a company called Airship Ventures is operating a zeppelin in San Francisco, and you can even take lessons in flying it. I did and wrote about the experience for Popular Mechanics; you can see video here:

    1. One of the benefits of living in Silicon Valley is driving to work in the morning and seeing the zeppelin taking off or cruising around. The world hasn’t entirely gone wrong if we can have something that silly around, and !

  8. Seems to me you’ve got it all wrong.

    Looks to me like MASSIVE Navy overkill, using a 1,000,000lb, 30-story bomb to destroy a 10-story radio tower.

    Impressive photography to catch it at the moment of impact like that.

  9. British airship R-33 ripped loose from her mast on on the night of 16th April 1925,after a gale caused the mooring arm to snap in half. She took her skeleton crew of 18 with her on a wild ride (mainly tail first) across the North Sea. Eventually the sailors were able to rig temporary repairs to the nose-cone and start the engine before returning to base under their own power after 29 hours absense!

  10. I’m impressed the engine mounts were robust enough to hold that weight while being in a position the designers probably never intended.

    1. Not completely. After all, in normal operation the nacelles apply thrust to the Zeppelin so the connections ARE designed for a fair ammount of lateral force. Their might not be much difference between 30 degrees down nose and full speed and 60 degrees down nose and no thrust. And the Shenendoah had experienced something similar to the former as it tried to escape a strong updraft shortly before it crashed two years earlier. It actually “stalled upwards” as the bow angle became too steep and it lost dynamic lift, resulting in it going higher than its design height. But like the space shuttle, the design margins were always razer thin.

  11. jeffwise: Length of Airship Ventures’ Zeppelin = 246 feet.
    Length of USS Los Angeles = 656 feet.

    Modern lighter-than-air ships are nothing compared to the behemoths of the golden age of zeppelins. Having never seen one, it’s hard for me to even fathom a craft on that scale.

  12. Blimp disasters are great! My favourite is the one where some guys trying to reach the North Pole got lost in a fog. Suddenly one side of an iceberg loomed up in front of them and an emergency dump of the ballast almost let them clear it: the bottom of the gondola got peeled open like a sardine can. The whole crew and their supplies got dumped on the top of the ice flow and the aircraft, relieved of all this weight serenely sailed off without them.

    I can just hear the captain watching the ship disappearing as his crew rained down around him “Man, this has long day just written all over it!”

  13. It didn’t go completely vertical… in the second photo, it has started to swing round the tower and the apparent angle makes it look vertical but it isn’t.

  14. In the late 1960s when I was about 16, I got to ride in the Goodyear blimp Mayflower (my dad sold Goodyear stuff). Flying at zero mph is very interesting…
    On our approach to landing, a gust of wind hit when we were at about 300 feet and heeled us over toward the ground. The pilot hit the throttles and began a 60-degree climb out of it, using a bicycle-wheel-sized elevator control between the front seats.
    I was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat and it was all quite interesting because the blimp was not equipped with seatbelts.
    We went around and landed safely. Great fun!

  15. One of the best knots in the world (but one which is used infrequently) is the Rosendahl knot (bend) a.k.a. the Zeppelin knot (bend). Its inventor was the skipper of this very airship.

    ummm …I guess in this case, the knot was too good.

    robby staven

  16. Nadreck, you have a strange sense of fun. The incident you’re thinking of was the Airship Italia, which was indeed ripped open by an iceberg. However, only part of the crew fell out – the rest stayed on the airship and were never seen again. Those who were on the ice had to wait over a month for rescue; and in the course of those rescue attempts Roald Amundsen was killed.

    This is not my definition of ‘brilliant’.

  17. @8 Anon

    “According to wikipedia there was a crew aboard. They tried moving toward the tail to push it down but couldn’t. Two crew did die when they were lifted off the ground by the Akron.

    Not that was a different unrelated accident In san-Diego with another ship called Akron.

    The Los Angeles incident occur in Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey.

  18. The “Los Angeles” was a Zeppelin-built airship, by commission for the U.S. Navy. Her builders – the greatest dirigible designers, technicians and crafts-people in the world – thought she would be their last and thus designed and built the lighter-than-air craft with the greatest of love and care.

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