One of eight remaining huge dirigible hangars built by the Navy during WWII remains at this site, currently used by TCOM, an airship manufacturing company, as manufacturing and test location. The massive corregated steel on frame structure is 1,040 feet long, 150 feet high and 296 feet wide, constructed before the war effort made steel a limited commodity. This immense facility is the remaining one of a pair of hangars at the former air base, the other, a wood-skinned on steel frame, burned down in 1995, destroying a Westinghouse airship, and other surveillance blimps that were stored inside the hanger. This remaining hanger is completely encased in a fire-retardant insulation that is several inches thick.
In 1941 only one lighter-than-air station existed and it was located in Lakehurst, NJ. With the approach of another war in Europe the United States began to take a serious look at its defensive capabilities, and high on the list was anti-submarine patrolling of the coast and harbors. Prior to the 1950s, the best vehicle to do this was the dirigible, a lighter-than-air-machine, commonly referred to as the blimp. In the age before helicopters the blimp had the capability of slow flight for extended periods, could hover, and carry the sensors and armament to protect shipping off the coast.
On July 3, 1941 the Congress passed a bill authorizing the construction of facilities to house and support 48 airships. A survey was done to select the best locations for these Navy antisubmarine blimp bases (similar to Tustin CA & Moffet Field CA). Weeksville, North Carolina was selected because of it's proximity to the large Navy presence in Norfolk and because it was midway down the east coast of the United States and blimps operating from Weeksville Naval Air Station could cover the Hampton Roads, Cape Hatteras area.
On August 6, 1941 construction began on what was to become Weeksville Naval Air Station (LTA- Lighter-Than-Air). The original contract called for the construction of a steel hangar, helium storage and service, barracks for 228 men and 50 officers, power plant, landing mat, and a mobile mooring mast. In July of 1942 an additional contract was awarded to construct a second all wood hangar (which even after fifty years was the largest wooden structure in the world) and additional housing and facilities to support the increase in base size. April 1, 1942, Weeksville N.A.S. was commissioned, with operations starting on June 8, 1942, making Weeksville the first LTA facility in operation on the east coast since the facility at Lakehurst, NJ was built.
At a cost of over six million dollars, at its completion Weeksville covered 822 acres, had 10 miles of railroad tracks, hangar space for 12 Navy "K" ships, housing for 700 enlisted men and 150 officers. The second hangar was completed on July 15, 1943 and was the first wooden hangar built of the seventeen on order. (Wood vs Steel, due to the shortage of steel during the war effort.) Airship squadron ZP-14 was established here on June 1, 1942 starting operations from the Coast Guard base until June 8th when it moved down the road to its new home.
During World War II operations continued escorting ships and performing search and rescue missions until June 10, 1944 when ZP-14 was replaced by ZP-24 with ZP-14 being transferred to North Africa, making the first trans-Atlantic flights by blimps. During this period several airships were lost due to operational accidentsnone due to enemy action. To testify to the effectiveness of the blimps, before they started operations at Weeksville, one ship every other day was lost to enemy submarines off the North Carolina coast, after the start of operations this dropped to one every two and one half months.
Points of Interest:
The first antisubmarine blimp patrol from Weeksville was conducted in 1942 by squadron ZP-14. Operations were usually conducted with 8 K-ship blimps. At times a single blimp was detached to Patuxent River NAS.
During Weeksville's WW2 heyday, the facility consisted of two huge blimp hangars, wooden Airdock #2 (900 feet long, NW side of base) & steel Airdock #1 (1,058 feet long, S side of base), each capable of housing six blimps simultaneously!
The hangars sat adjoining a 2,000' diameter blimp mooring pad, which also had six smaller blimp mooring circles. A 3,700' runway extended across the blimp mat, and was used for aircraft weighing less than 5,000 pounds.
Weeksville also had a seaplane ramp which led into the adjacent Pasquatank River. This was used as a transit facility for seaplanes, primarily PBY Catalinas going to Britain.
In 1944 the Weeksville station had a total of 886 officers & enlisted personnel.
With the end of WW2, Weeksville was reduced to a Naval Auxiliary Air Station in 1945.
From 1945-1948, it was used for storage of surplus fixed-wing aircraft, eventually housing a maximum of 576 aircraft in 1946.
The last Navy blimp departed Weeksville in 1946.
However in 1947, it became an operational blimp base again, with the arrival of four blimps.
During the Korean War, Weeksville was used for extensive ASW blimp operations, hosting a fixed-wing Carrier Air Group, and hosting ASW helicopter squadrons.
Weeksville was finally decommissioned by the military in 1957, and sold to private interests and the Weeksville facility has been used since the 1960s by a variety of commercial blimp operators & manufacturers.
The blimp hangars have been most recently reused by TCOM, a blimp manufacturer. TCOM's use of the Weeksville facility was marred on 8/3/95, when the wooden Airdock #2 burned down in a spectacular fire. (Lightning Strike is rumored to have started the blaze.)
The steel-construction Airdock #1 remains standing.
Remains are still visible of huge circular blimp mooring field, two runways (13/31 & 2/20), numerous circular blimp mooring positions & a seaplane launching ramp at Northeast corner of field.
Nikon D70s |
Original size: 3008x2000 |
Current: 600x399 |