Updated 2-15-2011

January 2011 Column


Airship America Wrap-up

Kiddo - Mascot of the Airship America

Kiddo was renamed Trent after the rescue ship, and for a while he was displayed in a gilded cage in the window of Gimbel's department store. He would later go home with Wellman's daughter Edith and live a quiet life.

Entire Airship America crew, from the left: Fred Aubert, Walter Wellman, Melvin Vaniman, Jack Irwin, Louis Loud, and Murray Simon.                                                                                                   Photo Credit: Anthony Simon

Anthony Simon
Anthony Simon, Grandson of Murray Simon
Photo Credit: Anthony Simon

Murray Simon looking over the Trent's rail
Photo Credit: Anthony Simon

Lifeboat Found in Ohio

Constructed by S.E. Saunders of East Cowes on the Isle of Wight in 1910, the boat was thought locally to have been destroyed in the crash. However, it has been in storage since 1912 at Goodyear. It was the only significant piece to be recovered from the Akron's accident.

The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. has made a gift to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The 100-year-old lifeboat is from Goodyear’s earliest lighter-than-air endeavor, the ill-fated airship Akron in 1912. It was also used in 1910 on Wellman's airship America.

“The National Air and Space Museum is delighted to add this survivor of the very first Goodyear airship to its collection of historic air and spacecraft,” Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum, said in a press release. “It will have a place of honor in a section of the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center housing the Double Eagle II, the first balloon to fly the Atlantic, and the Concorde, which whisked travelers across the Atlantic at supersonic speeds.”

Tom Crouch, senior curator of aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum, standing in front of Akron and America's surviving lifeboat.                                                                             Photo Credit: Anthony Simon

Jack Irwin

Jack Irwin continued his career in radio working at the Radio Broadcast magazine laboratories and writing articles. He served honorably in the Army during World War I, and served with the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth. Col. Jack Irwin died in action during World War II. General order 42, November 30, 1945, designated Irwin Avenue at Fort Monmouth.

Murray Simon the British Navigator

Murray Simon later wrote: "You must never cross the Atlantic in an airship without a cat - more useful to us than any barometer."

I recently met Anthony Simon, a retired executive who lives in Belgium and is Murray Simon's grandson. He has forwarded some additional information.

"My grandfather received marriage proposals from damsels captivated by his adventure," Anthony Simon, the navigator's grandson, recently told the BBC. "Offers for vaudeville, lectures and articles rained down from the skies."

Anthony continued, "In 1936, to his great joy, he was invited to fly on the maiden transatlantic voyage of the Hindenburg, at that time the biggest airship in existence."


The Akron Flight in 1912

Melvin Vaniman had contacted the Goodyear company and arranged for them to sponsor the new airship and Goodyear would manufacture the balloon portion which would hold the hydrogen. At this point Walter Wellman was also involved. The huge hanger in Atlantic City would again be host to the team and house the airship as it was being constructed.

The newspapers would report that all started well and the airship rose to above 1000 feet, where a plume of black smoke appeared, the balloon exploded and the remains fell into about 10 feet of water. Rescue boats were soon on the scene but no survivors were found. (Crew: Melvin Vaniman, skipper; Calvin Vaniman, steersman; George Bourtillion, electrician (and assumed he was also the wireless operator [ed.]); Frederick Elmer, deckhand; and Walter Guest, deckhand.)

It was reported in one paper (reports vary) that Mrs. Vaniman and the three other widows, Mrs. Elmer, Mrs. Bourtillion and Mrs. Guest, were sitting on the balcony of the Vaniman cottage watching the balloon when it exploded. "They are all suffering and are in the care of physicians," the paper reported.

Searching for bodies started immediately and four were recovered within a couple of days. The bodies of Melvin Vaniman and Fred Elmer were finally found on July 15, 1912.

The remains of the airship were piled on a barge and towed to Gardners Basin in Atlantic City and shipped to Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, for examination. The gasoline tank was intact and had not exploded. Parts of the airbag were examined and found that it had not burned but did burst it was believed, due to expanding gas within and it split at the seams. (The entire gasbag was not examined due to souvenir hunters having taken pieces.)

1912 Akron
Akron on Barge

K2TQN's Speaking Tour for this Year


I hope to be making a few presentations about the 1923 Bowdoin expedition, titled the “Wireless North Pole and the Adventures of Don Mix” or Jack Irwin's excellent adventure on the "Airship America" with lots of the original photos. I regret not being able to go everywhere I have been invited.

Check back on the main page for the 2011 schedule. http://www.k2tqn.com/

John Dilks, K2TQN    125 Warf Road, Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234-8501   e-mail: K2TQN@arrl.net