Veterans’ visit to Pax River brings Navy’s legacy program into spotlight

The Navy’s only working airship recently flew over Baltimore’s skies, drawing the attention of residents and media. The airship also attracted two Navy veterans familiar with airships of the past.

Chuck Myers, an aviation veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict, joined Wymand Howard, a Vietnam War veteran specializing in surface warfare, on a visit to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where the airship is based, on Nov. 7. The two were invited to see the Navy’s MZ-3A airship up close and compare their experiences exploring airship concepts in the 1980s with current operators. The veterans believe airships could once again be a valuable operational resource for the Navy.

“I got interested in airships many years ago because it appeared they could solve a problem the Navy was facing defending ships at sea from low-flying missiles and low-flying airplanes,” Myers said. “The problem was of interest to me because I am an ex-naval aviator carrier pilot, and keeping the carrier afloat has a high priority.”

The 178-foot-long MZ-3A is a scientific laboratory platform, providing the vibration-free environment necessary for testing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensors. It can fly up to 9,500 feet and cruise at 45 knots.

Myers and Howard each explored the concept of deploying an operational airship for surveillance in the early 1980s. Myers was involved in a study for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a nonprofit bipartisan organization dedicated to conducting scholarly research and analysis. He briefed Navy military and civilian employees, including Howard, on the study’s findings, which showed airships fit the bill for surveillance beyond the horizon.

“It was always clear to me that we had to figure out a way to track missiles over the horizon, so that we would have time to work on the problem,” Howard said. “The airship has the capacity for it because the sensor package requires that kind of lift capability. It also has long endurance.”

Bert Race, the current director for the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s Airship Systems Engineering Team, said the veterans inspired him to pursue work with airships.

“Chuck and Wyman showed me new ways of approaching really tough problems,” Race said. “They encouraged me to bravely defend conclusions and suggestions of future possibilities. I am deeply honored to know both of these veterans and for the seven decades of experience they have graciously shared with us.”

Race hopes to continue their legacy by using the airship program to meet future requirements.

“I believe military requirements and economics will ultimately determine the roles airships may serve in the future,” Race said. “My near-term goal is to maintain a credible knowledge base within DoD lifelines, and to be ready to assist decision makers considering them for missions beyond our current scope.”


Source / Author: NAVAIR