Feeling a little nostalgic for the days when we could actually go out and do things before the virus I have decided to re-visit an outing from June 2019.
Corinne secured for us a visit to NAS Lakehurst through the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society. Since the NAS is part of the Joint Base complex in New Jersey with McGuire AFB and Fort Dix, all tours must be through the NLHS for security purposes.
Home to the US Navy’s Lighter than Air program since it’s inception in the 1930’s NAS Lakehurst is more famous for being the site of the most dramatic airship disaster in history.
On May 6, 1937 the German passenger Airship Hindenburg was making it’s approach to the mooring mast at NAS Lakehurst after a Trans-Atlantic voyage from Frankfurt Germany. Just after releasing its mooring ropes the Hindenburg burst into flames causing 35 fatalities out of the 96 persons on board.
Many theories have been discussed about the cause of the fire. You can find further information here at the Hindenburg Wikipedia page.
More about the tour.
We began at the Cathedral of the Air. A Norman-Gothic military chapel, the COA was completed in 1933 as a Roman Catholic chapel for the military personnel stationed at the base. Since the joint base concept joined the three area military installations together the Cathedral no longer holds regular services but it available for non-denominational weddings, baptisms and funerals.
The most striking feature inside are the stained glass windows memorializing the loss of the USS Akron and USS Shenandoah as well as memorials to all US service men and women.
After a presentation on the Cathedral by our docent/guide, we boarded our cars for the short trip to the main gate at NAS Lakehurst. Since we had to book our tour through the NHLS ahead of time (two weeks ahead I believe) we were allowed through security at the gate after showing proper identification.
First stop, the Hindenburg Memorial site. After their informative background presentation on the disaster our guides then played a recording of the famous radio broadcast from the site on that fateful day.
From the memorial the tour moved on to the monster that is named Hanger No. 1.
Our guides brought us inside the building that once housed the US Navy Airships of the 30’s and 40’s. One word comes to mind once you enter, this place is HUGE! It is 966 feet long (or over 3 football fields in modern parlance), 350 ft. wide and 224 ft high with a floor area of 211,434 square feet.
More details about the history of Hanger No.1 can be found here. I do recall from my first visit to the base in my NJROTC days in high school that the Navy Chief that gave us the tour mentioned that the building was so big that it could create its own weather patterns inside regardless of what the weather was doing outside.
After the demise of the Navy’s airship program the Base morphed into a training and test bed facility. In the 80’s it was not uncommon for northern Ocean County residents to see US Navy aircraft such as F-14 Tomcats, F-8 Crusaders and A-6 Intruders in the skies overhead. The Base was used to test new catapult and arrestor cable designs for aircraft carriers.
Presently inside Hanger No. 1 is a large scale model carrier deck for training sailors.
Complete with full scale arrestor cable machinery and catapult gear the trainer kept the Bluejackets safe and up to date on essential training.
Inside the mock carrier, under the “flight deck” resides the NLHS museum.
Dedicated to all branches of our military and their histories the museum is chock full of memorabilia and models of military gear past and present.
Mannequins are placed all around the museum dressed in actual military uniforms and battle gear. Real equipment like an ejection seat from a jet as well as an actual 50mm chain gun from a fighter.
The absolute highlight of the museum is it’s personnel. Most members of the NLHS are former vets. These men and woman volunteer their time to act as interpreters and guides. If you want to know about a certain item or display just ask. They are very happy to explain anything.
If you have any interest in aviation, military history or just any history I cannot suggest enough a visit to NAS Lakehurst. Yes, you will have to pre-plan weeks ahead of time due to security concerns and yes, there will be no tours during the current Covid-19 crisis. But, when the world returns to normalcy do yourself a favor make the effort to visit. Contact the Naval Lakehurst Historical Society at the link I posted above.
Please comment if you liked this post or have visited NAS Lakehurst or a base like this.