Original Rare 1920’s U.S. Navy Airship Pilot Insignia Attributed to Chief Aviation Pilot Stanley R. Soulby, Pilot of Dirigibles USS Macon, Akron & Shenandoah

Item Description

Original: One of a Kind. Lot of insignia attributed to Naval Aviator Stanley Ralph Soulby (1890-1978) an early Naval Aviator who piloted Balloons and Dirigibles for the United States Navy, including the U.S. Navy Airships USS Macon, USS Akron, and USS Shenandoah in the 1920s-1930s. Soulby then again was called up to be reactivated and served during WWII. LTA (Lighter Than Air) Navy LTA Aviator Insignia from the Pre-World War Two period is nearly impossible to find. Included in the lot is a photocopy of Soulby’s obituary from 1978.

Included is a Bullion Chief Petty Officer’s LTA Airship Pilot Sleeve Qualification Badge, which measures 3” x1 ⅜” , constructed of gold and silver bullion thread embroidered on wool. A bullion on wool winged propeller device, which measures 2.5”x1.5”, and an unknown insignia, which some feel may be a Reserve Aviation Navy Veterans badge (R.A.N.V.) which measures 2.5” x 1 ¾”. The insignia dates from the 1940’s to the 1930’s.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) was a rigid airship built and operated by the United States Navy for scouting and served as a "flying aircraft carrier", designed to carry biplane parasite aircraft, five single-seat Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk for scouting or two-seat Fleet N2Y-1 for training. In service for less than two years, in 1935 the Macon was damaged in a storm and lost off California's Big Sur coast, though most of the crew were saved. The wreckage is listed as the USS Macon Airship Remains on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Less than 20 ft (6.1 m) shorter than Hindenburg, both Macon and her sister ship Akron were among the largest flying objects in the world in terms of length and volume. Although both of the hydrogen-filled, Zeppelin-built Hindenburg and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II were longer, the two American-built sister naval airships still hold the world record for helium-filled rigid airships.

USS Akron (ZRS-4) was a helium-filled rigid airship of the U.S. Navy, the lead ship of her class, which operated between September 1931 and April 1933. She was the world's first purpose-built flying aircraft carrier, carrying F9C Sparrowhawk fighter planes, which could be launched and recovered while she was in flight. With an overall length of 785 ft (239 m), Akron and her sister ship Macon were among the largest flying objects ever built. Although LZ 129 Hindenburg and LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin II were some 18 ft (5.5 m) longer and slightly more voluminous, the two German airships were filled with hydrogen and so the US Navy craft still holds the world record for helium-filled airships.

Akron was destroyed in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey on the morning of 4 April 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crewmen and passengers. The accident involved the greatest loss of life in any airship crash.

USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) was the first of four United States Navy rigid airships. It was constructed during 1922–1923 at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and first flew in September 1923. It developed the U.S. Navy's experience with rigid airships and made the first crossing of North America by airship. On the 57th flight, Shenandoah was destroyed in a squall line over Ohio in September 1925.

Shenandoah first flew on 4 September 1923. It was christened on 10 October 1923 by Mrs. Edwin Denby, wife of the Secretary of the Navy, and commissioned on the same day with Commander Frank R. McCrary in command. Mrs. Denby named the airship after her home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the word "shenandoah" was then believed to be a Native American word meaning "daughter of stars".

Shenandoah was designed for fleet reconnaissance work of the type carried out by German naval airships in World War I. Her pre-commissioning trials included long-range flights during September and early October 1923, to test her airworthiness in rain, fog and poor visibility. On 27 October, Shenandoah celebrated Navy Day with a flight down the Shenandoah Valley and returned to Lakehurst that night by way of Washington and Baltimore, where crowds gathered to see the new airship in the beams of searchlights.

At this time, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics and staunch advocate of the airship, was discussing the possibility of using Shenandoah to explore the Arctic. He felt such a program would produce valuable weather data as well as experience in cold-weather operations. With its endurance and ability to fly at low speeds, the airship was thought to be well suited to such work. President Calvin Coolidge approved Moffett's proposal, but Shenandoah's upper tail fin covering ripped during a gale on 16 January 1924, and the sudden roll tore her away from the Lakehurst mast, ripping out her mooring winches, deflating the first helium cell and puncturing the second. Zeppelin test pilot Anton Heinen rode out the storm for several hours and landed safely while the airship was being blown backwards. Extensive repairs were needed, and the Arctic expedition was scrapped.

Shenandoah's repairs were completed in May, and the summer of 1924 was devoted to work with its engines and radio equipment to prepare for fleet duty. In August 1924 it reported for duty with the Scouting Fleet and took part in tactical exercises. Shenandoah succeeded in discovering the "enemy" force as planned but lost contact with it in foul weather. Technical difficulties and lack of support facilities in the fleet forced it to depart the operating area ahead of time to return to Lakehurst. Although this marred the exercises as far as airship reconnaissance went, it emphasized the need for advanced bases and maintenance ships if lighter-than-air craft were to take any part in operations of this kind.

1925 began with nearly six months of maintenance and ground test work. Shenandoah did not take to the air until 26 June, when it began preparations for summer operations with the fleet. In July and August, it again operated with the Scouting Fleet, successfully performing scouting tasks and being towed by Patoka while moored to that ship's mast.

On 2 September 1925, Shenandoah departed Lakehurst on a promotional flight to the Midwest that would include flyovers of 40 cities and visits to state fairs. Testing of a new mooring mast at Dearborn, Michigan, was included in the schedule. While passing through an area of thunderstorms and turbulence over Ohio early in the morning of 3 September, during its 57th flight, the airship was caught in a violent updraft that carried it beyond the pressure limits of its gas bags. It was torn apart in the turbulence and crashed in several pieces near Caldwell, Ohio. Fourteen crew members, including Commander Zachary Lansdowne, were killed. This included every member of the crew of the control car (except for Lieutenant Anderson, who escaped before it detached and fell from the ship); two men who fell through holes in the hull; and several mechanics who fell with the engines. There were twenty-nine survivors, who succeeded in riding three sections of the airship to earth. The largest group was eighteen men who made it out of the stern after it rolled into a valley. Four others survived a crash landing of the central section. The remaining seven were in the bow section which Commander (later Vice Admiral) Charles E. Rosendahl managed to navigate as a free balloon. In this group was Anderson who—until he was roped in by the others—straddled the catwalk over a hole.

The Shenandoah Crash Sites are located in the hillsides of Noble County. Site No. 1, in Buffalo Township, surrounded the Gamary farmhouse, which lay beneath the initial break-up. An early fieldstone and a second, recent granite marker identify where Commander Lansdowne's body was found. Site No. 2 (where the stern came to rest) is one-half mile (0.80 km) southwest of Site No. 1 across Interstate 77 in Noble Township. The rough outline of the stern is marked with a series of concrete blocks, and a sign marking the site is visible from the freeway. Site No. 3 is approximately six miles (9.7 km) southwest in Sharon Township at the northern edge of State Route 78 on the part of the old Nichols farm where the nose of Shenandoah's bow was secured to trees. Although the trees have been cut down, a semi-circular gravel drive surrounds their stumps and a small granite marker commemorates the crash. The Nichols house was later destroyed by fire.

Two schools of thought developed about the cause of the crash. One theory is that the gas cells over-expanded as the ship rose, due to Lansdowne's decision to remove the 10 automatic release valves, and that the expanding cells damaged the framework of the airship and led to its structural failure.

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