Blimps for Uncle Sam

by N E Stell

Europe's war has proved barrage balloons a deadly defense device. Now Akron is making them for Uncle Sam.

Like a row of chunky pigs America's first half-dozen barrage balloons are soon to be dotted across the horizon line of Akron, 0H, a city which is now becoming the center of the barrage balloon building industry of the country. Warnings have already been issued in printed form to traffic control stations at airports all along the line, for pilots flying in the barraged area to double precautions and to regulate the altitudes at which they fly accordingly.

Described as six "high and low altitude balloons," the bags are inflated with helium and are flown simultaneously at various altitudes, the warning states. Hundreds of skilled workers at two of Akron's major rubber companies are working on construction of the six balloons and of many others which will follow them into the air.

Both girls and men are busily engaged in taping the seams, affixing the fins, and inspecting every inch of the fabric in this business of production of the newest type of air defenses. Besides Goodyear and Firestone, which already are in production, the General Tire and Rubber Co soon is to start building the barrage balloons and the B F Goodrich Co already is making cloth for more bags.

Activity on the new type of air raid defenses followed an announcement recently in Washington that the Government has formed several balloon barrage squadrons which will be used to handle the new balloons. The barrage balloon activity in the army was spurred by reports of Brig Gen George V Strong, former chief of the War Plans Division, who recently returned to this country after making first-hand surveys of British air defenses.

Strong reported that London barrage balloons were keeping the Nazi bombers at high altitudes and had made the diving tactics of the dreaded Stukas a "suicide menace." Germany and Italy have adopted similar defenses because of England's success with them, he said.

Following the general's report, rubber company officials from Akron were im- mediately called into consultation with Government experts to see what could be done in the way of constructing the bal- loons. The Army had been testing bar- rage balloons on a limited scale for the past 10 years, but never had seriously considered adopting them before. Last year the Goodyear company, foreseeing their importance in the defense picture, constructed the first bag and flew it in tests at Wingfoot Lake, the lighter-than-air station on the outskirts of Akron.

This first bag made headlines when it broke loose from its cables one day last spring after it had been sent aloft to 75,000 feet, and travelled 200 miles before landing at Kittanning, PA. It was recovered and returned to Akron for repairs.

The new bags are clumsy looking affairs made of brownish cloth, with huge fins for stabilizing purposes. They are 110' long, with a 40' overall height and are flown on 7/32" steel cables. The bags are to be flown to altitudes ranging as high as 18,000 feet.

The first balloon in the barrage of 1,470-cubic foot capacity will be elevated to a distance of only 500 feet and, next to it, the second balloon of 2,000-cubic foot capacity will fly at 1,500 or 2,000 feet. The third balloon of 2,000-cubic foot capacity will fly at 2,500 feet, the fourth balloon of 5,000-cubic foot capacity at 4,000 feet, the fifth balloon of 25,000-cubic foot capacity at 7,000 feet and the sixth balloon, of 75,000-cubic foot capacity, will fly between 5,000 and 8,000 feet.

Adding color to the picture are the red and orange wind cones attached to the steel cables at 200-foot intervals and the pennants fluttering between the cones.

Tests on the balloons are made only during daylight hours and will extend over a six-month period, engineers and lighter-than-air experts say. Two major airlines of the country are affected by the warnings of the barrage being erected at Wingfoot Lake — both Pennsylvania Central and Transcontinental and Western Air liners fly directly across that area on regular schedules.

Akron is no novice at the balloon building art and Wingfoot Lake is an old locale for the flying of wartime balloons. The Goodyear company built hundreds of "kite" balloons during the World War and flew them at the lake station. In those days the balloon room at Goodyear became one of its busiest departments, employing 2,800 men and women towards the end of the war and turning out four balloons a day. All told, Goodyear built more than 900 observation balloons at that time.

Firestone Tire and Rubber Co also turned its entire new Plant No 2 over to the production of kite balloons during World War days and continued production of them until the end of the war.

This article was originally published in the August, 1941, issue of Flying and Popular Aviation magazine, vol 29, no 2, pp 47-48.
The original article includes 2 photos.
Photos are not credited, but are certainly from Goodyear.

Photo captions:

Note: While the title says "Blimps" the article describes and discusses barrage balloons. [—JLM]