The Building of the Shenandoah Model
by Tony Avak

If you were wondering why I chose the odd scale of 1/53rd for my model, there are three simple explanations.  First, I needed to make the ship big enough to have sufficient volume to float when filled with helium, but because the Shenandoah's hull was so slim for its length (compared to most airships) that meant it had to be a bare minimum of ten feet long.  Second, my parent's garage was only 15 feet across, so it couldn't be any longer than that.  Third, and most important, the copy of Shenandoah three-view blueprints that I got from the US Archives came in 1/106 scale, so I just doubled everything to make my own plans.        

I first built all the laminated rings with the longeron lifters made high enough to raise the tissue paper away from the rings when the covering was completed.  I then assembled the model as two halves a little over six feet long each.  The halves were suspended from an overhead light fixture in the living room by their respective nose or tail and spun around to work on.  This helped assure the hull structures would be straight as the parts were glued together.  (The ship was made well before instant curing super glues were available.)  The two halves (including the tail structure) were covered with tissue paper from the ends towards the center.  The tail half was then suspended from the garage ceiling for final assembly to the nose half and the center was papered.  Once all this was done it was simple to attach all the other details like the engine pods and control car.   To see more pictures  of the original   model click here.   

The model had one flight at El Segundo high school auditorium, my alma mater.  This was a year after I graduated, so it would have been 1974. 

The loose flap of tissue at the tail of the ship and the crew gangway ramp at the nose had reasons for being on the model.  To install the two mylar bags for inflation inside the hull, I would begin by inserting the rolled up bags through the two hinged doors in the center bottom of the ship.  The bags had small loops of thread taped to the nose and tail, and I would insert a long stick of balsa wood with a hook on the end through the tissue flap or crew gangway.  That hook would grab these loops and pull the bags out inside the ship.  I could then inflate the bags with no problems.  (Deflating the bags was a chore best left to the imagination.)  Because the bags filled the hull completely, the only place for a braced ring was in the middle between them.        

If I could have afforded the weight of balsa thicker than 1/16" square for the hull I would have used it, that certainly would have simplified my engineering work.  As it was, the ship weighed a touch under 16 ounces when complete (including the mylar bags but not including the helium).  With a volume of 16 cubic feet of helium this gave only enough lift when inflated to carry one small electric motor and a pair of tiny batteries but nothing else.  No R/C gear, no flashing lights, nothing.