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
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.