National Geographic : 1925 Jan
SEEING AMERICA FROM THE "SHENANDOAH" shack, and the running lights are on batteries. Each individual carries his own torch. Though helium gas will not burn, no fire is permitted aboard. The only sparks are in the six motors-one runs the radio generator-and in the little two-burner gasoline cookstove in the lat ter's closet. In the dark the long keel is eerie with phosphorescent figures and letters, which glow from every latticed frame or piece of emergency gear, with lights which flash in the distance and disappear and lights which suddenly appear from no where, while one fur-padded form leans at a danger angle and another passes on the ribbon of a runway. Day and night the life of the airship is in the keel. It is a triangular tunnel running the length of the ship. Its base is the thin cotton bottom panel of the outer covering of the big tube; its equi lateral sides are the gas bags, when they strain full against the wire and twine network which holds them in place. "TIIE CAT'S WALK" In the center, 682 feet long from nose to tail fins, is the runway, 9 inches wide. It is called "the cat's walk," from the skill required to tread it. The thin cot ton covering, 12 inches below, gives a false sense of security; but the ground, usually 3,000 feet below, is only two steps removed. A roughly stitched rent in the cotton shows where one man made the first step, and with true sailor veracity the marks of his fingers are shown where he gripped the steel-hard duralumin to save himself from taking the second step. No admonitions are needed to walk the straight and narrow path. The crew, as nimble as structural steel workers, trot along, pass each other, and even stop to wrestle. Four lateral runways pierce the sides of the tube to ladders leading into motor gondolas. Though the runway is precari ous, negotiating an uninclosed ladder 3,000 feet above the ground while speed ing 70 miles an hour requires cooler nerves. Men skip up and down and even stand on the gondolas to watch the passing scenery. One night in the mountains the chief on his hourly inspections found a door closed at the bottom of one of the ladders. Considerable kicking made him heard above the din of the motor. Hie inquired why everything was closed. "You see, we were so close to the mountains, and I saw some goats and was afraid one might jump in here," the man explained. How TIIE GAS AND WATER BAGS ARE DISTRIBUTED Every 5 meters in the tunnel, corre sponding to the outer circular ribs, is a triangular frame of latticed girders. In the center of the ship the triangular frames are 12 feet across and 9 feet be tween base and apex. The sides become shorter in the ends, and heads are bumped and cut by the cross-girders. One bump convinces the most skeptical of the rigid ity of the Shenandoah. In the upper angle of the triangle is the rubber gas pipe, wilted and loose or puffed to the size of an 18-inch water main, according to altitude. Flanking it are the metal fuel and water pipes. At the sides, distributed so the load will be equalized through the length, are the 724 pound gasoline tanks, the smaller cans of lubricating oil, and the sleeping bunks for officers and men. One habituated youth slept in a hammock, only the cotton be tween him and space, as comfortable as if his bed were swung between the tower ing aerials of the Arlington wireless sta tion. At intervals along the runway are three decks, little 12-foot-square platforms of thin plywood. One is for the mooring equipment and the other two are euphoni ously designated as officers' quarters and crew's quarters. Though discipline does not deteriorate, "side" is lacking on an airship. Instead of a suite of three rooms and private bath and messboy, to which a rear admiral is entitled on a battleship, his private bunk is not different from those of the crew. The same-sized shav ing mirrors, the only luxury aboard, hang in both quarters. The rations are the same, the combination cook and messboy is the same, mess hours are whenever anybody has time to eat, and as the food, including the hot soup, is distributed from the crew's quarters, the officers frequently munch their dry sandwiches there.