Historic California Posts, Camps,
Stations and Airfields
Air Facility (Lighter Than Air), Lompoc
Lompoc is located 45 miles northwest of
Santa Barbara, near Point Arguello and Point Conception. The
town was founded in 1874 as a temperance community on the site
of Rancho Lompoc and Rancho Mission Vieja. The area eventually
became a flower and mustard seed producing region. One of the
most infamous episodes in the history of the U.S. Navy occurred
12 miles from Lompoc on the night of September 8, 1923. A navigation
error in the fog caused all seven destroyers of Destroyer Squadron
7 to run aground in column on the rocks of Pt. Honda. The Navy
lost more combat ships that night than during all of World War
I, along with 23 lives. As early as 1920, the development of
a municipal airport was considered. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh's
flight in 1927. City leaders finally established an airport the
After the completion of the blimp base at
Santa Ana in October 1942, the Navy realized that an additional
base was needed to provide adequate patrol coverage north of Los
Angeles. After conducting extensive weather observations, the
Navy chose the Lompoc Airport and leased a total of 65 acres from
the City and private individuals. Construction began in December
1942 and when completed, included a 500 x 1000-ft. asphalt mat,
two mooring masts, and barracks for 25 officers and 72 enlisted
The station commissioned on August 8, 1943.
Five days later, tragedy struck the base. In the damp, foggy early
morning hours, ground crews were maneuvering ship K-29 for launch
from Circle #2. As the blimp's tail pendants approached a high-volt
age power line, 11,000 volts arced through the ship. Of the ground
crewmen holding the metal handling bars on the bottom of the blimp's
cab, four men were electrocuted and a fifth severely burned. Witnesses
to the accident reported that the pendants never actually touched
the wires. This hazard had been identifled and the line was supposed
to have been moved by the local electric power company. For whatever
reason, it had not and four men lost their lives. These were the
only fatalities at Lompoc during the airport's civilian and Navy
After this inauspicious beginning, operations
at Lompoc were routine for the remainder of the war. The station
was practically identical to Santa Ana's other auxiliary at Del
Mar in both physical makeup and operation. One to two ship detachments
were maintained at Lompoc by Santa Ana's ZP-31 and Blimp Headquarters
Squadron Three. The last Navy blimp departed Lompoc on September
25, 1945, and the station placed on caretaker status. The Navy
had approximately $220,000 invested in the facility. Lompoc remained
on the Navy's books for another year, then returned to civilian
Located only one half mile north of Lompoc,
the airport was overtaken by urban growth during the next 15 years.
The City purchased land for a new facility approximately 1.5 miles
to the north, and relocated to that site on November 12, 1960.
The old airport's property was sold and currently is the location
of a high school and shopping center.
During World War II the quiet little farm
town of Lompoc was home to the Army and the Navy. The Army was
represented by Camp Cooke, while the Navy was present in the
form of the Lighter Than Air (LTA) station for balloon airships
(blimps) used for coastal anti-submarine patrol.
According to Commander Grobmeier, "The blimps that operated
from the facility were assigned to blimp squadron ZP-31, based
at the LTA Naval Air Station in Santa Ana, California .
Which became the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, and was subsequently
closed in July 1997. There were 12 K-type blimps assigned to
the squadron, which patrolled Southern California waters for
enemy submarines. The blimps used Radar and magnetic airborne/anomaly
detection equipment along with visual sightings. ZP-31 was part
of Fleet Airship Wing 3, which had its headquarters at the Moffett
Field, California, Naval Air Station."
The World War II K-type non-ridge airships had a gas volume of
425,000 cubic feet of helium, were 251.7 feet in length, could
lift 7,770 pounds, had a maximum speed of 67.5 knots and a cruising
range of 1,910 miles at 50 knots. The blimps were powered by
two Pratt and Whitney 450 hp 9-cylinder radial aircraft type
engines. The gondola was over 40-feet long and included bunks,
reclining seats, radio, mechanics, navigation stations and a
"The bases at Santa Ana and Moffett Field had two huge blimp
hangars, which remain today. Each of these large hangars could
hold six of the K-type blimps." In this squadron, blimp
bases were located at Santa Ana, Del Mar, Lompoc, and Ensenada,
Mexico. Other squadrons and bases were located in northern California,
Oregon and Washington. Two more of the huge hangers were located
at Tillamook, Washington.
"Approximately 134 K-type blimps were built for World War
II worldwide service. The majority were scrapped after the war
and the last K-type, K-43, was retired at Lakehurst, N.J. on
March 20, 1959." Many airships were lost due to weather-related
accidents resulting in the loss of a number of servicemen. Only
one blimp was lost due to enemy action when a German submarine
shot it down in the Florida Straits.
Lompoc's airport was dedicated on November 4, 1928. As with most
airports of the time, it was just a flat grass-covered strip
with a windsock. In the 1930s the Lompoc Flying Club built a
50-foot square hangar on the site for $1,628. The old airport
was located between present- day College and Pine and H and O
Streets on the present Lompoc High School and Lompoc Shopping
The Lompoc Naval Air Station was established in December 1942
as an auxiliary field for the Santa Ana Naval Air Station, a
64-acre parcel at the old airport. It was commissioned on August
8, 1943. Two blimps were stationed at Lompoc. Improvements were
a paved landing field 500 by 1,000 feet, barracks for the enlisted
men, bachelor officer's quarters for the station and Hedron officers
and the pilots, a galley, mess hall, and offices. The old hangar
was converted into a recreation room for the enlisted men.
Lieutenant Spittler, one of the blimp pilots at Lompoc, describes
the operation: "On the base was a tarmac landing pad with
massive steel tripod mooring mast with 3 sets of heavy duty dual
wheels mounted caster struts. Also on the mast was a power winch,
which operated the cable that attached to the nose of the blimp
and pulled the blimp to the locking position on the mast. To
place the blimp in different locations the mast was moved by
a tractor during the time
the blimp was at the base. A standard crew for flight was command
pilot and co-pilot, 2 aviation mechanics, 2 radiomen and 2 riggers.
The Navy personnel consisted of a base crew of 1 officer and
60 men, Hedron crew of 1 officer and 100 men, 3 flight crews
of 24. There were approximately 185 men on the base at all times.
The base crew was responsible for maintaining and repairing of
all buildings including cleaning and painting. They also furnished
the cooks and other galley help and were responsible for supplying
the food. They manned all base security.
The Hedron crew was charged with maintaining
and servicing all components of the airship as well as the mooring
mast, fuel and oil trucks and gate. This crew manned the lines
for all takeoff and landings. . It carried (4) depth charges
and a 50-caliber machine gun, which was mounted on the deck above
the pilot and co-pilot. (A 30-caliber machine gun was mounted
in the rear of the gondola). One parachute was supplied to provide
escape for one man to organize a landing party in case it was
needed. Lighter than aircraft is controlled by static and dynamic
means-similar to a submarine.
When the ships took off in the morning they flew west over Surf
and out to sea. When going over Honda it was very easy to see
the four stack destroyers laying on the bottom where they hit
the rocks in the 1923 catastrophe. The normal procedure was to
fly up and down the coast beyond the breakers looking for possible
enemy submarines to eliminate. However, after the blimps were
put into service by the navy there were no more attacks on our
ships on either coast.
Each crew looked forward to its month's
tour of duty in Lompoc, because it was more like a trip to Paradise
than duty. The locals were so good to all Navy personnel and
provided the best USO in the state. The people were interested
in everything the sailors did and rooted for the team at the
The floral flag planted by Bodger Seed Company was a sight to
behold when returning from a long flight over the ocean. As the
ship came in to land it would make its turn over the city in
order to land into the wind. As we landed we remember the people
parking their cars around the airfield in order to observe the
landing. The crew of the blimp enjoyed watching the observers.
When the ship was directly over the ground
crew, two long lines were released and the men grabbed hold of
them-one group of men on one side and one group on the other.
The men held the ship from going forward any further and the
pilot used the engines and the elevator to bring the ship to
ground. At that time the airship was attached to the landing
mast. The day's flight was over and the Hedron crew went to work
preparing the ship for the next day's flight.
One day a stray dog wandered onto the base and decided to make
it his home. He was welcomed with open arms by all the men and
became base mascot. He was named Halfhitch. He always watched
all take offs and greeted the crews upon landing."
Four sailors were killed and one was seriously injured on a foggy
morning in August 13, 1943 when the airship was being held on
the ground by a group of men prior to take off. A gust of wind
is thought to have come up and swung the tail structure of the
ship around toward some high-tension electrical wires bordering
the field - an 11,000-volt circuit arced through the air and
into the ship.
The men holding onto a metal bar on the
cabin of the ship were standing in wet grass and the charge went
through their bodies, killing them instantly, with the exception
of one man who received severe burns.
Fleet Airship Wing 3 and ZP-31 were disestablished in September
1945 along with the Del Mar, Lompoc and Ensenada stations.
Old Airport Playground for Daredevil
Planes and Pilots of Days Gone By in Valley, Lompoc Record, 1970
U.S. Navy Pressure Airships, 1915-1962 by James R. Shock, 1993
Blimps found fair grounds for mooring by Commander Alvin H. Grobmeier, Traditions
San Diego's Military Heritage, December 1994, Vol. 1, No.
A Brief History of the Lompoc Naval
Air Station - Blimp Base, 1943-1945
by Lt. Ret. Robert Spittler, an officer with the crew on duty
here at that time
A Hodge Podge of Miscellany Lompoc
Valley Historical Society Newsletter
for May, June, July, 1997, pgs. 5-8
Memories of a WWII Blimp Pilot by Dennis Headrick, Lompoc Record May 16, 2004
U.S. Naval Air Stations of WWII - Vol. 2, Western States by M. L. Shettle, Jr.
The History of NAS Tillamook and its
role in WWII by M&A Tour Books,
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory
of Airfields (January 1945