Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Naval Auxiliary Air Facility (Lighter Than Air), Lompoc

History by M.L. Shettle
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 next year.

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 men.

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 use.

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 control.

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.

Copied with the permission of the author from United States Naval Air Stations of World War II.


History by Justin Rughe

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 galley.

"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 Center properties.

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 softball games.

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.
Extract, US Army Air Forces Directory of Airfields (January 1945
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Updated 8 February 2016