Ohioan Zachary Lansdowne was the commander of the USS Shenandoah.
Lansdowne was born on December 1, 1888, in Greenville, Ohio. He attended and graduated from the United States Naval Academy, receiving an appointment to Ensign in 1911. After serving in the United States Navy, Lansdowne then joined the Ohio Naval Militia. He eventually received pilot training, becoming a naval aviator before World War I.
During World War I, Lansdowne served in the Royal Naval Air Service. One of his main assignments was to study the use of zeppelins, a type of airship. The United States military first observed Germany's use of zeppelins during this conflict. Once the war ended, the United States Navy determined that it would build three rigid airships. These airships would not be used to fight in future wars but, instead, would be able to scout enemy positions. The USS Shenandoah was the first of these zeppelins to be completed. Unlike other airships, which used hydrogen, the Shenandoah was inflated with helium. It completed its first flight on September 4, 1923. In 1924, the airship and its crew completed a round-trip voyage across the United States. The following year, the Shenandoah and its crew, led by Lieutenant Commander Landsdowne, began a goodwill tour of the Midwestern states.
On September 2, 1925, the Shenandoah was traveling across Noble County, Ohio, when it encountered a storm. Violent updrafts began to tear the airship apart. Landsdowne and six other crewmen were killed when the control car separated from the airship and crashed in a field. Six others fell to their deaths soon afterward. The bow and stern sections continued to travel, bumping into trees and buildings before finally coming to a rest. Of the forty-three people on board, fourteen did not survive. The crash sites attracted many looters, even with Ohio National Guard protection. As a result of investigations after the crash, the navy's airships were redesigned. Today, the Shenandoah crash site is marked with a historical marker.
Lansdowne illustrates the important role that Ohioans have played in aviation. With such important names as the Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and numerous others, Ohioans have been at the forefront of aviation history.
- Crouch, Tom D. The Giant Leap: A Chronology of Ohio Aerospace Events and Personalities, 1815-1969. Columbus: The Ohio History Connection, 1971.