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Tales from the Bonfire | The Last Navy Blimp Jumper
Tales from the Bonfire | Nov 29, 2021
Tales from the Bonfire | The Last Navy Blimp Jumper

Ed Kruse

From the words “be limp” comes the more common term “blimp,” for the Navy’s lighter-than-air aircraft. Jumping from a blimp is far less challenging than jumping from an F3D twin jet, but nonetheless very interesting. In 1961, the Navy was deflating the last of their giant airships, which had served well for coastline surveillance to spot enemy submarines. Modern technology, however, had forced them into retirement. A little convincing was needed, but we were able to get a blimp squadron pilot to take us up, and we became part of Navy aviation history. With us flying at zero airspeed, parked at 3,000 feet, the seagulls flying past were probably wondering, “What’s that thing doing in our airspace?” It was almost like BASE jumping.

The Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, had been home to several lighter-than-air airship squadrons, and in 1924 it also became home to the Navy Parachute Rigger School. Lakehurst is considered to be the birthplace of Navy parachuting, and for more than 50 years, graduating from the school meant that each aspiring rigger had to make a freefall jump with a parachute he had packed. In the early years of the school, all student jumps were made from airships out of an open gondola that hung under the air bag. Classic jump procedure was used: the students climbed out of the boat-shaped gondola and descended a rope ladder, released, then immediately pulled the ripcord.

The Navy authorized off-duty parachute jumping in 1959, and instructors at the Navy Parachute Rigger School formed one of the first Navy sport parachute clubs. Knowing the history of blimp jumping at the Lakehurst Air Station, we thought it appropriate to honor the past with one last parachute jump from one of those airships. On June 28, 1961, instead of climbing down a rope ladder from an open gondola, we climbed up a steel ladder to enter a cabin larger than a Greyhound bus. Since I was jumpmaster, and therefore the last out, I can claim the title of the Last Navy Blimp Jumper.

Ed Kruse | D-121
Burnsville, Minnesota

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