The best attraction IN Tillamook is now the Naval Air Station Museum. When I was in it before, it was a not-so-great aircraft displayer. Since my 1st visit, the Port of Tillamook Bay changed this attraction’s focus, closed it for a period of time, and reopened it in 2015. Now the focus is on the building, not airplanes, making it a GREAT experience.
This is no ordinary building! It’s a cold, wet and wonderful World War II hangar for 8 K-class blimps. It’s so large, 15 stories tall, that 9 blimps would fit inside it. The story began in 1942, 5 years after The Hindenburg caught fire while landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey, home to America’s 1st blimp base. The German Hindenburg blimp was 803 feet long. The Goodyear blimp that many are familiar with is 190 feet long. K-class blimps were 252 feet long. When built, this hangar was one of the 2 largest wooden clear-span structures ever built. Hangar A was near it.
The mostly wooden Hangar B was the 1st built. Construction began in 1942 because an anti-submarine coast patrol was needed and the thinking was that blimps with a 2,000-mile-range and capable of staying aloft for 3 days were perfect for this job. They did prove good at spotting U-boats and were also used for convoy escort. There were actually 17 hangars built. All were along the United States’ coastlines. There were 6 hangars on the West Coast with the other four in California. The two at Tillamook were the only ones in the Northwest. Hangar A, which was destroyed by fire in 1992, was the 2nd one built in Tillamook, where wood was plentiful. It took only 27 days to finish A. The Tillamook Naval Air Station was decommissioned in 1948, and it’s a miracle that this structure has survived.
Fewer than 20 aircraft are on display in this unbelievably large building. The staff told me that several more aircraft are to be added soon. The most interesting on display now were A Rutan Model 61 Long-EZ and an Arctic Research Laboratory plane. The Long-EZ was the aircraft that singer John Denver was flying when he crashed and died. The probable cause of the accident was Denver’s failure to shift fuel tanks. He presumably pressed the right rudder pedal and lost control of this rare aircraft. There are other displays, some accompanied by human interest stories, besides the planes. Ruth and I especially liked the miniature World War II dioramas, the warm Exhibit Hall, and the Helium Room. Each blimp was filled with 425,000 cubic feet of this gas.
According to The History of NAS Tillamook…, a fact-filled booklet that I bought, 77 Lighter-Than-Air crewmen were killed during World War II and 6 ground handlers died as the result of accidents. It would be helpful if the Port of Tillamook Bay staff could find and display or recreate a K-class blimp to show in this 5 Compass building.