National Register of Historic Places: 04/11/1973; Ohio State Landmark
The Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation was commissioned by the United States Navy to build a construction site for two contracted lighter-than-airships. At ten million cubic feet in capacity, the design was overbuilt, as the airdock was built to house an airship much larger than the two contracted blimps. The structure was meant to have an expansive unobstructed interior space and be wind resistant. Wilbur J. Watson, who owned the company that designed the structure, was previously well-versed in the engineering of bridges and likely utilized this knowledge during the design process. Dr. Karl Arnstein, Director of Engineering at the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation, was in charge of the project. He had a model of the airdock tested in the wind tunnel of the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aeronautics at New York University before allowing its construction. The total cost of construction was $2.2 million.
The Airdock has a semi-paraboloid shape and at its maximum length 1,175', maximum width 325', and maximum height 211'. It is nearly as tall as a twenty-two story building. The semi-parabolic shape was chosen and tested to ensure its structural integrity, as well as for its economic use of steel. At 100' high, there is a row of twelve windows on both sides of the building. The building has two sets of double doors, weighing six hundred tons each, at both ends of the building, both semi-spherical in shape. The doors are rested on forty wheels on railroad tracks, and each set of doors has its own individual power plant devoted to opening and closing the doors.
With an interior of 55 million cubic feet, the temperature inside of the airdock reguarly fluctuates. In order to avoid structural damage due to the change in temperature, the airdock is mounted on rollers so that it can expand and contract in relation to temperature change. The shell of the building is supported by eleven structural steel arches spaced in 80' intervals. The construction of the aridock was an advanced engineering project, with its incredibly large interior space without supports, intentionally done so to maximum usable airship construction space.
The foundation consists of concrete piles driven to rock with a substructure of concrete footings and ties to support the steel arches. The structural steel arches were supported by a network of vertical and horiztonal steel trusses, which were erected by the American Bridge Company. Concrete was selected as the flooring material for fireproofing purposes.
The Goodyear Airdock is located on an expansive piece of land in Akron, Ohio. It is in close proximity to the Akron Fulton International Airport, which was also built in 1929.
According to the National Park Service’s Guidelines for Evaluating and Documenting Historical Aviation Properties, the distinct semi-paraboloid shape and the lack of interior supports of the Airdock makes the structure architecturally significant. The techniques used to build such an large structure without interior supports were impressive for the time. It was the largest building in the world without interior supports at its completion.This was an advanced engineering project also because of its systems used to deal with environmental factors. One example of this is how the building was placed on rollers so that it could expand and contract in relation to temperature changes. The Wilbur Watson Engineering Company was involved in constructing bridges, thus the latest bridge technology at the time was likely employed.
This structure is important to the history of both the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation and the U.S. military. The building was constructed for the sole purpose of constructing two lighter-than-airships for the government: the USS Akron and USS Macon. The structure itself was a engineering marvel, but the airships constructed within it were milestones in the United States military's technological advancements as well. Though the blimps constructed in the Airdock were unsuccessful—both the the USS Akron and USS Macon crashed with passengers on board—it was a important step in military aviation history. During World War II, helium-filled airships were built in the airdock. The airships built here would escort U.S. battleships and alert them to the presence of submarines. The last airship built in the airdock was in 1960.
For Goodyear, the airdock has been used since for constructing commercial blimps. It has also housed the company’s photographic division of the Goodyear Aerospace Corporation.
The Airdock is a work of modern engineering that is focused on function and did not try to follow any architectural stylistic conventions. Like many other industrial buildings of the same era, later incarnations of the structural form appear in later modern movement buildings. The parabola shape of the Airdock was seen in modern buildings such as Ely Jacques Kahn's Municipal Asphalt Building, as well as in numerous concrete shell constructions.
This was the second large-scale airdock that Goodyear built. In 1917, the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company built the Wingfoot Lake Airship Base, which is now the oldest airship base in the country. It was originally designed to be one hundred feet wide, ninety feet nigh and two hundred feet long, later extended to four hundred feet long. It was the largest such structure before the company built the Airdock in Akron, six miles away.
The Goodyear Airdock was nearly instantly recognized for its innovative construction, and in 1980, the American Society of Civil Engineers designated the Goodyear Airdock a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
The Goodyear Airdock was received positively, and has been designated a National Park Service Aviation landmark, a Ohio state Landmark, and the American Society of Civil Engineers has also listed the Airdock as an engineering landmark.
"Goodyear Airdock." Aviation: From Sand Dunes to Sonic Booms. National Park Service. Web.
13 Feb 2010 .
"Goodyear Airdock." Civil Engineering 72.11 (November/December 2002): 122-123.
"Goodyear Blimp: History of the Wingfoot Lake Airship." Good Year, 2009. Web. 15 Feb 2010
"USS Akron (ZRS-4), Airship 1931-1933." Naval Historical Center, 4 July 2002. Web. 13 Feb
Wilson, J.R. "A New Era for Airships." Aerospace America 42.5 (2004): 27.