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Blimps then, Guppies now at the Tillamook Air Museum

The Tillamook Air Museum's cavernous Hangar B is one of the largest wooden structures in the world. It once held a squadron of K-class blimps. Here's how those airships looked then, and how their home looks now.

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Geoffrey Morrison
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
Geoffrey Morrison
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1 of 56 Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Tillamook Air Museum

The gigantic Hangar B, once home to a squadron of patrol blimps, now houses the Tillamook Air Museum

For more on the museum, the building and the blimps stationed there, check out Ghost blimps haunt a humongous hangar at the Tillamook Air Museum.

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Scope

My trusty rental car, after bravely letting me drive it through snow and sleet, offers some perspective of how big this building is.

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And going

This is from the same spot. It keeps going and going...

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Dark

Inside is quite dark. There are lots of lights, but the space is so huge and the surfaces so dark, that they don't do enough.

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Last Corsair

This is the last A-7E Corsair withdrawn from military service. It was stationed on the USS John F. Kennedy from the late '70s to the early '90s. 

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View from the Tomcat

Stairs let you look inside the cockpit of this F-14, but the low light and reflections didn't make for a very good photo. On the right you can see the museum's collections of other cockpits and cockpit trainers.

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F-8

This is the cockpit trainer for an F-8. You can sit in many of the cockpit trainers.

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Spartan

The Alenia C-27J Spartan is not an aircraft you see often in museums. It uses engines and some other parts from the larger-but-visually-similar C-130

This particular aircraft was built in Italy, flown by the US Air Force for five years, and then after some time mothballed at AMARG, it was sold to a private owner, who loaned it to the museum. 

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Space doors

The hangar is quite dark, so when the sun breaks through the Pacific Northwest clouds, the windows becoming blinding (and a hassle for photography).

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Classic fire engines

A 1944 Seagrave ladder truck, with an 85-foot/26m ladder and a 185hp 14.9-liter V12. 

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Clouds clearing

It was raining when I first arrived, and after a brief downpour while I was inside, the skies cleared. Hangar B looked far more ominous with the cloud cover, however.

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Doors

The doors are 120 feet (36.6m) high. Each of the six segments weigh 30 tons.

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Mini Guppy!

I love weirdly proportioned cargo aircraft, and the Aero Spacelines Mini Guppy is certainly that.

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Baby brother

The Mini Guppy was the smaller, younger sibling to the original Pregnant Guppy and larger Super Guppy specialized cargo craft. There's a Super Guppy at the incredible Pima Air and Space Museum, which we've also toured

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Boeing base

All three Guppy aircraft were built using parts borrowed or adapted from Boeing 377 Stratocruisers. This one carried, among other cargo, the Pioneer 10 space probe and a Goodyear Blimp stationed in Europe.

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Cargo hold

The Mini Guppy's fuselage was built from scratch, and is wider than the 377 it's based on.

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Tiny planet in the Mini Guppy

A tiny planet photo from inside the Mini Guppy. From my Instagram.

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Cockpit

The cockpit is basically the same as a 377. The nose on the Mini Guppy is fixed, with a swing-open tail for cargo. The Mini Guppy Turbine, using more advanced engines, had a swing-open nose. 

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Hangar B

As large as the Mini Guppy is, it's dwarfed by the giant Hangar B. 

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20 of 56 National Register of Historic Places

Wartime

Here's the first in a series of historical photos I've included to provide more context for this fascinating museum. Hangar B was the first of two blimp hangars built at Naval Air Station Tillamook, and was completed in 1943. 

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Giant

Due to wartime metal shortages, it was constructed almost entirely of wood.

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Timber cathedral

Hangar B was constructed first, and took 10 months to build

Without the weather and other delays that plagued that construction, Hangar A took less than 6 weeks. It was destroyed by fire in 1992.

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K-class

Over 130 K-class blimps were built by Goodyear before and during WWII. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-13315)

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Moored

Unlike most larger airships, the K-class was small enough for its mooring mast to be mobile, towed by a tractor in this case. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-13314)

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Secured

Blimp K-87 attached to a mobile mooring mast at NAAS Quillayute, Washington, circa 1944-45. This is now the Quillayute Airport. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-2448)

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26 of 56 Naval History and Heritage Command

Do you call AAA?

The Balao-class USS Sea Poacher towing K-86, circa 1952-1953. (Catalog #: L45-259.05.01)

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K-class kreepin'

A K-class in the background, taken from the deck of the USS Matanikau. (Catalog #: 2015.22.088) 

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On patrol

A K-class on antisubmarine patrol above merchant cargo ships. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-13894)

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From below

Most K-class blimps were powered by two nine-cylinder Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-13309)

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30 of 56 United States Navy/Public Domain

Carrier landings

K-69 landing on the Commencement Bay-class escort carrier USS Mindoro

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U-858

The German submarine U-858 near Cape Henlopen, Delaware, in May 1945, after surrendering at sea. K-class blimps were primarily used as antisubmarine patrols. The helicopter is a Sikorski R-4, aka the HNS-1 in Navy parlance. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-3319-A)

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Missouri

A K-class above an anchored USS Missouri circa August, 1944. We toured the Missouri, which is now a museum ship in Hawaii. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-4576)

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Hangar

Three K-class inside their hangar at NAS Lakehurst, circa 1942-43. This is the same station where, roughly five years earlier, a different airship met its famous fate. (Catalog #: 80-G-K-15413)

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Squad goals

Tillamook's Squadron ZP-33 had eight K-class blimps.

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Today

Now we're back to current photos I took myself during my visit. Not filled with big blimps, the 7-acre (2.8 hectares) floor space seems to go on forever.

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Open sesame

Some other blimp hangars had clamshell-style doors. Hangar B's ride on railroad tracks.

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Structure

Seeing up close that it's made from wood makes it even more peculiar -- and impressive. 

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Catwalks

W-a-a-a-a-a-a-y up near the top, you can just make out two narrow catwalks that run the length of the hangar.

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880

The museum is currently restoring the fuselage of a Convair 880. This is a pretty rare airliner, and this is the only example on the West Coast.

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MiG

The museum's MiG-17 was built in Poland.

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Train too

This 1917 Heisler locomotive looks almost toy-like in this huge open space.

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Roughly halfway

This is taken from about halfway down the hangar. The rest is currently used for storage. 

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Alien invasion

The only blimp... well, balloon, in the museum. This is much smaller than the K-class blimps that lived here.

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Big blimps

The K-class is a blimp, or non-rigid airship. Essentially it's a formed balloon with a fixed control car. 

Semi-rigid airships have a stiff keel, but the rest of the gas-holding envelope is only supported by its own internal pressure. 

Rigid airships, colloquially "Zeppelins," have an internal metal framework.

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Tented

Most of the museum's remaining aircraft are housed in a tent erected within Hangar B.

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Sky Arrow

A tandem seat, pusher-prop 3I Sky Arrow.

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Rutan

I love Burt Rutan's designs. This Long EZ was home-built in the mid-'80s.

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Pump room

The Hangar's original helium pump room. Helium is heavier and more expensive than hydrogen, but infinitely less dangerous

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Arctic explorer

The museum's Cessna 180 is one of two planes that landed at the North Pole, the first light aircraft to do so.

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French German

This is a French-built and engined Nord Noralpha, which is based on the Messerschmitt Bf 108 civilian aircraft from the 1930s. 

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Trainer

At first glance I thought this was a T-37, but it's the visually similar British BAC Jet Provost

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V

Another oddball aircraft in a museum that has a lot of them, this is a Fouga CM.170 Magister, a French two-seat trainer jet. This specific example was actually built in Finland.

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Twin rotor

A Kaman HTK-1 with its intermeshing rotors.

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Baby Lear

The museum's Learjet 24 was owned and flown by Cal Worthington, a famous (on the West Coast anyway) and extremely successful car dealer who flew B-17s in WWII and won, among other medals, the Distinguished Flying Cross.

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Invader

Tucked in at the very end of the hangar-within-a-hangar is a lovely A-26. I wish it was easier to get a better look.

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Mini Guppies and big hangars

The Tillamook Air Museum is small, ironically in a huge building. The history of that building and several of the aircraft make it worth a visit, if you're nearby. I combined it with a mac and cheese lunch at nearby Tillamook Creamery and the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon (phototour coming soon) for a busy but excellent day.

For more info about this tour, Hangar B, and the patrol blimps that called it home, check out Ghost blimps haunt a humongous hangar at the Tillamook Air Museum.

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