The U.S. Naval Air Station Dirigible Hangar B is associated with important
post-World War II military patrols of America's West coast. Plans for building
an airport at Tillamook, Oregon, took shape during the summer of 1941 and
by September the placement of the airport south of the town had been decided.
When the United States entered World War II after the Japanese attack on
Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the Navy launched its
full non-rigid airship program, which resulted in a series of hangars built
in 10 different locations throughout the United States. These hangars mark
a significant period of aviation history when airships were an important
part of the U.S. anti-submarine defense. All, including the Lighter-than-Airship
Hangars in Tustin, California, were built using the same plans and construction
began during the early years of World War II. The Tillamook valley was a
naturally protected site between San Francisco and the Straits of San Juan
de Fuca which made it an ideal base for patrol of this coastal region. Work
began on the "Lighter-than-Air" station immediately with the clearing of
2000 acres of dairy farm land four miles south of the city of Tillamook
and six miles inland. This area at the southern end of Tillamook Bay was
composed of old gravel bars, filled-in riverbeds and sedimentation. It required
over two million cubic yards of gravel for grading. The Administration Buildings
went up first and were soon followed by barracks, mess halls and roads.
Railroad connections to Tillamook and the airport were finished along with
the gatehouse and fence by September 1942.
U.S. Naval Air Station Hangar B, now Tillamook Air Museum
Photo courtesy of Tillamook
The two hangars built at Tillamook were designed for the "K" style blimps.
Hangar "A" was built at a cost of $2,405,395.00 and Hangar "B" for $3,
110.048.00. They both have an egg-shaped roof shell. Stiffened with a
series of 51 transverse arch ribs, each building is 1050 feet long, 296
feet wide and 175 feet high. The dimensions of the hangars were so huge
that there was no precedent for the manner of their construction. Hangar
"B" was started in October 1942 and finally finished on August 15, 1943.
Hangar "A" was started on July 26, 1943 and finished except for the final
roofing on August 27, 1943, in just 27 working days--avoiding the costly
delays and bad weather that affected the construction of Hangar "B." By
reason of dimensional magnitude and the volume of lumber used, they are
among the largest buildings in the world framed of timber. Two interior
catwalks run the length of each hangar, one at each side at a height of
137 feet above the ground. Stairways at each end of the hangar lead from
the ground to the catwalks and thence to the roof. A middle stairway leads
only to the catwalks. A monitor runs the full length of the ridge of the
building. At each end of the hangars there are two pillars which have
pockets to house the six huge doors when they are open (three in each
pillar). Today, only Hangar "B" remains as Hangar "A" was destroyed by
fire in 1992.
Hangar interior showing dirigible
squadron, 1944 Photo from National Register collection
Eight "K" series airships (blimps) were housed at the Tillamook Naval
Air Station. The "K" series blimps carried a crew numbering eight to 10
and were used for extended flight operations in the coastal patrols. The
ships were 215.7 feet long, 79 feet high and 62.5 feet wide. They were
armed with four depth chargers and two 50-caliber machine guns, mounted
in the extreme forward upper section of the car. The techniques for air-sea
rescue were developed at Tillamook Naval Air Station. Squadrons of FM-2's
used the Naval Air Station Tillamook (NAST) as a refueling and rearming
facility. In 1948 the Navy decided to close the Station at which time
the County negotiated a lease with the Navy and a Commission was appointed
to operate the Airport. In 1963, that Commission formally aquired the
hangars and after the loss of Hangar A, the remaining hangar was established
as a museum in 1994.
Historic aerial oblique view, 1944
Photo from National Register collection
The deactivated U.S. Naval Air Station Dirigible Hangar B at Tillamook
Bay is located at the southerly end of an estuarine valley in Oregon formed
by the meeting of the Wilson and Trask rivers with the Pacific Ocean.
The Hangar today serves as the Tillamook Air Museum. The museum is open
daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm; closed Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. There
is a fee. Please call 503-842-1130 for further information or visit the Tillamook Air Museum.