Fire Destroys Historic Blimp Hangar


Firefighters used water-dropping helicopters to try to quell a fire at one of two enormous blimp hangars in Tustin, California, but the historic structure couldn’t be saved. The massive building, 1,000 feet long, almost 200 feet tall and 300 feet wide, caught fire overnight and continued to burn through the day. Firefighters on the ground couldn’t get close enough to have much effect on the fire as the all-wood structure progressively collapsed. By nightfall, most of the structure had been consumed. “We can’t get close enough to that building without concerns of it collapsing on our firefighters,” Orange County Fire Chief Brian Fennessy told The New York Times. “Our use of aircraft on a structure like this, that’s extraordinary.”

The two hangars were built at what was Marine Corps Air Station Tustin in 1942. They were the largest wood buildings built in the 20th century, according to local historians. The base was built about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles to house blimps used to spot Japanese submarines off the West Coast. The base remained operational until 1999 and the hangars were designated as national landmarks in 1975. The City of Tustin had been in discussion with the Navy, which still owns the buildings, about their long-term preservation.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. It’s a shame. I was a Navy brat at Glynco Georgia when the blimp hangers were there. They were impressive structures inside and out. I was heartbroken when they were torn down. To lose the last to a fire… It’s a real shame.

  2. As a long time pilot AND a long time carpenter, this is horrible, but, all things must pass. I bet it was one hell of a sight….., just the frigging doors are pretty epic!

  3. I lived in Brunswick 60-63 when dad was stationed there as well! One of Dads friends was a modeler and he flew the gossamer like one ounce rubber powered airplanes on 30 minute flights inside of those magnificent structures.
    I think there are several other remaining Blimp Hangars along the west coast. The one Apple is using in San Jose area comes to mind. Since they were all likely built on the same drawings claiming one is the largest is suspect but I’ll go with it. Several had become so dilapidated that timbers from the structure would fall out of the roof periodically prohibiting any walking in the open on the floor.

    • Yes, I’m sure the city and all of the local developers are crying crocodile tears today that this local historic monument that was taking up incredibly valuable real estate has now been cleared away. They will probably tell their arson investigators that there is no rush to solve this one.

  4. More history lost to a generation who doesnt care, so it can have additional strip malls with garbage food, foo foo coffee, nail salons, and tattoo dens. Oh yeah, we need more of that.

    • Ever get the idea we need to somehow create some all new cities for these generations? Continuously growing the same ones just makes me think it’s inefficient. Plus, maybe we could ensure a GA airport is locked into the city center somehow.

    • Listen to you three throwing an entire generation under the bus. I have some incredibly talented and respectful young adults in my life. And some unbelievably bitter old crusty clowns like you as well.

  5. It’s TUSTIN Not Dustin.
    I served in Naval Air at nearby Los Alamitos NA(R)S from 1965-68 and often went to MCAS El Toro.
    These are Not the only all wooden Blimp hangers left from that program.
    I was just at the Tillamook Oregon air museum that is in another identical all wood blimp hanger built in 1943. Some others are still standing in other parts of the US.
    There were 2 of these giant all wood hangers there in Tillamook till one Also burned down in 1992 while being used for storage including 135,000 bales of highly flammable straw!

    • I’ve been telling them to upgrade to non-flammable straw…

      Seriously, the hangar in Tillamook houses an aviation museum and is an absolute marvel to walk in. Also, borrow a car and check out the cheese factory tour.

  6. Most all of those really large structures built during the war were built with wood because steel and aluminum were strategic materials needed for the war effort. At the time, the US had lots of timber available. I used to tour an old chemical plant built during the war to make synthetic rubber for the military. All of the pipe racks and some of the support structures were built using telephone poles and heavy timber crossbars. It’s a shame the building was lost, but sending firemen inside to attack the fire would be very dangerous and attacking it from the outside would be totally ineffective. It would be interesting to hear the cause of the fire.