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Looming wonder

Lighter Than Air

Courtesy Illustration. Stu Shepherd print commissioned by Mark Wilderman showing the first, in flight, linkup between an airplane and airship over Scott Field on 15 December 1924.

Lighter Than Air

A model of an airship hangar is displayed July 18, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The model, completed by American Model Builders, Inc. from Brentwood, Mo., replicates the hangar that was on Scott Air Field during the 1920s and 1930s at the height of the lighter-than-air era in U.S. military history. The current runway on Scott is the location where the hangar once stood, at a height of 15 stories tall, and the hangar was capable of holding an airship that spanned approximately three football fields in length. This model is part of a larger project, headed by wing historian Mark Wilderman, to document the lighter-than-air era at Scott with models of airships and the hangar, as well as preserving photos and video footage of Scott’s importance in history. (U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Greg Erwin and Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook)

Lighter Than Air

A model of an airship hangar is displayed July 18, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The model, completed by American Model Builders, Inc. from Brentwood, Mo., replicates the hangar that was on Scott Air Field during the 1920s and 1930s at the height of the lighter-than-air era in U.S. military history. The current runway on Scott is the location where the hangar once stood, at a height of 15 stories tall, and the hangar was capable of holding an airship that spanned approximately three football fields in length. This model is part of a larger project, headed by wing historian Mark Wilderman, to document the lighter-than-air era at Scott with models of airships and the hangar, as well as preserving photos and video footage of Scott’s importance in history. (U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Greg Erwin and Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook)

Lighter Than Air

A model of an airship hangar is displayed July 18, 2019, at Scott Air Force Base, Ill. The model, completed by American Model Builders, Inc. from Brentwood, Mo., replicates the hangar that was on Scott Air Field during the 1920s and 1930s at the height of the lighter-than-air era in U.S. military history. The current runway on Scott is the location where the hangar once stood, at a height of 15 stories tall, and the hangar was capable of holding an airship that spanned approximately three football fields in length. This model is part of a larger project, headed by wing historian Mark Wilderman, to document the lighter-than-air era at Scott with models of airships and the hangar, as well as preserving photos and video footage of Scott’s importance in history. (U.S. Air Force photos by Senior Airman Greg Erwin and Airman 1st Class Solomon Cook)

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. – In 1923, Scott Field was the nation’s center for Lighter-Than-Air activity, which lasted 15 years, making it a short lived, yet awe-inspiring time in military history when airships and balloons ruled the skies.

Little was known about this important time in military history until Mark Wilderman came to the 375th Air Mobility Wing as its historian two years ago.

Uncovering this history happened almost by accident as he searched through the archives in the headquarters building he works in … and ever since he’s been working to create a Scott Field LTA heritage display so it will never again be lost in the clouds.

Members of Team Scott can once again experience the wonders of the past by stepping through the halls of the 375th AMW headquarters building.

He calls the display, the “Up Ship! Scott Field’s Army Airships, Balloons, and Aeronauts during the Lighter-than-Air Era” and it includes photos, blueprints and replicas.

“They used to say that airships didn’t fly over,” Wilderman said. “They loomed over.”

To fully convey the “unimaginable grandeur” that was an airship at Scott Field, Wilderman commissioned a 3D-printed model of the RS-1 airship used at Scott, which was developed from blueprints discovered in the basement.

In addition, he commissioned a replica of the LTA hangar, which was the second largest in the nation at that time and was clearly a landmark building in this area.  Both are on display in the lobby area.

There’s more work to be done to finish up the LTA museum, but clearly Wilderman’s vision is well on its way.

Col. Scot Heathman, 375th AMW commander, said, “The LTA heritage display is a reflection of the growth and development that our base and mission have undergone. It’s important that we share this with the Airmen so we can continue to learn from our past and honor the courageous Airmen who flew these airships. These models add just a spark of wonder that I think will really inspire our Airmen.”

Wilderman said he’s working hard to complete this effort so that future generations will be amazed and a little proud, that the LTA era occurred here on their base.

Once the museum is finished, Wilderman said he will begin research on how Scott Field became the Radio University of the Air and made a significant contribution to victory in World War II. The resulting discoveries will be an expansion to the growing heritage displays he has begun, which will leave a more in-depth, rich legacy for all to enjoy.