The World War II Veteran Hidden in Plain Sight

Posted on Fri, April 10, 2020
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Every year, thousands of visitors pass the Goodyear C-49 control car at our Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. They see the control car as it looked through the 1980s, when it provided stunning aerial visuals above numerous events, including Worlds Series games, Super Bowls, and the 1980 Olympic Games. 

white and blue control car

The C-49 Goodyear Control Car as it appears at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

What you may not realize, however, is that beneath the colorful exterior and television camera equipment lies a veteran of World War II. 

The C-49 control car took its first flight on August 23, 1934, under the name Enterprise (NC-16A). It flew in the skies above Washington, DC, and in the New York area during the years before the war, but once the United States entered the conflict, the C-49 control car took flight to Akron, Ohio, to begin its wartime service.

goodyear blimp

C-49 as is appeared before World War II, Washington, DC, 1934. (LIbrary of Congress, LC-H22-D- 3732)

Before World War II, the lighter-than-air arm of the U.S. Navy was practically nonexistent. It consisted of only a handful of varied types of airships, including three L-type training crafts. Once the United States entered the war, it needed to rapidly expand aircraft capabilities to contest the growing threats to its shores. In January 1942, the German Navy launched numerous attacks against U.S. commercial shipping from U-boats stationed along the coast. Although land-based aircraft and ships were useful for patrolling against such threats, airships proved to be the best resource for the task. The new K-type airship could stay aloft for over 24 hours, could carry radar and other equipment for hunting for German submarines, and could move fast enough to keep up with vulnerable shipping convoys. But the aircraft would not be enough: pilots were needed to help patrol the skies. In order to rapidly augment the number of training airships available to the service, the U.S. Navy purchased C-49 from Goodyear, along with several other advertising blimps within Goodyear’s fleet, to help prepare future lighter-than-air pilots. The L-type airship was smaller than the patrol airships in the Navy fleet, at 148 feet long by 54 feet high and 48 feet wide.  They could fly for about 475 miles and provided an excellent platform for teaching new pilots the art of flying a lighter-than-air craft.

nine airships flying

A group of nine U. S. Navy L-Type non-rigid airships in flight above the U.S. Naval Air Station at Moffett Field. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, NASM 7A46232)

After C-49 was purchased by the U.S. Navy, it was renamed L-5 and flown to Akron, Ohio, to provide pilot training at the Wingfoot Lake facility owned by Goodyear. Pilots flew training missions over northern Ohio, gaining critical experience which would prove essential to later anti-submarine patrols.  L-5 even flew some missions ensuring the areas throughout northern Ohio were abiding by blackout regulations. 

airship in air low to ground

The C-49 control car as it appeared during its service in World War II as L-5. (Naval Airship Association)

In January 1942, L-5 was deflated and the control car and envelope were shipped to Moffett Field, California. Moffett Field had been the base for the rigid airship USS Macon before its loss in February 1935. L-5 served at both Moffett Field, California, and Lakehurst, New Jersey, for the remainder of the war, operating as a training craft to hundreds of pilots. One of the many pilots that came to fly L-5 was John F. Lutz. 

man in uniform

John F. Lutz shortly after completing training on L-ships, circa April 1943. (Photo via Mark Lutz, son of John Lutz, Naval Airship Association)

John F. Lutz began his Navy career during the spring of 1942 when he started Naval Flight Ground School at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. From November 1942 until March 1943, Lutz flew numerous L-Type ships while training to become a pilot. He first flew L-5 on February 5, 1943, and flew L-5 again for three days in March 1943.

log book

The March 1943 Log Book Page for John F. Lutz showing his flights on L-5. (Mark Lutz, son of John Lutz, Naval Airship Association)

Following his flight training in the L-Type airships, in April 1943, Ensign Lutz served aboard K-Type airships flying out of Florida and bases throughout the Caribbean. Lutz performed important anti-submarine patrols throughout the area, protecting the shipping of critical war materials, including oil, exiting from the Gulf of Mexico. When submarines were spotted, K-Type airships could call in other aircraft or surface ships to make an attack, or even strike at the submarine with four depth bombs carried aboard the craft. 

group of men pose in front of k-type airship

Ensign John F. Lutz, pictured in dark vest, with his crew of a K-Type airship in early 1943. (Photo via Mark Lutz, son of John Lutz, Naval Airship Association)

K-Type airships proved to be critical components of naval aviation throughout World War II. They proved to be excellent at search and rescue operations, often dropping life rafts and survival supplies to those found at sea and calling in other craft to pick them up. K-Type airships provided essential anti-submarine warfare patrols and convoy protection to merchants and shipping along the Eastern seaboard of the United States, throughout the Caribbean, and along the east coast of South America.  K-Type airships were even sent to patrol the Straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea. Convoys under the protection of K-Type airships rarely came under attack, as submarines were often spotted before any attack could be made. The many tasks assigned to K-Type airships, however, could never have been accomplished without the brave crews who constantly surveyed the seas, flown by pilots like John F. Lutz.

k-type airship

US Navy K-Type airship in flight over a convoy of Merchant Marine ships in the western Atlantic Ocean; circa 1943. (National Air and Space Museum Archives, NAM A-4252)