A World War II Blimp Hangar, a Guppy, and a Cow Escape Route… The Oregon Coast

Eight blimps called this hangar in Tillamook, Oregon home during World War II. (Photo at Tillamook Air Museum.)

Eight blimps called this Tillamook, Oregon hangar home during World War II. (Photo at Tillamook Air Museum.)

I’d been through Tillamook, Oregon several times and never spotted the huge blimp hangar that was built there during World War II. It is plainly visible from the Highway 101. Who knows what I was thinking about when I made my way up and down the road? It must have been a heck of a daydream. I saw the hangar this time, however, and it was like, “Wow!” I immediately changed plans and decided to stay in the area for another day. The hangar was something I had to visit.

How I missed seeing this building is a mystery to me.

How I missed seeing this building is a mystery to me.

Today it serves as a partially abandoned air museum. (Most of its airplanes have been shipped off to Madras in eastern Oregon, where it’s hoped the vintage aircraft will survive better in a drier climate.) The facility is definitely worth a visit, however. The 170-foot high, 1000-foot long building was built to accommodate eight, 252 f00t K class blimps. One hundred and twenty-foot tall doors open up to a cavernous interior.

The Tillamook Air Museum shown here, served as a blimp hangar during World War II.

Here are the massive doors. The airplane in front is known as a Guppy. I’ll show you why below.

A view inside the Tillamook Air Museum that served as a blimp hangar during World War II.

This view inside the hangar gives an idea of its massive size.

This illustration inside the Air Museum provides a perspective on the various sizes of blimps. The blimps housed at the Tillamook Naval Air Station were K-Class.

This illustration inside the Air Museum provides a perspective on the various sizes of blimps. The blimps housed at the Tillamook Naval Air Station were K-Class.

Blimps played an important role in World War II: They protected convoys and shipping lanes by spotting German and Japanese submarines. The blimps’ ability to fly in almost any type of weather, hover, and provide unobstructed views of the ocean made them an excellent choice for submarine patrol. The Tillamook facility was responsible for the coastline between British Columbia and northern California. Nine other naval air stations covered the rest of the west and east coasts of the US.

This illustration at the museum shows where blimp naval air stations were located during World War II.

Another illustration at the museum showed where blimp naval air stations were located during World War II. Sorry about the quality, but I found the illustration interesting. The dark symbols represent blimp hangars still in existence.

An introductory film and numerous World War II era photos at the museum provide an overview of the hangar’s history. I also found other interesting information on the war including posters, balloon bombs and a cow escape route.

World War II Woman Ordinance Worker poster found at the Tillamook Air Museum.

Among the other World War II items found at the museum were a number of WW II posters including this one for WOW, a Women Ordinance Worker.

The first ICBM? As the Japanese war effort was reversed and the US began its air raids on the country, Japan initiated a desperate ploy:  the use of  the jet stream to carry explosive-loaded balloons 6200 miles to the Pacific Coast.

Speaking of ordinance, this fading photo of a balloon has a story to tell; it may have been the first ICBM. As Japan faced defeat in 1944, it initiated a desperate ploy: the use of the jet stream to carry explosive-laden balloons 6200 miles to the Pacific Coast of the US and Canada. Some 6000 were launched but only 300 reached their destination, and they fell on rain-soaked forests, causing little damage.

I was amused when I came across a report on the cow escape route. Tillamook takes its cows seriously. Some of the best dairy stock in the US is located in the area. So it isn’t surprising that the local farmers decided their cows needed an escape route in case the Japanese invaded. Woodsmen were called upon to plan out paths through the forest. Using old logging roads, deer trails, and hunters’ routes, a cow getaway plan was soon organized.

No one asked the cows what they thought. Given that their idea of exercise was to leisurely travel from well-stocked barns to grass filled pastures, they may have preferred to hang around and provide the Japanese with milk, butter and cheese rather than hightail it through the rugged wilderness with udders bouncing.

The guppy airplane at the Tillamook Air Museum.

It isn’t too much of a jump to move from cows to a guppy is it?  One look at the front of this cargo plane explains its name. The Guppy is part of the Air Museums collection.

Inside the guppy.

Inside the Guppy.

Building the two hangars at Tillamook was a massive undertaking. Unstable ground, a ferocious winter, and the use all provided challenges.

Building the two hangars at Tillamook was a massive undertaking. Unstable ground, a ferocious winter, and the use of wood instead of steel for the structure all provided challenges. Steel was being used at the time for other war purposes. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)

A blimp is launched from the Tillamook Air Station during World War II.

A blimp is launched from the Tillamook Air Station during World War II. Note the men holding ropes for a size perspective. Missions could last as long as 15 to 20 hours and some blimps were equipped to stay out as long as 59 hours and travel over 1400 miles. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)

A final view of blimps arrayed outside of the Tillamook hangar during World War II.

A final view of blimps arrayed outside of the Tillamook hangar during World War II. Next blog: I find a surprise in the museum that takes me back to World War II and my wife’s father. (Photo from Tillamook Air Museum.)