Much more than a gateway: Dale Mabry

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Brandon Shapiro
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
On an average day more than 20,000 people find their way through the gates of MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, the majority of whom arrive by one of the state's most famous roads--Dale Mabry Highway.

Buried beneath the popularity of its modern day relevance, Dale Mabry Hwy. is much more than a road that houses a National Football League team--it's named after a Word War I aviation pioneer.

What was Dale Mabry's significance?

Ponder the following juxtaposition as things are put into perspective: When the name Hindenburg is mentioned, more often than not, one is reminded of the 1937 explosion of the German airship the Hindenburg--the largest dirigible ever built. Now, mention the Italian built, U.S. piloted dirigible the Roma, and more than likely you will get blank stares.

What's the connection?

On Feb. 21, 1922 the Army airship Roma crashed in Norfolk, Virginia marking the greatest disaster in American aeronautics up to that time. Among the dirigible's piloting crew was Capt. Dale Mabry, son of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Milton H. Mabry.

Mabry's contributions to American aviation were portrayed in the U.S.'s constant yearning to advance flight. Instead of ending the airship program, Congress recognized the significance of the mishap and decreed that all U.S. airship operations were to use helium instead of hydrogen due to hydrogen's extreme flammability.

Because of the bravery of Mabry and his crew the Army was able to make adjustments to their program and expand their capabilities. Airships had the competence of traveling at speed in upwards of 50 miles per hour at a range of 7,000 miles. With such an invaluable resource, the U.S. could strengthen the transportation of cargo and passengers.

However, that was not the route the U.S. took. The majority of the airships operated by the U.S. Army during the 1920s and 30s were designed for coastal patrol duty, and the harbor defense of the country.

Although airship operations ended in 1937, it was sacrifices toward country and advancement such as those aboard the Roma that showed America's strength.

So, next time you are traveling through a town or down a highway, take a second to look into the history of whom or what it was named for, because more than likely there is a story of true sacrifice and triumph.