Tustin, California –
An airship company is suing the Navy for $65 million stemming from the 2013 roof collapse of a Navy blimp hangar in Tustin that destroyed an experimental airship.
In a complaint filed Monday in federal district court, Aeros Aeronautical Systems claims the Navy knew 16 years before the incident that the roof of the massive wooden structure was unstable.
“They had not done anything done about it,” James Gallagher, a Los Angeles attorney representing Aeros, said Wednesday.
The Navy and the Department of Justice, representing the Navy in the lawsuit, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Aeros leased a third of the 1,000-foot hangar in 2009. With funding from the Department of Defense and NASA, Aeros crews spent the next few years developing Aeroscraft. The rigid airship drew headlines for its buoyancy technology, which allowed the 266-foot ship to land just about anywhere, plus its potential for carrying heavier cargo than any plane or helicopter.
In early October 2013, Aeros officials say a piece of wood fell from the World War II-era hangar and engineers were called to assess the structure. A week later, a 25-foot chunk of the roof fell 17 stories, with some debris puncturing the aircraft.
At the time, officials said the cause of the collapse was unknown. The Aeros lawsuit alleges delayed maintenance was to blame.
The Navy built the hangar and a twin structure to the south in 1942 to store planes and blimps during World War II. Helicopters were also kept there during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
The Tustin Marine Corps Air Station was shuttered in 1999, with most of the land transferred to Tustin. But the Navy hung onto the hangars, with plans to eventually hand the north one off to Orange County and the south one to Tustin.
Through public records requests, Gallagher said his team learned the Navy paid a structural engineering firm to assess the roof of the hangar in 1997.
“They had come back with a report that said there was a certain area of roof that was in need of critical repair,” Gallagher said, recommending repairs be made within two years. In 2013, Graham said, “That is the precise part of the roof that collapsed.”
The Navy blocked access to the hangar for eight months, Gallagher said, fearful more of the roof might come tumbling down. When Aeros was allowed back inside, the company declared Aeroscraft a total loss.
Aeros filed a claim for damages, but the Navy denied the claim in December. No reason was given, Gallagher said.
“For the past 17 months, we have attempted to address damages arising from a clear dereliction of duty as quietly as possible,” Aeros CEO Igo Pasternak said in a statement. “However, the Navy’s unwillingness to resolve the issue in a timely manner is now delaying a long-sought airlift capability that holds promise to solve complex logistics problems, save significant taxpayer money and save lives following natural disasters.”
The lawsuit asks for at least $65 million in property damages, plus a portion of a $3 billion financing campaign Aeros claims was derailed by the roof collapse. Aeros says it hoped to fund a fleet of cargo-carrying airships to help with military, commercial and humanitarian efforts.
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