By BILL WALKER
Atlantis Productions, a book and video publisher, fills a significant niche for those with an interest in lighter than air craft. The firm is the creation and life work of aviation enthusiasts Richard and Deborah Van Treuren.
Richard is known for his video documentaries, research and writing on airships. Deborah, a private pilot, edits the books, teams with authors who are trying to get manuscripts into print, and backs up her husband of 30-plus years in all phases of their business. They work from their home in Edgewater, south of Daytona Beach.
The Van Treurens are also publishers of two World War II memoirs by local authors. Retired Air Force Major Joseph Reus, a B-24 navigator, penned “Kriegsgefangener War Prisoner,” an account of his wartime experiences including his time in a prisoner of war Stalag after being shot down over Germany. Retired senior noncommissioned officer Sam Mastrogiacomo wrote “For God And Country— In That Order,” which chronicles his service as a tailgunner on a B-24. Mastrogiacomo’s plane was also shot down and he spent several months as a war internee in Sweden before escaping.
Atlantis lists 18 books on airships in its publishing catalog, plus a five-part airship history and 19 other DVDs on airships. “U.S. Navy Airships” is its most popular book with sales of about 5,000 copies. The firm is also publisher of a well-received history of New Smyrna Beach, Fla.
Why the interest in airships?
“I joined the Navy in 1969 and read a copy of the book ‘The Akron and the Macon,’” Richard explained. “That book got me started.”
The 1965 book, written by Richard K. Smith, details the fate of the two massive helium-filled rigid Navy airships only a few feet shorter than the ill-fated German passenger airship Hindenburg.
The Akron went down off the New Jersey coast in April 1933 during a storm. All but three of the 76-member crew drowned. The Macon suffered fin failure and sank off the California coast in 1935. Two of the 76-member crew were lost when the Macon went down.
Today, Richard is a world authority on airships. He is a contributing member to airship organizations in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. He also edits the Noon Balloon, newsletter of the Naval Airship Association.
His first feature film, “The Flying Carriers” on VHS video tape, was presented at the 1991 reunion of the Airship Association in Pensacola.
The Van Treurens are also aircraft kit builders. The place that was once their garage is now the workshop for a Silence Twister, a single-seat kit from a German manufacturer. The partially-completed composite and carbon fiber aircraft already has a name, the Abra-Ca-Deborah. Building the plane is a particularly fitting endeavor for Deborah, who is president of the local EAA chapter.
Richard’s father was the first glider pilot in Buncombe County, N.C., before World War II. He flew Civil Air Patrol antisubmarine missions early in the war off Florida, then served with the Navy’s first heavy transport squadron.
“After the war he was a corporate pilot and flew his own Curtiss Robin monoplane to airshows and I accompanied him,” Richard said.
Atlantis Productions comes from the name of the space orbiter Atlantis and reflects Richard’s career after the Navy working as a spacecraft operator on the orbiter program at the Kennedy Space Center.
Richard’s 2009 book, “Airships VS Submarines,” examines the mystery of why the U.S. Navy minimized the contributions of airships in the war against submarines.
“That was always something not right about the story of World War II,” he said. “Almost all of the World War II guys that came in would say something like, ‘I know that the Navy said we never sank a submarine, we never damaged a submarine seriously other than the K-74, a 1943 encounter between the Navy’s Goodyear-built K-74 blimp and the German submarine U-134 off Florida. But I also know that such and such happened.’”
The records were declassified in 1998 and that started Richard’s 10-year quest to find out the truth about airships in combat.
“Turns out the same nonsense was going on in World War I,” he said. “Remember the official record to this day is blimps zero, U-boats one, no draw. Thanks to a Navy captain named Mason who put the records onto an Excel spread sheet and a Navy memo decoding the entries of airships attacking submarines, I was able to search the proper records from about 10,000 file entries.”
“Here you are 433 pages later,” he said pointing to his book. “Airships VS. Submarines reveals that the more accurate score was 2 U-boats sunk, two Navy airships downed and 10 draws in combat.”
Why did the Navy conceal the combat records? “Generally, it was level of secrecy,” Richard said. “Fear of alarming the public and postwar lack of attention were the main reasons for not getting the full record out.”
He said airships are making a comeback in the U.S. military.
“The Army’s Long Endurance Multipurpose Vehicle just flew for the first time two months ago,” he noted. “It will replace drone aircraft and (moored) aerostats with a pilot optional sensor platform that will hover above the battlefield and move when required, carrying a variety of sensors to detect everything from a guy that’s planting bombs to troop movements. A lot of the equipment is classified so we don’t know what it is. Lockheed has built their prototype to carry cargo. They call it the Sky Tug and they flew in 2006.”
Deborah, who recently retired from a successful three-decade career in real estate, said she has always shared Richard’s interest in aviation. She took that interest to a new level a few years ago by earning her private pilot’s license. “And I earned my tailwheel endorsement last December,” she said.
The couple regularly attend SUN ’n FUN in Lakeland and AirVenture in Oshkosh. Deborah works as a volunteer at both events.
“We enjoy meeting people from all areas of aviation,” Deborah said. “If we can’t meet up personally, send us an email at email@example.com or call at 386-345-4208.”