Tag Archives: airship

USS Macon ZRS-5


English: U.S.S. Macon moored at south circle, ...

English: U.S.S. Macon moored at south circle, viewed from camera inside of Hangar 1. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USS Macon ZRS-5 and its sister ship (USS Akron ZRS-4) were the largest helium-filled rigid airships ever built, and the largest airships built in the United States. The Hindenburg LZ-129 was 19 feet 10 inches longer and is the largest airship ever built, and the largest hydrogen-filled airship ever built. Because of the size of the Macon and the Akron, German engineers came from Germany to assist with the design and construction of the sister ships.

A U.S. Navy consolidated N2Y-1 in the hangar o...

A U.S. Navy consolidated N2Y-1 in the hangar of the airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1933/34. The USN equipped six N2Y-1s with hooks to train pilots for the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk fighters and also used the N2Y-1 as liaison planes between the ground and the airship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Macon was built as a flying aircraft carrier, carrying 5 F9C Sparrowhawk biplanes. The Macon was commissioned on 23 June 1933, and docked its first airplane on 6 July 1933. The planes were stored inside the hull of the airship.

A plane carried by the USS Macon blimp. Pictur...

A plane carried by the USS Macon blimp. Picture taken by Mark Pellegrini in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center (Smithsonian Air and Space museum extension in Dulles, Virginia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (BuNo 9058) in fli...

A Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk (BuNo 9058) in flight over Moffet Field, California in 1934, flown by Lt. ‘Min’ Miller. This aircraft was lost with the USS Macon (ZRS-5). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On 24 June 1933, the Macon left Lakehurst, New Jersey, the site of its construction, for its new base near San Francisco, California. The Macon developed the procedures for using airplanes from an airship for scouting purposes. While the airplanes were onboard the Macon, the landing gear was removed and replaced with fuel tanks, increasing the airplane’s range by 30%.

A Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk inside USS Akron (...

A Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk inside USS Akron (ZRS-4) hangar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Macon had a stellar reputation, with an outstanding performance record. Just before the fatal crash of the Macon, the airship was forced to dump 9,000 pounds of ballast and 7,000 pounds of fuel to clear mountains in Arizona. The Macon had to fly up to 6,000 feet, more than twice as high as its maximum flight ceiling altitude of 2,800 feet. Even with the dump of fuel and ballast the airship was still 15,000 pounds heavy and had to be flown at full speed to maintain altitude. As the airship approached a mountain pass near Van Horn, Texas it encountered severe turbulence and had a rapid drop in altitude, damaging the rear of the airship. Fast action by Chief Boatswain’s Mate Robert Davis saved the Macon. Permanent repairs were scheduled for the Macon’s next overhaul, an overhaul that would never happen.

English: USS Macon docked inside Hangar One at...

English: USS Macon docked inside Hangar One at Moffett Field. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then on 12 February 1935 while returning to its base, the Macon ran into a storm off Point Sur, California. The Macon was caught in a wind shear and the repaired tail section of the airship failed again, puncturing a gas cell. The crew performed a massive ballast dump to keep the Macon out of the sea. The Macon reached 4,850 feet and then slowly descended as it continued to lose helium, eventually sinking into the Pacific Ocean. Two of the 76 crewman perished. Radioman First Class Ernest Dailey jumped into the sea while the airship was still too high. Mess Attendant First Class Florentiono Edquiba drowned while swimming back into the Macon to retrieve personal belongings. Commander Wiley, the airships commanding officer, was later decorated for attempting to swim the Edquiba’s aid.

It was later determined that if the Macon had not gone above its 2,800 foot ceiling it could have survived the structural failure of the stern section of the airship and could have returned to its base. Also lost with the Macon were the four aircraft it was carrying at the time. The Macon had completed 50 flights since it was commissioned, and was stricken from the register of Navy ships on 26 February 1935. All future airships of the Navy would be non-rigid blimps.

English: the sky hook located at the center of...

English: the sky hook located at the center of the Curtiss Sparrowhawk F9C-2 biplanes. During flight, the pilot would position the aircraft below the USS Macon’s hanger where a trapeze was lowered to hook the plane. Sparrowhawk pilots were nicknamed the “men on the flying trapeze.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1991, the Macon was found. The debris field was explored with sonar, still photography and video; some artifacts were also recovered. In 2005, a side-scan sonar survey was made of the wreck site. In 2006, another expedition went to the wreck site, this time with high-definition video as well. More than 10,000 images of the debris field were taken. The exact location of the Macon, within the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, remains a secret. However, it is known that the debris field is more than 1,500 feet deep.

2006-103-1 Fragment of Life Boat, USS Macon

2006-103-1 Fragment of Life Boat, USS Macon (Photo credit: Naval History & Heritage Command)

The United States used the safe, inert helium gas for its rigid airships. The United States, at that time, had almost all of the known reserves of helium, and refused to allow the export of helium to Nazi Germany. Germany was thus forced to use the highly dangerous and flammable hydrogen gas for all of its rigid airships. Yet, Germany had a much better safety record with its rigid airships. By the time, the United States decided to enter the rigid airship industry Germany had been building rigid airships for more than three decades. Germany used rigid airships during World War One to great effect, greatly increasing the German technology in rigid airship design, construction, and operation. The difference in experience is undoubtedly one of the major factors in the diverse safety records of the two countries.

A U.S. Navy consolidated N2Y-1 hooking up on t...

A U.S. Navy consolidated N2Y-1 hooking up on the airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1933/34. The USN equipped six N2Y-1s with hooks to train pilots for the Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk fighters and also used the N2Y-1 as liaison planes between the ground and the airship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) ...

A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) or USS Macon (ZRS-5), over Puget Sound, Washington (USA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The U.S. Navy airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) conduc...

The U.S. Navy airship USS Macon (ZRS-5) conducts initial operations with her Curtiss F9C-2 “Sparrowhawk” aircraft, over New Egypt, New Jersey (USA), on 7 July 1933. The two planes, visible below the airship, were piloted by Lieutenant D. Ward Harrigan and Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Frederick N. Kivette. (Text: US Navy) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: USS Akron flying over the southern en...

English: USS Akron flying over the southern end of Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, circa 1931-1933 (Photo #: NH 43900) Deutsch: USS Akron (ZRS-4) über Manhattan (1931-1933) Français : USS Akron (ZRS-4) au dessus de Manhattan (1931-1933) Italiano: USS Akron mentre sorvola l’isola di Manhattan, New York City Nederlands: zeppelin de USS Akron boven Lower Manhattan Español: Dirigible USS Akron sobre la isla de Manhattan, Nueva York (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The USS Macon inside Hangar One at Moffett Fie...

The USS Macon inside Hangar One at Moffett Field on October 15, 1933, following a transcontinental flight from Lakehurst, New Jersey. Navy photo ID: NH 85746 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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A Summer of Airships


A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) ...

A U.S. Navy airship, either USS Akron (ZRS-4) or USS Macon (ZRS-5), over Puget Sound, Washington (USA). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This summer, along with the normal mix of articles, I will being writing a series of articles on Airships. Airships have an “air” of romance and adventure, and have made appearances in many movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (where Indiana and his dad rode the Hindenburg). We will not be visiting movie sets, but we will have a chance to learn more about these glamorous airships.

N class blimp

N class blimp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Among some of the airships we’ll discuss this summer are the Graf Zeppelin, sister ship to the Hindenburg. The Shenandoah, Macon, Akron, and L-8.

The U.S. Navy blimp L-8 over the aircraft carr...

The U.S. Navy blimp L-8 over the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) at the beginning of the “Doolittle Raid” in April 1942. Note the USAAF North American B-25 Mitchell bomber on Hornet´s deck. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

L-8 is an interesting airship with a mysterious ending. Originally a commercial blimp built and operated by the Goodyear company. L-8 was taken over by the United States Navy during World War Two. The airship was assigned to perform anti-submarine patrols on the west coast of the United States and was stationed at Treasure Island in the center of San Francisco Bay.

August 16, 1942 was just another summer day in sunny California. The early morning fog left a covering of dew on the cloth skin of L-8, adding weight to the airship. Due to the extra weight the normal crew of three was cut to two, Machinists Mate Third Class James Hill was left behind.

Lt. Cody, the pilot, and Ensign Adams were both experience airship men. Ensign Adams had 20 years of experience with airships as an enlisted man before receiving his commission. The two men left Treasure Island  about six in the morning.

A little over an hour and a half later, Lt. Cody radioed in they had discovered an oil slick and were going to investigate. The men were never heard from again. Five hours after L-8 left Treasure Island, the blimp was spotted heading inland over a local beach. The blimp crashed in front of a house owned by volunteer firemen William Morris. Bill was the first man on the scene. When he arrived at the gondola to rescue the crew, he found the door tied open and no one onboard the airship. The mystery of what happened to the crew was never solved and one year later they were declared dead.

In the weeks to come I will tell you more about L-8 and a fleet of other airships.

An inside view of one of the massive blimp han...

An inside view of one of the massive blimp hangars at the former Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, CA. Source: USMCAS Tustin archives.The structures appear in the National Register of Historic Places as #NPS-#75000451. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oh, and there are engineers and businessmen hard at work on a comeback for airships. Nothing like the Hindenburg, but there are many useful purposes for airships today.

The gondola of an airship.

The gondola of an airship. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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The Hindenburg LZ-129


The Hindenburg LZ-129.

A look at the hidden struggles behind the Hindenburg, plus drawings of the ship, photographs, and a look at the Hindenburg disaster (with a brief of just 6 of the many theories).

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