Researchers Explore a Giant Flying Machine Below

The USS Macon recovers two F9C-2 'Sparrowhawk' biplane fighters. i i

hide captionThe USS Macon recovers two F9C-2 "Sparrowhawk" biplane fighters (seen below the airship) while flying over New Jersey in July 1933.

National Archives
The USS Macon recovers two F9C-2 'Sparrowhawk' biplane fighters.

The USS Macon recovers two F9C-2 "Sparrowhawk" biplane fighters (seen below the airship) while flying over New Jersey in July 1933.

National Archives

Photo Gallery

Some of USS Macon's officers aboard the USS Richmond after the airship's crash.

hide captionSome of USS Macon's officers aboard the USS Richmond, the ship that came to rescue them, on the morning after the airship crashed in a violent storm off the California coast, Feb. 12, 1935. Two members of the Macon's 83-man crew died in the accident.

Naval Historical Center
One of four biplanes that went down with the USS Macon is seen in an underwater photo. i i

hide captionOne of four biplanes that went down with the USS Macon is shown in a photo taken during a 1991 survey of the wreck.

MBARI
One of four biplanes that went down with the USS Macon is seen in an underwater photo.

One of four biplanes that went down with the USS Macon is shown in a photo taken during a 1991 survey of the wreck.

MBARI

At 785 feet long, the dirigible USS Macon was so big, it could hold as many as five fighter planes in its belly. The U.S. Navy airship crashed in 1935 during a violent storm off the coast of California, killing two members of its 83-man crew.

This week, researchers are exploring the Macon's remains more than 1,000 feet below the ocean surface using a remotely operated vehicle. Chris Grech, deputy director of marine operations for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, discusses the expedition.

The Macon, built in Akron, Ohio, first flew in April 1933, only a few weeks after its sister ship, the USS Akron, crashed off the New Jersey coast, killing all but three of the 67 men on board. The Macon made several development and training flights across the country, as well as the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean.

The Macon, four times as long as today's Goodyear blimps, had a capacity of 6.5 million cubic feet of helium, and a top speed of 80 miles per hour.

It was large enough to launch and retrieve five small F9C-2 Sparrowhawk airplanes. A metal "skyhook" was attached to the top of each plane, which in turn was attached to a trapeze, allowing the aircraft to be lowered through a t-shaped opening in the floor of an internal hangar.

The Macon crashed off Point Sur, Calif., on Feb. 12, 1935, while returning to its base in Moffett Field in Sunnyvale. The accident effectively ended the Navy's dirigible program.

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