Massive floating airship carriers deploying squadrons of fighters – a scene from some fantastic grade-B thriller? Well, maybe. But back in the mid-1930′s it wasn’t all that far fetched. The Navy, in the midst of transformational experimentation with aircraft carriers, was well into the trials with lighter-than-air ships. Of these, the USS Akron and USS Macon were the most intriguing, being the largest of the Navy’s airships and equipped to carry a small compliment of fixed-wing aircraft.
In the late 1920’s early 1930’s, the future of heavier-than-air craft was still being determined. In particular, large, long-range aircraft that could be used to scout for enemy vessels. Those that were available were generally seaplanes with limited range and endurance (recall that Lindbergh’s flight was in 1927). A potentially viable alternative was the lighter-than-airship, or zeppelin. These mastodons of the air could cruise for days on end, enabling coverage of significant chunks of area. In 1929, the Navy contracted with the Goodyear-Zeppelin company in
To demonstrate the capabilities of the airship,
Akron and her sister ship USS Macon (ZRS-5) (the latter still under construction) were regarded as potential “flying aircraft carriers”, carrying air groups composed of parasite fighters for reconnaissance use. On 3 May 1932,
Crash of the
On the evening of 3 April 1933,
As she proceeded on her way,
Although the German sailors spotted four or five other men in the stormy seas, they did not know that their ship had chanced upon the crash of
The United States Coast Guard cutter Tucker (CG-23), the first American vessel on the scene, arrived at 0600 (6:00 AM) and took on board the
Loss of the
On February 12, 1935 the
Aftermath of the crashes
Akron’s loss spelled the beginning of the end for the rigid airship in the Navy, especially since one of its leading proponents, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, perished with her, as did 72 other men. As President Roosevelt commented afterward: “The loss of the
Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk
The Sparrowhawk followed on the heels of the 1928 contract for the
That same month, Curtiss flight trials on a modified version of the XF9C. The prototype trials showed early promise and later in October, six F9C-2 aircraft were ordered. The first F9C-2 flew on 14 April 1932 and the first “hook” was 29 June 1932 onboard USS Akron. By September 1932, all six Sparrowhawks had been delivered to the Navy and began operating as scouts. The USS Akron would be lost in 1933 in a storm off the
The Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) succeeded in locating and surveying the debris field of the
In May 2005 MBARI returned to the site as part of a year-long research project to identify archeological resources in the bay. Side-scan sonar was used to survey the site.
A more complete return with including exploration with remotely operated vehicles took place in September 2006, which included researchers from MBARI and from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Video clips of the expedition were made available to the public through the OceansLive Web Portal, a service of NOAA.
The 2006 expedition was a success, and revealed a number of new surprises and changes since the last visit, ~15 years ago. High-definition video and more than 10,000 new images were captured, which will be assembled into a photomosaic of the wreck.