Nope, even though election season is around the corner, today's blog is not about a political convention. How about massive floating airship carriers deploying squadrons of fighters, recalling 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
Akron was launched (floated) on 8 August 1931 and commenced her maiden flight on 23 September 1931. She was commissioned 27 October 1931.
To demonstrate the capabilities of the airship,
Akron succeeded in spotting the light cruiser USS Raleigh (CL-7) and a dozen destroyers, positively identifying them on the eastern horizon two minutes later. Sighting a second group of destroyers shortly thereafter, Akron was released from the evolution about 1000, having achieved a "qualified success" in her initial test with the Scouting Fleet.
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,
On the evening of 3 April 1933,
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
having completed 50 flights from her commissioning date, was stricken
from the Navy list on February 26, 1935. Subsequent airships for Navy
use were of a nonrigid design to make them less vulnerable to
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
Los Angeles. On 27 Oct, the first successful in-flight capture was completed, using a specially designed trapeze designed by BuAer.
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
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.