February 10, 2018

12 Amazing Vintage Photographs of USS Macon, the Navy’s Last Flying Aircraft Carrier, in the 1930s

In the 1920s and 1930s, the Navy experimented with lighter-than-air craft in its fleet. In addition to work with blimps, it built and commissioned two dirigibles – with USS designation – to serve as flying aircraft carriers.

These rigid airships, which could stay in the air for about a week, would launch up to five Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk biplanes from a “trapeze” that would come down, and the planes would land again by hooking into loops in the trapeze.

The two airships, USS Akron (ZRS-4) and USS Macon (ZRS-5), were commissioned into the fleet to serve as early intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance motherships. Sailors lived aboard the airship, complete with a galley and other amenities, and the biplanes would go out on scouting missions as needed.

Though they solved a valid requirement, LTA aircraft proved difficult to handle, and four of five dirigibles the Navy built crashed. Only one – the German-built USS Los Angeles, given to the United States as part of the World War I reparations – survived, but the Navy dismantled it in 1939.

The following are a collection of images from the National Archives and the U.S. Naval Institute’s photo collection of USS Macon.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) preparing to land.

USS Macon (ZRS-5).

USS Macon (ZRS-5).

Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk hangs from USS Macon (ZRS-5).

USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1933 or 1934.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) over New York City in 1933 or 1934.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) over San Diego Harbor on Feb. 9, 1934.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) over San Diego Harbor on Feb. 9, 1934.

A Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk recovery on USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1934.

Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk attached to USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1934.

Two Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawks drop simultaneously from USS Macon (ZRS-5) over Sunnyvale, Calif. in 1934.

Two Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawks, with landing gear removed, under USS Macon (ZRS-5) in 1934.

(via The U.S. Naval Institute)

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