U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5)

The United States Navy airships U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5) were designed for long-range scouting in support of fleet operations. Often referred to as flying aircraft carriers, each of the helium-inflated airships carried F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes which could be launched and recovered in flight, greatly extending the range over which the Akron and Macon could scout the open ocean for enemy vessels.

U.S.S. Macon in flight with Sparrowhawks


Flying Aircraft Carriers

Akron and Macon were designed as airborne aircraft carriers, which could launch and recover heavier-than-air planes for use in both reconnaissance and self-defense.

N2Y-1 training plane beneath trapeze and T-shaped opening of Akron's hangar deck

N2Y-1 training plane beneath trapeze and T-shaped opening of Akron’s hangar deck

The ships were equipped with hangars, approximately 75′ long x 60′ wide x 16′ high, which could stow and service up to five aircraft in flight. Aircraft were launched and retrieved by means of a trapeze, and could enter and exit the hangar though a large T-shaped opening at the bottom of the hull.

The capacity to embark and deploy fixed-wing aircraft was the essential element of Akron and Macon’s ability to serve as naval scouts. Airplanes greatly increased the range and area over which the airship could search for the enemy, but also addressed the airship’s own inherent weakness; its vulnerability to attack. The giant airships made large, slow targets which were highly vulnerable to destruction by an enemy’s planes.

Although the Navy originally envisioned the airships as scouting vessels which carried airplanes for fighter defense, over time (and over the objection of officers like Charles Rosendahl) the Navy eventually realized that the vulnerable airship itself was best employed in the background, out of sight of the enemy; the airship’s function would be to carry scouting planes within range of the enemy. As naval airship doctrine eventually developed, rather than the airplane extending the scouting range of the airship, it was the airship which extended the scouting range of the airplane.

USS Macon Launching and Recovering Aircraft

U.S.S. Macon Launching and Recovering Aircraft

Development of Akron and Macon

The Akron and Macon grew out of the Five Year Plan proposed by the U. S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, which had been approved by the United States Congress in 1926, and which authorized the construction of two large rigid airships.

The Navy contest to design and build the two new ships was won by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation, a joint venture and patent sharing arrangement between the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Corporation which had been created in 1923.  (There was no serious competition for the contract, and it was clear to everyone involved in the process that Goodyear-Zeppelin was the only firm with the ability to design and construct these ships for the Navy.)  Goodyear-Zeppelin and the United States Navy signed a contract for the construction of two large rigid airships on October 16, 1928.

F9C-2 hooking on trapeze (left) and stowerd in hangar deck (right)

F9C-2 hooked on trapeze (left) and stowed on hangar deck (right)

Structural Design of Akron and Macon

As part of the Goodyear-Zeppelin arrangement, the Luftshiffbau Zeppelin had sent technical experts to Akron to train Goodyear employees in the design and construction of airships. Goodyear president Paul Litchfield had insisted that the Zeppelin Company’s chief stress engineer, Karl Arnstein, be included in that group, and in November, 1924 Arnstein arrived in Akron along with a team of 12 hand-picked Zeppelin engineers. It was under Arnstein’s leadership that Goodyear-Zeppelin developed the plans which became the U.S.S. Akron and U.S.S. Macon.

USS Macon under construction

U.S.S. Macon under construction

Arnstein’s design was radically different from the conventional zeppelin designs he had worked on at Friedrichshafen. No longer under the direction of the conservative Ludwig Dürr, the Zeppelin Company’s chief designer since the LZ-2 of 1906, Arnstein was free to develop new designs and techniques for Akron and Macon.

“Deep Rings”

Traditional zeppelin design featured a series of main rings built of a single braced girder, which were generally spaced 15 meters apart with unbraced rings in between.  Arnstein’s design for Akron and Macon utilized a series of “deep rings,” which which were large triangular structures — similar to the keel — spaced 22.5 meters apart.

Design of main rings of Hindenburg (left) and Akron/Macon (right)

Design of main rings of Hindenburg (left) and Akron/Macon (right)

Arnstein’s deep-ring, three-keel structure was considerably heavier than the framework of a traditional German zeppelin, but it was also believed to provide greater structural strength, which was very appealing to a Navy which had just seen the U.S.S. Shenandoah crash after suffering in-flight structural failure during a storm.

Structural design of Akron/Macon, from "The Story of the Airship" by Hugh Allen.

Structural design of Akron/Macon, from “The Story of the Airship” by Hugh Allen.

The deep-ring design also accommodated a Navy requirement that all areas of the structure be accessible during flight; the 8-foot deep rings were large enough for a man to climb their entire circumference.

Three Keel Design

Triple keels design of Akron/Macon

Triple keel design of Akron/Macon

Traditional zeppelin design was built around a single structural keel running the length of the ship along the bottom of the hull. Arnstein’s design was radically different, and featured three large triangular keels; one at the top of the ship, and two on either side at a 45 degree angle from the bottom of the hull. The main keel, at the top of the ship, provided access to the valves for the gas cells, and the two lower keels provided support for the engines and crew spaces.

Engines and Propellers

The three-keel arrangement, along wth the use of non-flammable helium, also allowed the engines to be carried internally, along the lower keels, rather than in external power cars; this significantly reduced aerodynamic drag and allowed for easier access and maintenance of the engines.

Propeller of USS Akron

Propeller of U.S.S. Akron

The 560 hp Maybach VL-2 engines were connected to outrigger propellers by long shafts with bevel gears which allowed the propellers to be rotated to provide thrust not only forward and reverse, but also vertically downward to assist in takeoffs and landings.

The mounting of the engines on the two lower keels did create one design element which was accepted only as a compromise; the four engines on either side were mounted in a straight line, and not staggered as the external power cars of earlier zeppelins had been. In earlier zeppelins, the staggering of engines at differing heights along the hull allowed each propeller to operate in clean air, undisturbed by the prop wash from the engine in front of it, whereas the propellers on Akron and Macon operated in the disturbed air created by the engines ahead of them.  Placing the engines in a straight line along each of the lower keels, however, allowed for a much simpler and lighter design, and was accepted as a better alternative than the additional weight and complexity of the framework that would have been required to stagger them.

One of the eight engine rooms aboard USS Akron

One of the eight engine rooms aboard U.S.S. Akron

Non-cruciform Tail

Traditional German zeppelin design included a cruciform tail structure for strength, which Arnstein and his design team eliminated in the Akron and Macon.

Cruciform tail of Hindenburg (left) vs. Akron/Macon (right)

Modification of the Stabilizers

One other design element which would have great significance in light of later events was the shape and position of the stabilizing fins, which were modified from their original design to accommodate a Navy request that the lower fin be visible from the control car.  Experience had taught airship commanders that the lower fin was vulnerable to damage in operations near the ground; Charles Rosendahl had been aboard the Graf Zeppelin during its difficult overweight takeoff from Los Angeles during its 1929 Round-the-World flight, when the lower fin, which had not been visible from the control gondola, only narrowly missed hitting power lines at the edge of the field.  Both Rosendahl and zeppelin commander Hugo Eckener believed it was important for the officers to have an unobstructed view of the lower fin, and this requirement led to a modification of Arnstein’s original design which would later have tragic consequences in the crash of U.S.S. Macon.

Final, modified stabilizer arrangement of Akron/Macon, showing main rings (highlighted in yellow)

Final, modified stabilizer arrangement of Akron/Macon, showing main rings (highlighted in yellow)

In the original design, the fins were to have been attached to the hull at three main rings: Ring 0 at the tail; Ring 17.5 at the center of the fin; and Ring 35 at the leading edge of the fin, which carried heavy loads.  In order to make the lower fin visible from the control car, however, the design was changed to shorten the fins, and the modified fins were attached to only two main rings (numbers 0 and 17.5).  The leading edge of the fins, which were subject to very heavy aerodynamic loads, were not firmly attached to any main, load-bearing structural element, but merely to weaker, intermediate framing.

Given the in-flight structural failure of the tail section of U.S.S. Macon, there was considerable controversy regarding decision to eliminate the cruciform structure of German zeppelins, and even more controversy regarding the decision to move the leading edge of the fin so that it was no longer anchored to a main ring.

Water Recovery Apparatus

One notable feature of Akron and Macon, easily visible in all photographs of the two ships, were the water recovery apparatus designed to recover water from engine exhaust to compensate for the weight of fuel burned during flight, to avoid the need to valve helium to maintain aerostatic equilibrium as fuel was burned.

Operational History of U.S.S. Akron


U.S.S. Akron


U.S.S. Akron under construction

Construction of U.S.S. Akron began in November, 1929 at the newly completed Goodyear-Zeppelin Airdock in Akron, Ohio.

The design of U.S.S. Akron, and its sister ship U.S.S. Macon, were based on plans prepared by Goodyear-Zeppelin engineer Karl Arnstein which differed radically from the design of previous rigid airships.

The ship was christened by First Lady Lou Hoover, the wife of United States President Herbert Hoover, on August 8, 1931, and made its first flight on September 23, 1931, under the command of Charles Rosendahl.

Rosendahl conducted a series of test flights over the next month, and then flew the new ship to the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where it was commissioned as a vessel in the United States Navy.

USS Akron under construction (click all photos to enlarge)

U.S.S. Akron under construction

U.S.S. Akron conducted its first naval exercise in January, 1932.  While the ship’s range was impressive (it was able to stay aloft for several days and fly thousands of miles before returning to base), it performed poorly as a scouting aircraft, largely because it was not yet equipped with its squadron of fixed-wing aircraft, which would not become operational until the summer of 1932.

Damage on February 22, 1932

Damage on February 22, 1932

On February 22, 1932, Akron suffered an embarrassing ground handling accident at Lakehurst, in front of a group of congressman waiting to board the ship for a demonstration flight, when the ship broke away from its handlers and smashed its lower fin into the ground.

After two months of repairs, Akron spent most of the remainder of 1932 conducting trial flights, including operations with its fixed-wing squadron, and making goodwill and demonstration flights to show the airship to the American public and to congressional and other government VIPs.

In one of its most impressive demonstration flights, in May and June of 1932, Akron made a cross-country flight from its base at Lakehurst to a new airship facility being constructed at Sunnyvale, California.

akron-kearney-incidentIt was during this cross-country flight, at a stop in Camp Kearny near San Diego, that Akron was involved in a tragic and very public accident on May 11, 1932.  Three sailors on the ground crew were carried aloft by the ship’s mooring lines when the ship climbed unexpectedly, and two of the men fell to their deaths in an event that was captured on film and shown in newsreels throughout America.

Akron participated in a very disappointing scouting exercise with the fleet off the west coast on June 1-4, 1932.  Akron was able to locate the ships it was sent to discover, but still without its heavier-than-air squadron, Akron was required to stay close to the ships it was scouting, and seaplanes launched from those ships were easily able to score mock “kills” against the large, vulnerable airship.

Akron’s squadron of F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes became operational in July, 1932, and the ship spent the remaining months of 1932 in training operations with its airplanes.


During the first months of 1933, Akron continued to refine operations with its fixed-winged aircraft, and made several long distance flights including trips to Cuba and the Panama Canal Zone.  Akron also made several shorter publicity-oriented flights, including an appearance at the inauguration of President Franklin Roosevelt on March 4, 1933.

akron-capitol-115web1Crash of U.S.S. Akron

U.S.S. Akron departed NAS Lakehurst on the evening of April 3, 1933 on a mission to calibrate radio direction finding equipment along the northeastern coast of the United States.  The ship was under the command of Frank C. McCord, and among the 76 persons on board were VIPs including Rear Admiral William Moffett, Chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, and Cmdr. Frederick T. Berry, commanding officer of NAS Lakehurst.

[See: U.S.S. Akron Crash: Officers and Crew]
Admiral William A. Moffett, killed in the crash of USS Akron

Admiral William A. Moffett, killed in the crash of U.S.S. Akron

Shortly after midnight, in the early minutes of April 4, the ship was hit by a series of strong updrafts and downdrafts off the New Jersey coast.  Akron rose and fell in the strong winds, and while attempting to climb, the ship’s tail struck the water.  With its control surfaces destroyed, Akron was lost, and the ship crashed into the ocean.

The cause of the crash is generally attributed to poor decisions on the part of the ship’s commander.  It is likely that McCord relied on incorrect altitude readings given by the ship’s altimeter, which had been rendered inaccurate by the low pressure in the storm.  Captain McCord may have thought his ship was higher than it really was, but as an aviator and aircraft commander, McCord should have been thoroughly familiar with the operation of a barometric altimeter and should have taken this into account.

In addition, while it is possible that Akron was driven into the sea by a strong downdraft, it is equally possibly, and even likely, that McCord simply flew his ship’s tail into the water, having not taken into account the ship’s great length while attempting to climb out of a downdraft.  With the nose of the ship raised sharply to climb, Akron’s tail, almost 800-feet farther back, may have simply been pivoted into the ocean as the result of poor handling.

Executive Officer Herbert V. Wiley describes crash of the Akron

The crash of the Akron caused an appalling loss of life, and of the 76 persons on the ship only three survived; two sailors and the ship’s executive officer, Herbert Wiley.  The rest of the ship’s passengers and crew died in the ocean from exposure to the frigid water, compounded by the lack of any lifejackets to keep survivors afloat.

 Operational History of U.S.S. Macon

U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5) was a virtually identical copy of her sister ship, U.S.S. Akron, with some minor modifications and improvements.

The airship was christened by wife of Admiral William Moffett on March 11, 1933, and made its first flight on April 21, 1933. Later that year Macon left the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst for her new home in California at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Sunnyvale, which had been renamed Moffett Field in honor of Admiral Moffett.

USS Macon filmed during flight trials

Macon participated in numerous exercises with the fleet over the Pacific and also the Caribbean. In one notable adventure, in July, 1934, Macon’s scout planes were able to locate the two Navy cruisers transporting President Roosevelt across the Pacific to Hawaii on vacation. Macon was generally successful in locating enemy warships during exercises but operations revealed that the airship had significant vulnerability to attack.

In, April, 1934, in rough air over Texas, Macon’s tail was damaged in the area where the fins attached to the framework. In the original design of both Akron and Macon, the leading edge of the fins would have been attached to one of the ship’s main rings, but the design was modified to provide better visibility of the fins from the control car. The incident over Texas revealed the weakness in this design; repairs were clearly necessary, and were performed on three of the fins, but the Navy delayed repairs to the upper fin.

Crash of U.S.S. Macon

Macon crashed at sea off the coast of California during a storm on February 12, 1935, after her unrepaired upper fin suffered in-flight structural failure.

The failure of the upper fin damaged the three aft gas cells and caused the loss of a significant quantity of helium, representing about 20% of the airship’s lift.  But the Macon remained in the air for 34 minutes after the initial damage, and airship historian Richard K. Smith has convincingly argued that the failure of the upper fin was not necessarily a catastrophic event.

After the separation of the fin, the ship climbed rapidly to an altitude of almost 5,000 feet, well above its pressure height, causing the automatic gas valves to open and release large quantities of additional helium.  The ship then began its irreversible descent into the ocean.  Dr. Smith argued that the loss of helium from the original damage was compensated by the jettisoning of 32,700 pounds of fuel and ballast, and by the loss of the 2,700 pound fin itself.  It was the loss of the additional helium, which was automatically valved when the ship climbed above pressure height, that actually doomed the airship.  Smith criticized the decision to drop large amounts of fuel and ballast in the first two minutes after the initial casualty, before officers could fully evaluate the nature of the damage, and also the continued operation of the ship’s engines (perhaps without the knowledge or control of the officers in the control car), which may have caused the nose-high airship to climb rapidly as the result of dynamic lift.

Unlike U.S.S. Akron, Macon was equipped with life jackets and rafts and all but two of the 83 officers and men were rescued from the ocean.

The wreck site of the USS Macon on the seafloor of the Pacific Ocean, off Point Sur south of San Francisco, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.  More details are available at the website of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Remains of a Curtiss Sparrowhawk F9C-2 biplane at the USS Macon wreck site. (Credit: NOAA)

Remains of a Curtiss Sparrowhawk F9C-2 biplane at the USS Macon wreck site. (Credit: NOAA)


Akron and Macon Statistics and Specifications

ZRS-4 U.S.S. Akron:

  • Length: 785 feet
  • Gas capacity: 6,850,000 cubic feet
  • Useful lift: 152,644 lbs
  • Maximum speed: 69 knots
  • Crew: 60 officers and men
  • First flight: September 25, 1931
  • Final flight: April 3-4, 1933
  • Total flight hours: 1,700
  • Total flights: 74

164 Comments on "U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) and U.S.S. Macon (ZRS-5)"

  1. Do you know of any photos taken inside the small observation areas at the tip of the Akron and the Macon’s stern? In all the searching I have done for photos of the two ships I have never seen any of that part of the airships and I would enjoy seeing that. Were there seats for observers? How large were those compartments? Any information or photos would be appreciated, thanks.

  2. I have been thinking about the problems of the tail fins of the Akron class airships, and I was thinking if that the Airships had their fins in a Y shape like the Zeppelin NT, they would be connected to a more secure structure rather than just intermediate girders, not to mention it would be lighter. I dunno’, just thought I’d throw it out there.

  3. Kevin Olson | June 2, 2017 at 5:29 pm | Reply

    I’m amazed by the quality of the outer cover on the Akron and Macon. The fabric looks just about perfect the way it fits and is finished. How did they develop the skills to do such a good application of such an enormous amount of fabric?

  4. Richard Lasater | May 7, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Reply

    I remember reading of a proposed US Navy patrol dirible which was to have several(12?) Dauntless dive bombers mounted on external trapezes. The airplane crews were supposed to slide down enclosed chutes into the cockpits and all airplanes launched at one time. To suddenly have a squadron of dive bombers drop out of a cloud armed with 1000 lb.bombs over an enemy fleet would be quite effective!
    Did the Japanese ever consider using dirgibles?

  5. My grandfather was (from what I understand) the navigator on the Akron. His papers were donated to the Maryland Historical Society.

    He was an aeronautical engineer and had a scale model of the airship that was used in a wind tunnel to test the air pressure differentials on the structure.

    Since this was an early use of aluminum in aircraft – has anyone seriously looked at whether metal fatigue played a role in the accident? I would assume that with modern structural analysis tools – this task would now be almost trivial.

  6. Seeing how these airships did so much of their exercises out at sea, I find it just appalling that it took the crash of the Akron to get the Macon equipped with life jackets and life rafts. Why didn’t anyone have the foresight to fit them in the first place?

  7. Thank you for this very informative webpage–you might be interested to know that several reels of footage shot by Goodyear during the Akron’s construction are now publicly available. The film was preserved by the University of Akron and can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1AxdJwWnkdQ

  8. My Dad watched them make the USS Akron and took his first plane ride there in Akron.

    I was visiting my in uncle in Dorset, Ohio, when the USS Macon made it’s maiden voyage over Lake Erie. The Cleveland radio station was commenting on it’s manuveurs as we watched.

    Ralph Gray, Willoughby, OH.

  9. Tom Cunningham | June 18, 2016 at 5:45 pm | Reply

    My dad has a handwritten note by lt. commander N. F. Thomas usn akron. Thomas was flying over Sacramento and dropped a bottle with the note in it into Sacto. River. His uncle was fishing and found the bottle in the sacramento river. I’d upload it if possible…it’s a bit faded but legible.

  10. My father, Paul Hedges, was employed at Goodyear in Akron during the construction of the Akron and the Macon airships. He was also a amateur radio operator. One of your contributors wrote about material from the construction were sold at some later date. My Dad’s amateur radio tower was 40 feet tall and made from extra girders from those two airships. It was bolted to anchors sunk into the back yard at our house with only 1/4″ – 20 thread bolts. It was a four legged tower and had a rotatable beam antenna attached to the top. It was so light that he stood it up by himself. Amazingly light weight for a tower of that type and size.

  11. Patrick Hogarty | April 15, 2015 at 9:27 am | Reply

    Could anyone help with a question about injuries/fatalities while Akron/Macon were under construction at the Goodyear_Airdock? I would be very surprised if the site was accident free given the construction methods with very tall “sky ladders” and some very risky looking scaffolding!?

    • I think there was an accident in the construction of the Akron which lent some hype to the story that she was an “unlucky” ship.

  12. Janet Turner | March 23, 2015 at 7:05 pm | Reply

    I have a picture 17 1/2″ H x 23″ W of U.S.S. Macon and it’s hanger and the frame is made from the material of the Macon. I am told that these were sold at one time after the Macon and Akron were built. Can you tell me anything about this picture.

  13. My great uncle was a machinist on the Akron. His name was Benjamin Charles McLellan. He was a member of the crew from day one and went down with the ship. He also served on the Los Angeles. Is there a good repository of crew photos on the web anywhere? In the book “Skyship” there is a picture of the Akron with a bunch of signatures on it and his is there! When I showed it to my grandfather (his brother), it instantly became his most prized possession. He showed it to everyone he knew, carrying it everywhere. The book eventually fell to pieces from so much wear.

    • enjoyed reading the blog about your great uncle. is there any documentation, photos,etc that you could share with me. i use to correspond with marie wiley ross whose dad, herbert vernon wiley was the commander of the uss macon and one of 3 survivors on the uss akron. i visited moody erwin’s grave in lakewood .n.j. in early may. he was also one of the other 3 survivors of uss akron crash. the uss akron crash killed 73 of 76 men on board. love to hear from you. call me anytime: david 704-254-0859

  14. charles Littman | October 6, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Reply

    In regard to the weather forming inside one of the Large hangers used in the making of these large airships, it is also of note that this is a common event inside the VAB at Cape Canaveral, FL were the space shuttle and the Massive Saturn 5 moon rockets were put together.

  15. Does anyone have information about the Atlantic crossing of a German airship in either 1935 or 1936 ? I was a student at Si. Joseph’s School, in either the First or second grade, and was thrilled at seeing this air hugh airship as it passed directly over the town of North Brookfield , MA., at an altitude of less that 3000 feet, travelling in a north east to south west direction. This was such a thrilling event that the teachers allowed all the school students to go outside on the lawn to get a better view.
    I always wanted to know the name of this incredibly hugh airship.
    Edgar F. Gilbert [email protected]
    New Smyna Beach, Fl, 32168

  16. Dear Sir,
    I came across your website, and appreciate your effort. As to paper models,
    there is a web site currell.net/models/mod_free.htm, which has free models
    of the R100, R101, Vickers Transoceanic Airship, a mooring post for British
    airships, the Cardington airship shed, The Giant(Imperial Russian airship), and a Graf Zeppelin kit. Thanks for your website.

    Charles Jones

  17. Greetings
    I have a section of Girder from the Macon that I bought about 10 years ago from Ohio. Reputed to come from the estate of a worker who built the Macon. It is 54.5″ long and 6.25″ wide. The girder is damaged and shows evidence of compression buckling. It was cut very carefully and precise so it may have been damaged during assembly.

    It is probably the most common type of girder but both ends have extra reinforcements around them. I know it is a longshot but I was wondering if anyone could give me more info on where this might have been used on the Airship.



    Best Regards

    • Looks like a test model used for analysis by Goodyear Zeppelin. It definitely has the look of a typical girder that you would find in any airship of that era, particularly those of the ZRS class used by the US Navy before WW-2. The boxed off ends indicate that the girder was reinforced to take some loading at the ends along it’s long axis. Normally, girders were open ended and terminated with triangular gussets that braced the girder to the other connecting girder. This specimen has boxed off ends that suggest it was never intended for use on an airship, rather in a testing lab somewhere. I wonder what date it was tested and if it’s testing was done before or after the tail fin incident with the Macon. Thanks for sharing the pictures and keep a hold onto that sample. It’s of value to the Goodyear corporation or to the Lighter Than Air Society in Akron, OH.

    • I have been attempting to re-engineer the old rigid airships, but one problem I always run into is, what is strong enough? What girder area moment is good enough? How much cross sectional area? What buckling loads were they considering? etc…

      While at NAS Pensacola, I searched their archives at the Naval Aviation History Museam & found design sheets and calculations for the Macon and the Akron, but they were only for the overall frame, not of the individual components. Unfortunately I have lost that information in subsequent moves.

      With an actual individual components, you have access to real dimensional information from actual old rigid designs. With that information I could re-figure what standards they deemed good enough back then, and have more confidence in my current designs.

      Would it be possible to get the thickness of the metal sheet? And the diameters of the holes punched into the girder? What about the metal thickness between the holes and the curve depth? Or the rivet diameter and spacing?….

      Suffice to say 1 hour with that girder & a set of calipers would give me the information I need unlock the secrets to what their standards for airship design were.

      • Madison,

        You wrote this some time ago, but I would still like to recommend a book “Airship Design” by Charles P. Burgess. This book goes into quite a bit of detail in calculating the answers the questions you are asking. As far as the rivets and metal thickness these would have to be calculated for todays materials, but rivet diameter and spacing can be looked up in reference manuals for the material and thickness you are interested in utilizing.

      • Hello are you still looking for the specs of the frame? I’m sorry I’m late to the party but I might be able to help

  18. My family lived in Akron in those years, my grandfather worked for Goodyear Tire, and my father was a boy when the Macon and Akron were under construction. I recall him telling me that he’d heard that the building(s) for each were so large that they generated their own weather systems, depending on humidity and outside temps, from fog to rain.

  19. Mark, do you have any pictures of the 12 foot left hand rotation two bladed wooden propeller? Thanks for sharing.

    • Sorry for not getting back for quite sometime yes I need to get pictures posted of this 12 foot propeller that I have. Will include hub dimensions bolt patterns as well.

  20. after more research .. i appears that this is a blimp .. and there were hundreds used for anti-sub and other work in ww2 .. hopefully the link to pic works


    • Hi Susie; The “K” ships were very common in WW2 for anti-sub patrols off the coastlines of the USA. There were over 200 of these blimps serving for our Nation I believe. There’s a great documentation of their exploits in William F. Althoff’s book “Skyships” published by Orion Publishing, 1990. He covered the development of the program, the bases and the amazing adventures these blimps undertook including some amazing endurance voyages. He also covered the post war ZPG early warning blimps that were over a million cubic feet each.

  21. i have a photograph of my father’s DE, uss Washington .. leaving san francisco for first deployment in ww2 .. there is a zeppelin over it and the golden gate bridge behind it ..

    thanks, susie

  22. Hector Gonzalez | April 4, 2013 at 6:36 pm | Reply

    This group and the folks who follow this posting are very informed and full of incredible knowledge. Here is a tidbit to add to the discussion. years back the location of the Macon was found by MBARI the US Navy and others after they conducted several dives and documented the final resting site of the airship. The part that wasn’t told was how this came to be, how the location was discovered after prior failed attempts.

    Monterey Fisherman had located the site years earlier after snagging pieces of the wreckage and tearing nets. In one such episode a large piece of the structure was hauled up. The fisherman each took their keepsakes and dropped the larger pieces back to the ocean. They were aware of what the skeleton represented and that this was the USS Macon.

    Fast forward many years and one of those pieces was mounted and displayed in a small Moss Landing restaurant owned by one of those fisherman, the name of the restaurant was “Jeannie B’s” owned by my uncle Vince Balisteri and named after his wife Jeannie.

    As fate would have it one day the daughter of the commanding officer of the Macon happened to have lunch at the restaurant and jumped up on a chair discovering what was a piece of her late fathers history. She was very excited and had many many questions. At one point she asked to buy the artifact which was turned down.

    Subsequently a MBARI researcher came to the restaurant and likewise climbed on a chair and even broke off a piece of the display. He tried to ask for coordinates and information to the site. The owner (my uncle) refused first because he had just caught this guy breaking a piece of the dispay, and more importantly he felt MBARI and others would take full credit and not recognize the true discoverers, the Monterey fisherman Captained by Dave Caneppa. Uncle Vince provided him Capt. Caneppa’s name and information and they eventually obtained the coordinates and further information from him and the final expedition was conducted where the site was finally found.

    True to my uncle’s intuition, none of these organizations have ever recognized the local fisherman who initially discovered the site although there are several references in articles to the location of an artifact at a local Moss Landing restaurant.

    In closing, this artifact is now in my families hands as Uncle Vince has passed it on to my son. The metal (aluminum rigging) is approximately 24″ long and has large and small circles exactly as depicted in the photographs we have seen on various sites. It is in very good condition although it does show some weathering. We believe this is the only authentic piece of the crashed Macon in existence in private hands.

    • What you have may very well be (and probably is) a section of girder off the old Macon. Keep it safe please. It’s a worthy piece of LTA history. Can you photograph it?

      • Thanks for the note Stu. I have researched this more amd learned the piece we have in fact is mentioned and photgraphed in NatGeo article from 1999 on the site exploration. There is mention of this being the begining of the trail for the final discovery of the site. Thx.

      • Hector Gonzalez | April 7, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Reply

        I have a photo but don’t know how to post here.

      • Hector Gonzalez | April 7, 2017 at 7:19 pm | Reply

        Wrong email in last post

  23. My uncle Max feit was aboard the Macon when it went down.his son lives in calif.

    • can you assist me in possibly getting in touch with Max Feit’s son ? would love to speak with him. feel free to call me. i live east of charlotte,n.c. and have been studying airship history for over 25 years.

      david helms: 704-254-0859

  24. Dan,
    I currently in the middle of a big final writing assignment for my naval history class and i just wanted to say thank you for all of your hard work!

    • Thank you for the kind words! I am always pleased to help someone at our Naval Academy; let me know if I can offer any other assistance.

  25. I’m looking for an old movie I once saw a bit of on TV years ago: A dirigible aircraft carrier lowering and raising small planes and other things, very complicated maneuvering on very long pulley systems. Any info on such a movie would be appreciated.

  26. I create 1/6th scale figures as a hobby and I am thinking of doing an enlisted crew member on the Akron or Macon. What would he have in his seabag? What kind of footwear, uniforms, equipment (flashlight, riggers knife, hammock, lifejacket, etc.), headwear? Detail is very important to me my figures include items in their pockets. Any help would be great and I will send photos when the project is completed. Great site on a subject I really love. Also do you know of any model of airships that include interior detail?

    • Probably the same clothing worn by Navy aviators and sailors of that era (mid thirties). For enlisted men, it was probably bell bottom bluejeans, and for officers the typical duty uniform. The Akron and Macon lacked heated quarters I think so they wore heavy leather flight jackets on the flight deck and inside the hull during winter operations.

      • From watching the Youtube video here:

        It would appear that there were all sorts of variants of normal Naval uniforms from the time in use. You can see lower enlisted in Dungarees, an Officer in Aviator greens (looks to be a LTJG, during dining scene), and an officer in Khakis heading down the internal girder/p-way. There also seemed to be some lax rules, as was common at the time. The three pictured at the helm seemed to wear a mottle of uniform items, including a strange skullcap on one individual.

        Take a look, it should help out alot. I’m sure there are other historical videos you can also use for reference.

  27. I have recently found a piece of the USS MACON’S life raft. It was tucked away in my grandfather’s military scapbook. It has the specs of the Macon handwritten on it and includes the crash date and time. It also includes 3 names that I am assuming were rescued from the life raft. It is signed by a coxwain Olivia? Does anyone have any info on the rescue ships or on the life rafts? As near as I can tell my grandfather served on the USS HOVEY and the USS PENNSYLVANIA.

  28. Does anyone have info on the type of radio equipment carried aboard Akron and Macon? On a vintage military radio list we are currently having a discussion stimulated by the photos of the Macon radio room at

    So far the RU receiver is ID’ed and transmitter models GK and GM may be possibilities but no photos have been found of either model so far. Any info is greatly appreciated.
    Nick – [email protected]

  29. Here’s a link from a air history buff who has a YouTube channel. He downloads all sorts of interesting air history stuff and had this newsreel of the Macon crash including an interview with her commander, Herb Wiley.

    Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU3fS22ZI9M

    The Ride of the Valkyries would not have been my first choice for the background music.

  30. Why are Americans taking so much credit for the Akron and Macon when 12 German engineers were the driving force behind the project?
    signed a modest Canadian

    • I understand the position you have, and you are correct. No nation had the expertise that Germany had. But the Akron & Macon were made in the US, (emotionally important; throw us a bone here) with essentially no credible airship engineering tradition to depend upon. Lichtfield brought Arnstein and his 12 apostles over from Germany, and told them to build what they, not Durr or Eckener, thought an airship ought to be. The result was a radical departure from the restrictive-if-proven LZ tradition.
      And to be perfectly fair, Arnstein was Chech, and Jewish. His brilliance, as well as the importance of his & his family’s safety, both played roles in his having been chosen to come to the US. There’s an excellent biography/history of this era called “When Giants Roamed The Skies”.

    • Actually, the US deserves a lot of credit for preserving the entire Zeppelin firm and advancing airship design. After WW1, when both Britain and France sought to eliminate airship building in Germany, the US Navy negotiated an agreement with Zeppelin to build the USS Los Angeles that essentially saved the Zeppelin company. The Akron and Macon were built by Goodyear-Zeppelin, a formal partnership between Zeppelin and Goodyear that lasted almost to WW2. After Germany, I don’t believe any other country can rival the US in the development and innovation of rigid airships.

    • Francisco Carvallo | November 9, 2012 at 8:06 pm | Reply

      The USS Akron/Macon designs were so revolutionary that Herr Doktor proclaimed:” But that is not a Zeppelin!” When he saw the Akron take off using its reversible props instead of “floating” up like a balloon like the regular German Zeppelins. It was so revolutionary, that in fact the ship after the original Graf Zeppelin (DLZ-127) the DLZ-128, was scrapped and the new design DLZ-129 (later named Hindenburg) was literally a Germanized copy of that design..so in this case it was the Germans copying the Americans, not the other way around..and yes, Karl Ernstein WAS a Jewish Czech..not German.

      • The Hindenburg may have looked like the ZRS 4 & 5, but she was built completely different. Eckener designed her for helium, and at the last minute, when the wary US Government denied Eckener the use of their helium, he was forced to resort to hydrogen. The Hindenburg’s internal hull structure was entirely different from the revolutionary structure of the ZRS 4 & 5 with their three keels and deep structural rings. Where the Hindenburg was superior was the Achilles heel for the Akron and Macon; the tail fin structure. The Hindenburg had tail fins whose internal support struts ran straight through the hull of the ship, whereas the ZRS 4 & 5 had fins bolted onto the support rings of the hull. The result was weak tail fins and failure of the upper tail fin that led to the Macon’s crash and may have added to the Akron’s crash as well.

    • The US Navy contracted out to suppliers and manufacturers in the late 20’s for a large rigid airship scouting craft. Goodyear was the only player of serious recognition then making airships thanks to it’s previous connections with the Zeppelin Company which was in legal and financial purgatory following the first World War. It was Goodyear that proposed to the Zeppelin Company to co-design the ZRS ships. Remember, the Navy already purchased the ZRS-3 “Los Angeles” from the Zeppelin Company who was rescued from utter ruin following the war by this nice commission to build a passenger commercial airship for the US Navy. The writs of the peace treaties following WW-1 dictated that Germany was not allowed to build any military airships (as was the US and Britain too).

      It was the Navy contract for the ZRS-3 that opened a loophole of sorts to let the Zeppelin Company restart again and build the best airship to date followed by two other stunning ships ten years hence. The US Navy had to get special permission to build the Akron and Macon which were not civilian commercial airships, but were rather instruments of war. When they went to design the ZRS 4 and 5, they hired designers from the Zeppelin Company who ended up moving to the USA full time to work with Goodyear / Zeppelin. The design of the Akron and Macon was truly independent from what was later to follow from Germany in the form of the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin 2.

      Interestingly enough, Goodyear just launched their first semi rigid airship – a Zeppelin NT copy that was built here in the USA. The Zeppelin NT is a hybrid semi rigid airship that was designed solely by the Zeppelin Company in Germany ten years ago and has seen successful use all over the globe. The Goodyear – Zeppelin partnership is one formed very early on by Goodyear’s founder, Paul Litchfield and still exists.

  31. Hello everyone: I attended the 75th Anniversary of the Hindenburg crash last Sunday evening at Lakehurst Joint Base. Some 400-500 mixed military and civilians attended the memorial service at the crash site. Two of the speakers were: 1. Robert Buchannan, 92, who is the last remaining civilian ground crew member and 2. Horst Schirmer, 82, who was a passenger on the Hindenburg in 1936. It is believed that there are only 3 people left who flew on the Hindenburg. I took some photos of the ceremony which I will attempt to upload at a later time. I will also try to relate Mr. Buchannan’s story of that evening as he told it to us on Sunday last.

    • david helms | May 28, 2017 at 8:39 pm | Reply

      hi steve . call me sometime. my friend and i attended the 80th anniversary of the hindenburg disaster. maybe we can share some things.

      david cell: 704-254-0859 email: [email protected]

  32. Youtube has video of a Sparrowhawk landing on the USS Macon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWoEQRl8dCs

  33. Francisco Carvallo | April 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply

    Yesterday marked the 79th anniversary since the tragic accident that took the life of 73 people, including Adm. William Moffett, aboard the USS Akron. God Bless their memory! May history never forget them.

  34. I was wondering about the mooring rigging used on the Akron. I’ve had a metal two-sheave block for about 20 years that came from the old rigging loft on Lakehurst NAS when I worked there. It’s marked “Akron Nose Pendant” hand painted on the block. The rope size would be 3/4″. Could this have been used to haul the nose down to the mooring mast? I actually borrowed it when clearing stumps when I built my shop but never got around to returning it. Years later I mentioned it to the riggers and they said that stuff isn’t used anymore and the stuff in the old loft was cleaned out and scrapped and they didn’t want it back.

  35. Josiah Wagener | March 6, 2012 at 3:54 am | Reply

    I am really curious about some of the day to day aspects of life on an airship. Water particularly interests me since water = ballast. Did they have flushing toilets? If so did they flush out of the vessel or into a holding tank? On the Akron and Macon in particular with their long range/duration operations did the crew have showers? Was water rationed for drinking and cooking? Was the drinking water stored separate from the ballast water? What sort of food did they have? Did they have to figure the weight of every piece of trash they threw out? When they launched an airplane did they have to release a bunch of helium to compensate, then release a bunch of ballast when they recovered the airplane? Or were they able to use the angle of the props to compensate for the change of weight for the duration of the plane’s flight? Did they typically have at least one plane in the air on “guard duty” all of the time or did they just launch planes when there was a specific scouting mission for them? Were crew members highly specialized for specific duty stations or were most of them generalists who could work at almost any part of the airship?
    Anyone have answers to any of these questions or know where I could look for this kind of info?
    Thanks for creating this great resource.

    • Josiah, Airships like the Graf Zeppelin and the Hindenburg had toilets (the Hindenburg had four as well as a shower) If memory serves me correctly I believe the waste water was jettisoned over water. There were specialized crew positions on airships such as navigator, elevator man (to control the up and downward angle of the ship), radio operator, ballast board operator, sailmaker (to inspect and maintain the golbeater skin gasbags), cabin boy,steward, and in the case of Ms. Imhoff stewardesses. Various crewmembers would interchange duties such as lowering the landing wheels. A couple of good books on the subject are The epic of flight : The giant airships, Giants in the sky,Zeppelin : the story of
      lighter than air travel (quite rare as it was published in 1937), Hindenburg: an illustrated
      history, and, best of all, Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg (that book has all kinds of appendixez

      • Sorry, appendices about crew, uniforms, procedures, ballast etc. Hope this helps 🙂


      • victor.vasas | August 2, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply

        Actually, the Hindenburg had holding tanks for the waste water and sewage, which was very important to retain, because it made unneccessary to vent hydrogen. When you dump water, the airship gets lighter, therefore you need to release hydrogen to avoid the ship getting too light and rising too high, which actually requires the release of even more hydrogen. So they had big tanks to retain it. The Akron and Macon even had water condensation equipment to regain water from the engine exhaust, because helium is much more expensive than hydrogen. You always want to fly an airship a little heavier than air, in case you need to land or the engines stop, you don’t keep rising until the bag burst or or to avoid having to vent too much expensive helium.

        • That’s quite correct (thanks for the info =-) ). That being said the Hindenburg could dump waste water (in light of the information you pointed out I doubt they used this capability often.)

    • Hi Josh;

      Here’s a try at answering your questions:

      “Did they have flushing toilets? If so did they flush out of the vessel or into a holding tank?” Yes – the bathrooms were located in the crews quarters next to the airplane hanger. I don’t think they flushed directly overboard as that would alter the ship’s static condition. That plus it was important to look below before flushing the toilet. Having a publicly funded costly zeppelin drop nasty stuff on the taxpayers would have been “bad press” for the Navy’s LTA program.

      “On the Akron and Macon in particular with their long range/duration operations did the crew have showers?” Not sure about any showers, but there was a bathroom with about three sinks and some water closets.

      “Was water rationed for drinking and cooking?” Yes, it was stored in separate potable water storage tanks. Ballast water was separately stored in tanks and bags that had openings in the bottom for drainage upon command. Water was rationed because of the limited quantities aboard. The ships had a useful lift of near 100 tons, so there was plenty of water aboard.

      “Was the drinking water stored separate from the ballast water?” See previous.

      “What sort of food did they have?” They ate what was typical of any Navy galley and had a electric galley aboard with full capabilities. The Akron and Macon typically carried up to 80 persons per flight so feeding them was a task.

      “Did they have to figure the weight of every piece of trash they threw out?” Not sure about that. Tossing trash out changes your static condition. And much depended on where the airship was flying over. In Navy strategic operations, floating trash on the ocean was a sure signal of where you were recently and frowned upon during strategic operations.

      “When they launched an airplane did they have to release a bunch of helium to compensate, then release a bunch of ballast when they recovered the airplane? Or were they able to use the angle of the props to compensate for the change of weight for the duration of the plane’s flight?” The Akron and Macon could use their elevators to pitch the ships slightly up or down during flight to compensate for changes to the static conditions. As much as 5 to 6 tons of lift could be achieved with full power and some pitch on the hull. I am unaware of the Navy valving costly helium or ballast water during operations of their aircraft. The only component that would change when launching the F9C’s would be the fuel they expended when they returned again to the airship. During their time out, the ship was quite capable of flying dynamically downward to maintain it’s altitude and slight change in static condition. The Akron and Macon’s props were vectorable (only half of them were) however that function was only reserved for use during landing operations.

      “Did they typically have at least one plane in the air on “guard duty” all of the time or did they just launch planes when there was a specific scouting mission for them?” They could only launch one plane at a time which made them sitting ducks when being “shot down” during Fleet exercises. They typically launched planes in search operations, two at a time flying angled vectors off the airship’s course. They did launch planes as running boats to ferry mail, personnel or packages back to the ground.

      “Were crew members highly specialized for specific duty stations or were most of them generalists who could work at almost any part of the airship?” They were somewhat specialized to LTA service. You had riggers, flight engineers for the LTA specialty, the HVA or Heavier Than Air pilots of the F9C’s and their support crew who worked the hanger and trapeze. Then there was the cooks, navigators and quartermasters who operated the airship with special training for LTA work on top of their Navy standard training. It was no uncommon for officers and sailors to rotate out of the LTA program into surface duty. The Navy flight program was still in its infancy then.

  36. not only do i have an origonal picture of the akron but its framed in the actual akrons skeletons material.

    • awesome i finally found some one else who has pieces of the USS Akron. Mine is from February 22 1932, from the first accident. I have a piece of the material. More than likely from the lower fin area.

    • Mr Dalton. I am a USN artist on active duty and researching dirigibles of the navy.Could you describe your frame for me as I am doing an art piece very similar.

      AW1 Todd Pierce
      [email protected]

  37. Lani Griffiths | October 22, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Reply

    I am so happy to finally see this response to dirigiles. My father, Lee “Ding”
    Meredith served on USS Los Angeles. J-4, Akron and Macon, being a member
    of the first crew to go to Moffet, and he almost served on the Shenandoah.
    To explain, he was originally with the Shenandoah but his father had recently
    retired from Elgin Watch Co. in Elgin, IL and they were planning to move to
    CA and retire in Modesto. My father traded ships with some so he could be on
    the West coast. I guess you could then. I remember him saying that the
    base was not ready when they arrived and the Navy put them as guests with
    the locals and also when Hanger 1 doors were operated at first the electric
    lights in Mt. View/Sunnyvale would dim. He laughed about how mad the
    farmers around hills behind Milpitis would be when the ships would glide low
    and silent over cattle and scare the daylights out of the cattle and the
    farmers would wave fists at them. He came back to Moffet in 1942-44 and
    spent time in Recife, Brazil, a site during the war. He loved the airships and
    the public loved them. He is listed on your site showing crews of the Macon,
    listed as Lee Meredith, AMM2c-Avm Mach Mate 2d.

    • enjoyed reading your blog about your dad. i corresponded with leonard schellburg in the 1990’s and he flew on all 4 us navy airships: shenandoah, uss los angeles, uss akron, uss macon.i bet your father knew him well. i recently visited schellburg’s grave in toms river, n.j.i attended the 80th anniversary of the hindenburg disaster, early may. call me anytime. i live east of charlotte,n.c.. love to hear from you.

      david : 704-254-0859

  38. Just an added note regarding the F9C-2’s flown off the Akron and Macon; After refining and perfecting the art of launching airplanes off airships, the Navy adopted removable landing gear for the F9C-2’s. After the airship would take off, the heavier than air contingent would fly up and join the ship, shed their terrestrial landing gear, and get additional belly tanks installed in place of the landing gear. The belly tanks extended the F9C-2’s range and gave the airship “over the horizon” surveillance capability. It’s a shame that the program died with the loss of the Macon. The Navy really had a unique and promising scouting / SAR methodology underway.

  39. Dirk MacDowall | August 2, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply

    How did the Macon get its name???

    • The Macon was named after Macon, Georgia the largest city in the Congressional district of Representative Carl Vinson, then the chairman of the House of Representative’s Committee on Naval Affairs.

  40. My great uncle was one of the crewmen on the USS Akron when it crashed. His name was Peter Boelsen, (AMMC/AVN. MACH.Mate 2d. ) I would like a picture of him to add to my family tree if anyone has pictures of the crew. Also was there any kind of a ceremony or anything for the lost lives? I can’t find any records of his death, not even in the Social Security Death Records.

  41. So just how long did these airships stay in the air before they would return back to base to refuel and things like that? Also how offer were they sent out on patrol?

    • Francisco Carvallo | May 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm | Reply

      Dear Paul,

      I can speak mainly about the USSMacon. The Macon could carry up to 50 tons of fuel and could remain (and often did) remain aloft for 1 week a a time. Their fuel consumption based on speed was: 10,500 miles @ 60 mph (cruising speed); and 8,200 miles @87 mph (flank/max speed) hope this helps.

  42. One thing I never thought about was the claustrophobic nature of some of the spaces aboard the Akron and Macon, such as the tiny engine rooms. That had to be a difficult place to spend your watch. There don’t appear to be any windows and the noise had to be significant. At least on the German ships with their external engine cars they were provided with windows. The only crewmembers that really could enjoy the flights were likely the officers in the control car.

    • Francisco Carvallo | November 3, 2010 at 11:58 am | Reply

      Hello Mr. Olson. I agree with you about the spaces inside the Macon/Akron engine rooms, however, the Shenandoa, Graf Zeppelin (first one) and even the Hindenburg had scary issues with the engineers climbing down into the engine carts (specialy in stormy weather and/or at night). This also made servicing engines much easier as NONE of the Macon/Akron engines failed in flight as did the Hindenburg & Graf Zeppelin engines did (both Zeppelins almost crashed on one occasion due to engine(s) failing).The inside engines also allowed mores treamlined as the Macon was clocked at 89 mph on one occasion and the Hindenburg could only go up to 84.4 mph tops, so there were definite benefits to interiror engines.

      • I agree that it was a better solution for the performance of the airships. The strange thing about the Akron/Macon layout was the inline position of the four propellers on each side of the ship. I’ve always wondered how efficiently the second, third, and fourth propellers would work behind the disturbed air from the ones directly in front. Thanks for the conversation.

        • Francisco Carvallo | November 6, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Reply

          You’re welcome Mr. Olson! My understanding is that each propeller behind the other one would have it’s setting “in opposition” from the one in front in order to minimize the air turbulence from the engine in front. The propelers could also be swiveled 90 degrees down and the ship could take off like a helicopter and/or the first two engines could be swiveled down and placed on reverse for the ship to come nose down to make it easier to be connected to the nose-mast. The major problem with all the turbulence of all 8 engines/propellers was that the control cabin was highly disturbed by it when the ship was going flank speed (84-87 mph) and would “shiver”. Some sailors reported getting “sea-sick” on that station and it wasn’t a big favorite of the Macon’s crew! Thank you for starting the conversation!

          • Francisco Carvallo | November 6, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Reply

            I meant to say the “Emergency Control Cabin” which was located on the Macon’s bottom stern fin. Sorry for the confusion! The actual control car was quite stable.

            • That’s interesting. It would make sense that the lower fin would be affected by the prop wash of all those engines just a short distance ahead of it.

          • The crew of the Akron were kind enough to line up the props for this photo which pretty clearly shows light vs. dark blades alternating. So the assumption they were counter rotating seems to be correct. But I would guess there was considerable buffeting from having them inline which is what made engine crews seasick. Sloping side keels would have staggered the engines but added weight since the keels incorporated two longitudinal spars. Staggering could have been achieved just by varying engine mount inclinations, mounting engine rooms above and below the keel, and varying outrigger lengths easily by using longer drive shafts and struts.


            Seems like a modern airship might have the obvious design layout of a large, counter rotating fan behind the airship with engines more forward for balance, but the Macon/Akron design allowed propulsion to also be used for maneuvering. The modern Zeppelin NT’s use a rear prop and two smaller maneuvering outrigger props towards the front. Rear prop means internal engine though, and a big reason most Zeppelins had external engines was that they were hydrogen filled and it was a pure safety measure.

            The idea of a giant lifting body shape for a future airship is interesting because of magnified ground and surface effects, ie using through-body fans could simplify landings, air blown over the top could enhance lift…

            • Also interesting that the Akron seems to have had 2 bladed props, and the Macon seems to have have 3 blades.


              Here is a terrific site. It took me a long time to find this. It’s photos from the assembly in Akron? This is an Ohio history site, but I thought there were assembled at Lakehurst?


              • Francisco Carvallo | November 20, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Reply

                Hello John!
                Both the USS Akron & Macon were manufactured inside the Akron airship dock. Only the USS Shenandoah was constructed in the Pennsylvaniasteel-works and then moved over to Lakehurst. On the prop question, yes the Akron had 2 bladed peops made of wood (there were plans to put steel props on all outriggers, but the ship crashed before that happened.) The Macon started with double blades as with early pictures of the ship inside the Ohio airship-dock, then switched over to the 3 bladed steel props. The props was what mad e the Macon so mych faster than the Akron (that and the streamling added to the ship) The Akron could fly up to 79 mph, whereas the macon could routenely go up to 87 mph and went as fast as 89mph once! Thank you fr the site with the pictures..they do have errors: The Macon & Akron never flew together, the picture shows the Akron & Los Angeles flying together.

                • I have in my procession a 12 foot left hand rotation two bladed wooden propeller. I think it was made for Akron

        • I think the need for so many propellers might be due to the abyssmal power output that engines of the day had. A single motor&propeller from an Osprey per side, would probably more than replace the Akron/Macon power train.

          • Kevin Olson | May 20, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply

            I’m sure you’re right about that Miguel. They were making the best of what they had with all the technology of the day.

          • Francisco Carvallo | May 20, 2011 at 7:54 pm | Reply

            True, True.. but remember the 12 cylinder Maybachs had a 900 rpm redline.. that means they only had to be turning 400-500 rpm for the most part to reach max torque/HP output. The noise output for the most part wasn’t much as most of the times the engines were barely chugging along.

          • I think for airship propulsion you need large bladed props to move large volumes of air quietly and efficiently with a good low speed as well as high speed capability. Airships need thrust, not high speed air movement. The larger fan blades wouldn’t have to rotate very fast to move air efficiently and create operable thrust. That would create a quieter propulsion system versus noisier, smaller propellers spinning at a higher rate of rotation.

            Airships spend half their time loitering, or slow flying which is the advantage of such an aircraft. If an airship were to be built, it would be used for air tourism, not high speed transiting. The need to slowly travel within sight of the surface by day to maximize the flight experience, then sprint at night would be optimum.

            Perhaps a combination of large fans with auxiliary smaller “thrust” props for maneuvering would be a good compliment of power on a modern ship. The larger fans would generate motive forward thrust for high and low speed cruising, and the smaller, vectoring props would be used to maneuver the ship around and add to the forward motive thrust in limited use.

    • The external engine cars of the Hindenburg, Graf Zeppelin and other ships were just as cramped as the engine rooms of the Akron and Macon. Plus with the propeller just feet away from the back end of the motor, the wind and noise inside the control cars was pretty intense. Add to that climbing over a 12″ wide ladder in a 80 mph airstream (hold onto something!). The Akron’s engine rooms may have been noisy and hot, but there was easy and safe access to them, and no airstream or first step to miss getting to the engines.
      A former mate on the Akron told me long ago that she had vibration issues from her in-line propellers. Other than that, he felt she was a solid ship.

  43. I have a orginal copy Blue Print of the USS Macon

  44. I am a Life, Senior (grade ) member of the Insitute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. I would like to alert you to a page on the IEEE.

    I was not aware of your site until I read the IEEE article. I am so pleased I did.

    • You may be well aware of these sites. But just in case, I think they would be
      of interest to you.
      America the airship: the first transatlantic crossing
      In 1910, six men (and a cat) attempted to cross the Atlantic in an airship. Only now is their pioneering journey being remembered.

      The Telegraph UK Oct 14, 2010
      This is a video of the arship AMERICA
      The New Jersey Antique Radio Club -njarc.org


      • America, Walter Wellman’s airship, was given to him by his publisher, who wanted to wash his hands of the whole thing. Or so I recall reading.

        The original idea was to go to the North Pole, and their main attempt did not last due to his brother-in-law, who panicked and let out too much hydrogen when making a rapid assent.

    • David Erskine | April 13, 2011 at 12:57 am | Reply

      Thankyou, Wlilliam Shaw, for alerting us to this web site. Interesting idea, an airship as mother ship for UAVs.

      • David Erskine | April 13, 2011 at 12:59 am | Reply

        I am amazed that the US Navy succeeded in getting an airship to retrieve an aircraft while aloft. Releasing an aircraft in flight is no problem, but I can now see that a slow moving biplane can match speed with an airship with powerful engines.

        A civilian airship with this capability would use aircraft to transfer people to and from the ground, and also carry supplies up to the airship. Helicopters were not available in the thirties, but today a helicopter could land and take off from a helicopter pad on top of the airship, with stairs running down inside the airship. A small airship could do the same job, floating above the larger airship, transferring people and supplies.

        • Landing a helicopter on top of a moving airship would be a tricky maneuver. The slipstream of air would make the helicopter unstable on the platform. Also dead weights at the top of an airships will lower the center of rotation of the hull, making it more unstable and tending to roll over. Hook on propeller planes would be better and can carry more than a helicopter. With a stall speed under 90 knots, they could work with an airship at cruising speed. The hooking process would be a jolting ride, and not for the faint of heart. The fly boys on the Akron and Macon were called the “men on the flying trapeze” for good reason.

          • David Erskine | August 7, 2011 at 8:02 am | Reply

            I imagined the airship stationary when the helicopter lands on the helicopter pad at the top. I accept that the weight of the helicopter will make the airship more likely to roll, but if the airships propellors can rotate through 90 degrees, they can correct any roll.

            • Not to debate you sir, but an alternate thought:

              Dead weight is the enemy of the airship. The R101 was overweight and had to be fitted with more cells just to fly. She ended up not having enough reserve buoyancy and ended up exploding when hitting a hillside in France on a rainy night.

              The dead weight of the helicopter platform, the receiving room or scuttle, the vestibule, and stairs down to the accommodations below would be far greater than the weight of a trapeze, winch, and service platform for a fixed wing aircraft. The difference between the two ideas would be the weight of the stairs and the heli-pad. That’s a lot of dead weight to factor into the total, useful and safe lifting capacity of a airship.

              Novel idea though, but I am a traditionalist. I don’t see the need to shuttle passengers back and forth while in flight, considering the airship can land where it’s going (open fields will do). If a future civil passenger carrying resort airship were to exist, the biggest thing limiting it’s range would be the potable water capacity.

              I could not envision folks expected to pay thousands of dollars to share a toilet and shower with 40 other passengers as they did in the Hindenburg, which was the top of luxury in her day. On extended crossings of the Graf Zeppelin, when weather slowed them down, the ship landed with no water aboard and no food either. You couldn’t ask passengers to day to pay thousands for a cabin and go hungry and not shower. So the airship would have to stop every two or three days just to replenish it’s limited water capacity as well as take on fresh supplies. Otherwise, the ship designated to fly a week without stopping (easy with engine fuel) could only carry a dozen passengers with strict water usage. Not exactly a profitable way to pay off a multi-million dollar aircraft or entertain folks paying a premium for their passage.

              For landing aircraft on / to airships, one such use would be for military scouting and patrolling use where heavier-than-aircraft (manned and unmanned) would be sent to and from the airship to extend visual and contact range. Like the Akron and Macon, a flying aircraft carrier for UAV’s might be a reasonable mobile platform for quick interdiction into a hot spot where eyes and arms were needed to look into somewhere fast.

              That’s my opinion and it’s just that sir. My thanks for sharing your ideas with me.

              • David Erskine | August 25, 2011 at 8:26 am | Reply

                I accept that extra weight on top of the airship is a bad thing. You have made the same point elsewhere on a discussion about solar panels on an airship. The point was worth making.

                The least safe part of an airship’s flight is taking off and landing, except in still air. The airship wants to move with the wind, but the ground stays still. I was trying to minimise interaction with the ground, though some interaction with the ground is essential.

                Water is an interesting point. Water can be condensed from engine exhaust, and after filtering should be acceptable for showers, and even for drinking. In the last thirty years or so extemely fine filters, capable of filtering viruses out of water, have been available. Each passenger could have his or her own shower and attached filter, so that most of the water is reused, just for that shower.

                Thankyou for your comments.

  45. I have been fascinated with the airships Akron and Macon since childhood. I grew up in Sunnyvale, CA, and would often look in awe of Hanger One there. I was born in 1945, but my parents told me how traffic would stop as the Macon flew over the Bayshore freeway. I once saw a postcard of the Macon going over this highway with cars stopped to see it. Do you or anyone else have one of these postcards for sale?

  46. Don, try and check with the Museum at Moffett Fld, Sunyvale CA. They have logboks in the musuem and an extensive reference library!!

  47. Hello. I have been researching genealogy and through my aunt I discovered Karl Lester Fiskes. He was a pilot on the USS Macon, but must not have been involved in the crash as he died in 1996 at the age of 93. He also was a passenger on the maiden voyage from Frankfurt to Lakehurst of the Hindenburg and was listed as head of blimp operations for Goodyear. Does anyone find his name in your history documents? Karl was my third cousin twice removed (or my grandfather’s first cousin). Thanks.

  48. Hello everybody
    I have realized a paper model of the Akron. As it comes entirely from free sources on the Web, I will be happy to make it affordable free for anyone who will ask.

    • Zcak Clayton | June 17, 2010 at 10:39 am | Reply

      I am interested in the paper model of USS Akron.

      • Thank you for your interest
        Well for the moment I’ve the “USS Los Angeles” in line at the folowing adress
        It’s free, but for a personal use and not a commercial utilisation. Something as 10 dollars could be given to the poors as a sign of free recognition to the author.
        The instructions are in french, the level of difficulty is “hard enough”, and it’s better to have a good patience.
        Fell free to ask any advice.

        • Jeanpierre —

          Any chance this Macon model was ever posted? I don’t see it at your website.

          I’ve just posted a link to the Los Angeles from the AirshipModelers forum. Great job on that one!

          • Hello Eric and everybody
            Eric you’re the first person to thank me for the Los angeles model. it’s the reason why I didn’t really care to make the Akron available on the net, since it’s so much work, for so little recognition. But I will try to make something of the sort 🙂

  49. Joshua D. Slingerland | April 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Reply

    I always found airships interesting machines. I would love to hear a detailed account of what was going on aboard the vessel when it going down.

    Also does anybody here have a list of the best books on airships?

    J. Slingerland

  50. I have several books on airships and one in particular is excellent. It is THE AIRSHIPS AKRON & MACON-Flying Aircraft Carriers of the United States Navy. The author is Richard K. Smith. Published by the Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Maryland. Copyrighted in 1965 and had two more printings in 1972 and 1977. The book has many great pictures of both airships as well as a complete specifications list, pictures of the construction – almost everything you wanted to know about these two great airships. The only error I could find was that Dad’s last name was misspelled in the index. Dad gave this to me in 1982, six years before he passed away, one of the last survivors from the Macon crash.

  51. My parents told a wonderful story about seeing a rigid airship (most likely the Macon) fly over my mother’s house one evening. They were dating in the 30’s and were sitting on the porch in Rockford, Illinois, just west of Chicago. It was a dark, clear night and they talked about hearing a low rumbling noise that they couldn’t quite identify. They looked up and saw a long row of lights passing overhead among the stars that my mom said looked like a train. They went out into the yard and watched it as long as they could until it disappeared over the trees and was gone. I later learned that the Macon had made a flight in the area, so I’m pretty sure that’s what they saw. They said it was the coolest thing to see that long row of lights and hear the sound of it up there in the night sky.

  52. dan: do you know how i can reach a descendant of a macon or akron crewman? would love to contact such a person. thanks for your help.


    • Hello- My father, Ted Brandes was a crew member on both the Akron and Macon. He was on leave when the Akron was lost but on the Macon when it went down in the Pacific. My mother, brother, sister and I were living in a house in an orchard not far from Moffett Field when the Macon crashed. I still remember the Navy enlisted men that came to the house to tell us of the crash. They said the Macon “had gone down in shallow water” leading my mother to believe the crew all walked ashore. Dad passed away in 1988 one of the last remaining crew members. I have a lot of fond memories of seeing the magnificent ships flying over and hearing their eight engines. I have several books about the airships, and had tried for several years to interest various organizations in searching for the wreck. It had now been found and I have a copy of a video taken of the wreck. Too bad my dad was not alive to know the wreckage had been found.

      • hi don. thanks for a reply. i would be delighted for
        anything you could share with me about the akron and more specifically the macon. i know there were not many survivors in the macon.i hope to hear from you very soon and many thanks.do you also have a list of the crew and captain when the macon crashed?


        • Hi, David-
          I’m not sure if there are any survivors from the Macon crash any longer alive. There were only two crewmen that lost their lives in the crash. One was the radioman who was only one of three or four survivors from the Akron. He had just been notified that day that he was promoted to Warrant Officer. His name was Dick Daley. The other crewman was one of the stewards assigned to the Macon. My dad was probably the last one to see the steward alive. Dad said he saw him climbing up the girders to the highest point of the inclined ship. Dad said he himself, couldn’t swim but learned rather quickly. He slid down a rope that ended about 25 feet from the water then dropped. Said he paddled “like hell” to one of the rubber rafts.

          Dad painted a picture of the crash from a piece of the “skin” that he got at the hanger after the crash (not from the ship itself). It was quite good, and he had all of the officers and men sign the back of the painting. Unfortunately, it was stolen from a storage place in his garage in 1945.

          I’ll look through the books I have on the Macon and see if I can find the names of all of the crew. If I can perhaps I can copy them off, scan them and send them to you. I’ll see what I can do.

          Don Brandes

          • thanks don for sharing. i really appreciate it.


          • Don, David,

            My name is sharon, My grandfather was on the macon when it crashed in 1935. He was also involved on some of the other airships. Please tell me about yourselves.. Sharon

            • Hello, Sharon-Perhaps you have seen some of my replys on this website. Dad was on both the Akron and Macon. What was your grandfather’s name? Perhaps I had met him at some time since our family knew a number of the aircrew on the Macon.

            • david helms | May 28, 2017 at 8:46 pm | Reply

              hi sharon. i ,david helms live in monroe,n.c. and have been studying airship history for over 25 years. my friend and i just attended the 80th anniversary of the hindenburg disaster at lakehurst naval base. call me anytime.

              david :704-254-0859 email: [email protected]

          • DR. RAY BRANDES | September 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm | Reply

            Donald, this is your older brother. I recall vividly our stay in Lakehurst, later in Akron. The third man who did not die in the crash of the Akron was our father Ted. He was the man referred to elsewhere as being in sick bay the night the aircraft perished. He, in a sense, was the only man who survived both the Akron and Macon disasters. Retired before WWII, he was called back into service and he piloted the blimps off the California coast searching for Japanese subs.
            I had the chance to fly with him on one occasion and recall he, you and I spent time with him at Tillamook NAS before I returned to my infantry division.

  53. Vladimir Borovsky | December 4, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Reply

    These stories you tell are amazing, I’ve always wanted to talk to an actual crew member of an airship, especially one from the ZRS-4 Akron or her sister-ship ZRS-5 Macon. Perhaps one of these days…

    …Anyway, I had one question, which was the better airship? Akron or Macon?

  54. One thing I was wondering about: what were the crew accommodations like on board these ships?

    • I have a number of photos and will try to post them in the near future.


      • dan: do you have original photos of the macon, akron, and uss los angeles you can share with me. many thanks.


        • hope to see your photos very soon dan. i am sure they are fascinating. thanks for sharing. i want to purchase some for framing.

    • Francisco Carvallo | August 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm | Reply

      Hello Mr. Surek. I work as a volunteer for the Moffett Field Historical Society and in their website they have several photos of the crews quarters. They were double bunked-hammocks for the most part. there are also several other faxcinating pictures abouthh the ship that I’ve never seen published elsewhere as well. Hope this helps.
      PS: the website is:www.moffettfieldmuseum.org

      • Francisco,

        Thank you so much! The photos are great!


        • Francisco Carvallo | August 31, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Reply

          You’re quite welcome! I’ve also heard that the Macon had a smoking room (much like the Hindenburg later in 1936) which of course carried a lot less “danger” than one in the highly flammable environment of a hydrogen filled ship. Alas, I’ve not been able to find any pictures of it.

  55. Hi everone. A nice bit of information here about the ridgid airships. I have always been facinated with these behemoths of the air and my interst peaked when I found a picture of the Akron in an old Ford dealership. It was an award called “The Third Anual Godyear Zepplin Race”, July thru August 1931. The frame is made of small peices of Duralumin, as described by Dan above. A friend`s son used the picture for a term paper and even built a modle of it using a 2litre cola bottle for the ship. Thanks for Sharing your information on this great peice of history.

  56. I learned a lot about the ships in this article, it was very informative! The double skeleton and triple keel are things I wouldn’t have imagined, but I did wonder why the skeleton on the Akron looked strange compared to the Graf. The part about how the engines were inside and the propellers on movable outposts made me lose that “Oh how innovative” thought when I look at the Zeppelin NT and it’s movable propellers, turns out they did it 83 years ago! Thanks for the info!

    • And there are ships (USCGC Mackinaw) that utilize a pod for the propellers. The pod can rotate, eliminating the need for a rudder.

      “One of the Mackinaw’s unique features in the US Coast Guard fleet is the use of two azipods for her main propulsion. These, coupled with a 550 hp (410 kW) bow thruster, make the ship exceptionally maneuverable. Azipods also negate the need for a traditional rudder, as the azipods can turn 360 degrees on their axis to direct their thrust in any direction. The Mackinaw also lacks a traditional ship’s steering wheel.”


    • The photos of the NT show a triple keel design with some stoutly reinforcing cruciforms on the rings where the tailfins attach. Seems the Zeppelin folks updated the Macon design, but with a traditionally reinforced tailfin section. Clever folks.

  57. I had the pleasure of riding in one of the airplanes from the USS Akron at an airshow about ten years ago. Didn’t think to ask if it was original or a replica. my wife took a great picture of me sitting in the cockpit after landing with a massive grin. i’ll try to send along scan, its a great shot of the plane.

    after i forked over $60, signed a waiver, and got a six-second course in how to unstrap myself and deploy the parachute, the pilot took me up for some loops and rolls. all in a day’s work for him, but one of the coolest things ever for me.

    one thing that really blew me away was just how quiet the engine was when we were on our approach. as we coasted over virginia farmland i could hear dogs barking in a yard below and a truck on the road. not something you would get in an airbus.

    • can you possibly share a picture of that aircraft with me? i would be indebted and thanks.


      • still got the photo on my shelf about six feet away (looking at it right now). i don’t have the capability here but i’ll see what i can do about getting a scan made. thanks for your interest…

  58. What are those strips of black on the sides of the airship up the engine nacelles? Is that open space where they housed the biplanes?

    • Those were the water recovery units, which recovered water from the exhaust of the engines. (Weight is lost when fuel is burned by an airship in flight… to avoid the need to vent expensive helium to compensate for the weight of the fuel burned during flight, they had equipment to recover water from the exhaust to serve as ballast.) I will be discussing these when I update my sections on the US Navy airships… soon, soon! I wish I had more time! 🙂

  59. I visited the Lakehurst Air station with my daughter in 1995. I had called ahead and spoke with a public affairs officer about seeing Hangar One. She said she would leave pass at the gate that would allow us entry. We drove about 800 miles from Chicago and arrived at a gate within sight of Hangar One. The guard said he had no pass for us, but after a phone call issued us one and we drove in and parked on the field in front of the hangar. There was almost no activity at the time and we walked the field, went to the memorial embedded in the ground where the Hindenburg’s control car struck the ground, and walked all around the hangar exterior. Couldn’t go in. Took several pictures if you’d be interested. This was obviously pre-911. I doubt we’d have that kind of casual access today. It was a dream come true for me to stand on that ground.

    • hi kevin. i have been to the crash site twice.fascinating. when you get time check out the career and credentials of the airship operations commander during the era of airships. he died in 1977 and his name was charles e rosendahl. what a career.keep in touch.


  60. M. Hardick | May 8, 2009 at 3:59 pm | Reply

    I have a book mark made from the drop off aul. from the Akron, When it was made. It was my grandfathers. Were there many of thies made?

    • Many small souvenir items were made by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company from the duralumin used to build USS Akron, but I can’t give you an exact figure. I have a small ashtray and a letter opener made from Akron duralumin, and it is truly amazing how light they are, and how strong.

  61. Stu,

    I’ll bet the crewman from the Akron that you mentioned was John Lust. I published a letter that my dad wrote to my grandparents about the Akron and published my email, which is now [email protected]. I also had my phone number.

    John called me saying is name is John Lust. I said I know who you are and he was a little surprised. I then added, “I say you on the History Channel last week”. We had a good talk, he knew my dad real well. It was great to speak with someone from that era that knew my Dad.

    Call me or email me.

    Lee Stone – (561) 964-3201

    • hi lee. would it be possible for me to get in touch with john lust? i would be thrilled . please respond and thanks.also, can you tell me how to reach him?


      • David,

        John Lust passed away a year or two ago. A few years ago he called me. I had published a letter in the newletter for the NAS Lakehurst Historical Society with my contact info. He flew with my dad and I had a good conversation with him. I wish I had been able to meet with him in person.

        Lee Stone 561-964-3201

  62. My dad, John Stone and my uncle were both crew members of the Los Angeles. My uncle Monty Rowe was a survivor of the Macon crash. I would like to hear from any of the LTA men and decendents.

    Lee Stone, 561-964-3201
    Greenacres, FL

    • i also would love to hear from any of these lta men. what a thrill. please let me know how to reach any of them or their descendants and many thanks.


    • hi lee. when you hear , please let me hear. this stuff fascinates me. thanks for sharing.


  63. I had the pleasure of knowing and talking to a crewman who flew on the Akron. He got into a car accident before the fateful April 3rd 1933 flight and was in a hospital recovering when he heard about the loss of ZRS-4. I knew himwhen I was a young boy. He knew I was fascinated in airships (still am!) and made time to talk to me whenever I saw him about his days on the Akron. He said the ship’s weakness was her inline propeller configuration which created vibration and turbulence in the stern-most engines. I wish I could talk to him now, for I am sure I would have a million questions now!

  64. I have a coat that came off the Macon. My Grandfather removed it from the ocean after the crash of the Macon. I can not find any information about this coat that I can conferm that the story is true. It has a tag that states that it was made by AG SPALDING of USAS Design and has gold wings. Any info would be of very much help….Regards J. Sparks

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