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April 4, 1933 – The Akron Disaster

Posted April 04, 2007 12:33 PM by Steve Melito

Today is the 74th anniversary of the crash of the USS Akron (ZRS-4), a helium-filled airship designed for military reconnaissance and use as a flying aircraft carrier. Larger than Germany's Graf Zeppelin, the U.S. Navy dirigible could monitor distant fleet formations and travel up to 10,580 miles without refueling. Seven machine guns and a trapeze-style mechanism that could deploy five airplanes from an interior hangar made the Akron a formidable threat. According to historian Richard K. Smith, author of The Airships Akron and Macon, "there was not a military airplane in the world in 1932 which could have given the same performance, operating from the same base."

The USS Akron was built by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation at a 1175-ft. long by 325-ft. wide dock in Akron, Ohio. Construction began on October 31, 1929 and lasted two years. Braving temperatures that ranged from -10° F to 100+° F, workers erected the airship's hull in sections. Rear Admiral Richard A. Moffett, a leading proponent of the lighter-than-air flight, drove a golden rivet into the Akron's main ring. Both inside and out, the USS Akron was designed to resist fire and rain. To minimize the threats posed by lighting and enemy arms, the Akron featured 12 internal cells filled with inflammable helium gas. The dirigible's taut, waterproof outer-coating was designed to resist both sea spray and heavy downpours. When complete, the USS Akron was 785 ft. long and 152 ft. high, with a diameter of 132.5 ft and a volume of 6.5 million cubic feet. Eight 560-hp, gasoline-powered engines were mounted internally, and provided the naval airship with a cruising speed of 50 knots (57.5) mph and a maximum speed of 72 knots (82.8 mph).

Shortly after midnight on April 4, 1933, the USS Akron was buffeted by ferocious winds off the coast of New Jersey. She sank tail first and then disappeared into the Atlantic. "The Akron Disaster", as the crash is sometimes known, claimed the lives of 73 men and marked the beginning of the end for the U.S. Navy's rigid airship program. Rear Admiral Richard A. Moffett died alongside Commander Fred T. Berry, head of the Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Lt. Col. Alfred F. Masury, member of the U.S. Army Ordnance Reserve and vice-president of Mack Trucks, Inc., also perished in the crash. "The loss of the Akron with its crew of gallant officers and men is a national disaster," President Franklin D. Roosevelt later remarked. "Ships can be replaced, but the nation can ill afford to lose such men."

Resources:

http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/uss-akron.htm

http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/a4/akron.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_A._Moffett

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uss_akron

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2007
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#1

Re: April 4, 1933 – The Akron Disaster

04/04/2007 1:17 PM

I remember reading about both the Akron, and Macon being a floating carrier for Biplane Curtis fighters, scooped while-in-flight with a grappling-hook into the fuselage. In the pictures describing this navy pilot stunt, you can see the fighter dangling in mid-air on a single hook at the end of the triangular grappling arm.

The biplane would be released into a speed-gathering dive to start it's patrol of the east coast, then catch up with the ship to be hooked and inserted inside the fuselage.

These amazing photos appeared in a detailed photo article inside National Geographic, can't recall the issue, something in the nineties I think.

- - - OOPS!, the bottom link the OP shows these, although not the photos which appeared in NG

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Guru

Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Israel
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#2
In reply to #1

Correctum: April 4, 1933 – The Akron Disaster

04/04/2007 1:55 PM

I urgently need a memory transplant, only what is it made of?

West coast of course, New Jer... What?!... O.K:

- - It's all in the supplied links, on the OP.

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Guru
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#3
In reply to #1

Re: April 4, 1933 – The Akron Disaster

04/05/2007 5:03 PM

Thanks, Yuval. I'll see if I can locate that issue of National Geographic. The anniversary of the Akron's first "aircraft carrier" test is next month, so I plan to write an article about that event.

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Guru
United States - Member - New Member Technical Fields - Technical Writing - New Member Popular Science - Weaponology - Organizer Hobbies - Target Shooting - New Member Engineering Fields - Nuclear Engineering - New Member

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#4
In reply to #1

Re: April 4, 1933 – The Akron Disaster

05/04/2007 1:36 PM

Looks like this story ran back in 1992. Here's the reference I found.

"USS Macon: Lost and Found" J. Gordon Vaeth, National Geographic Volume 81/1 January 1992

Unfortunately, the magazine's on-line archives don't go back that far. I wish they'd take a lesson from Time magazine!

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