Zac Trolley

The flying aircraft carriers of the 1930s

The 300th episode of the 99% Invisible was about airships.  More specifically, it was about the R101, a ridge airship developed by the British. This airship was one of the grandest airships ever build and the podcast goes into great detail about it’s history and construction. The podcast also mentioned several other famous airships in that era and describes the decline of their popularity. What was missing from the podcast was any mention of the USS Akron or the USS Macon.

These two ships were flying aircraft carriers. Like what the Avengers have.

They were surveillance aircraft, created to locate enemy naval fleets. They carried a compliment of three Sparrowhawk biplanes that could fly out on a mission and return to the airship to refuel. The USS Macon was able to track the cruiser USS Huston while it was traveling to Hawaii with FDR on board. These airships represented the might of the US Navy and would have revolutionized warfare had it not been for the hubris and impatience of the Navy.

The Akron had several accidents involving weather. The tail fins weren’t properly re-enforced and heavy winds and the ship was vulnerable to changing pressures. On April 3rd 1933 this was proven fatal as the Akron flew into bad weather and crashed in the Atlantic.  The Macon did not receive the upgrades that the engineers wanted, as the Navy officials were worried that the program would be canceled if the sister ship could not be shown to be operational. Before the Macon could be fulled tested and hardened against weather conditions, it crashed in 1935.

It is the view of some people that if these ships had survived and were operational in the 1940s, Japan would not have been able to launch a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.