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USS Macon: At 785 Feet Long,
Nearly as Large as the
Famous Graf Zeppelin

On April 21, 1933, the USS Macon, costing $2.5 million, left Akron, Ohio on its maiden voyage.

Known officially as ZRS-5 the USS Macon, more modern and slightly faster that its sister ship, the Akron ZRS-4, had a top speed of about 87 miles per hour.

The rigid airship was developed by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Co., a business jointly owned by the Zeppelin Company of Germany and the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.

Unlike the blimps made famous by Goodyear today, the Macon had a hollow steel hull with three interior keels. The intent of the strong spine was to prevent the type of hull collapse that occurred with one of the Macon's predecessors, the Shenandoah.

The Macon had a crew of 100 officers and men.

The Macon had accommodations for 100 officers and crew, including sleeping berths, a large mess room, a galley and observation platform at the nose and tail.

From the outside it looked and functioned much like a helium balloon. But on the inside the ship was an open cavern of girders, cables and catwalks with few places crewmen could not go.

Before 1925, many lighter-than-air craft operated on hydrogen. But the flammability of the gas proved to be very dangerous as would be demonstrated in May, 1937 when fire killed 36 people aboard the German Zeppelin, Hindenburg.

The Macon was kept aloft by non-burning helium contained in 12 large gelatin-latex cells inside the craft.

The ship carried a large supply of additional helium, and navigators were able to set the Macon's altitude by releasing more of the gas.

Inside the hull, the ship had eight large 560-horsepower engines driving outside propellers, one of the craft's few noisy operations. The propellers could be pointed up or down to control the ship during take-off and landings.

The giant USS Macon landed at Moffett Field on October 16, 1933. During the next 16 months, the Macon became a familiar and popular sight on the Peninsula, never failing to amaze the public whenever it took off or landed.

The airplanes were release via a trapeze and harness which lowered the planes through a T-shaped hole in the Macon's underside.

The Macon carried its own protection - five sparrow hawk fighter planes stored in the aircraft's belly.

The airplanes were release via a trapeze and harness which lowered the planes through a T-shaped hole in the Macon's underside.

Retrieving the planes, however was a difficult process. Like a performing air stunt, the pilots had to match their speed to that of the ship, and "catch" the trapeze with a hook at the top of the plane. The harness would then be attached to the fuselage, and the aircraft would be raised.

Despite the difficulty of the maneuver the pilots, know as the men on the flying trapeze, had a flawless record on both the Akron and Macon.

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