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The Crash of the Macon, and the End of the US Navy's Airship Program

The Macon had scouted for the Pacific Fleet eight times in all. When the airship left Moffett Field on February 26, 1935, to go on maneuvers off the Southern California coast, repairs to two damaged tail fins had not been completed.

Because of the pressure to prove its value, Navy officials decided to do the repair piecemeal. Largely because of that decision, this would be the Macon's 54th and final flight.

The next day, as the ship was returning from a successful mission, it encountered sever storm winds off Point Sur, south of Monterey. Suddenly, a crosswind struck the ship with such force that the upper fins of the previously damaged tail were completely severed, sending shards of metal into the rear gas cells.

In the control car, the steering wheel went slack and the navigators felt the tail drop. Wiley ordered the dumping of ballast and fuel.

Crewmen hurried about the ship discharging anything they could do without to lighten the tail. But the Ship was doomed. After rising to nearly 5,000 feet, the Macon began to fall. Moments later it settled gently into the water.

The crew, clad in life jackets and prepared with life rafts, jumped into the water safely. Ships were quickly on the scent to pull the men out. A radioman was killed when he jumped from the falling ship, and another man was lost when he apparently tried to retrieve his belongings. But in all, 81 of the 83 aboard the Macon survived the crash.

The Macon's Control Car

These small training blimps resemble orphans within the lonely expanse of the 198-foot tall Hangar one, built in 1932 at a cost of $2.25 million.

Former USS Macon engineer George Weldy, 89, one of the few surviving U.S. military dirigible crew members, recalled in an interview that fate took a big part in his life while he worked on airships.

"I happened to be off duty the day she went down (off Monterey in 1935)," he said. "They were breaking in some new crew members, and they happened to be aboard that day."

"You know, that day was the only day I saw the Macon in the air," Weldy said. Why? Because he had always been aboard! He had a total of 52 flights on the Macon.

The first airship Weldy was assigned to, the Akron, also crashed, but Weldy again was lucky. "A fellow asked to trade duty station with me, he said. It's sad when you lose friends like that, because we were all like family."

Weldy had a 30 year career in the military before retiring in 1958. He and his beautiful wife, Laura have been married for 65 years and have one son, David.

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A commission set up to determine the cause of the ship's demise concluded that the blame belonged not to the crew, but to the Navy's refusal to repair the Macon's tail damage before it was sent on its ill-fated mission. The Macon was the nation's last rigid airship.

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