It happened today - February 12, 2016

On this date, Feb. 12 of 1935, the “flying aircraft carrier” U.S.S. Macon catastrophically failed to live up to its name by crashing, and sinking, off Monterey Bay. Now perhaps you didn’t know it ever existed. To which I can only say… neither did I. Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Macon (a.k.a. ZRS-5) and its sister U.S.S. Akron (ZRS-4) were, it turns out, the largest helium-filled blimps ever built. Is that the plural of blimp? I feel it should be blump or something, on the loose analogy of words like goose geese. Two blump appeared. But I digress.

Macon and Akron, less than twenty feet shorter than Hindenburg (and Hindenburg’s very slightly shorter sister Graf Zeppelin II), were considerably less flammable but otherwise no more airworthy. Akron was destroyed in a thunderstorm off the New Jersey coast on April 4 1933 killing 73 of 76 on board, the largest known loss of life in an airship crash. Macon lasted a bit longer and thanks partly to the coolness of its captain Herbert V. Wiley (a survivor of the Akron disaster who later commanded the battleship U.S.S. West Virginia in the last two years of World War II) in the final crisis only two lives were lost as it rose too high then sank slowly into the sea.

If you’re wondering why I called it an aircraft carrier, well, Macon could carry five single-seater Sparrowhawk scout planes. And if it and Akron hadn’t perished as they did, perhaps some day larger versions would have carried bombers, fighters etc. and… well, frankly, my guess is, have been shot down ignominiously.

Look, airships continue to have enthusiasts. And yes, the “Goodyear blimp” flies high. Non-rigid blump seem safer than the rigid kind. And I know early airplanes often crashed too, with even worse consequences, and sometimes still do. But the more I learn about the history of blimps the more convinced I am that if God had meant man to fly he would nevertheless have discouraged him from getting into this particular type of aircraft.

So yes, by all means build an aircraft. Just make sure it’s the kind that floats not the kind that flies… briefly.

It happened todayJohn Robson