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Often referred to as flying aircraft carriers, each of the helium-inflated airships carried F9C-2 Curtiss Sparrowhawk biplanes which could be launched and recovered in flight, greatly extending the range over which the Akron and Macon could scout the open ocean for enemy vessels.
Macon (ZRS-5) were designed for long-range scouting in support of fleet operations.
Given the in-flight structural failure of the tail section of U. Water Recovery Apparatus One notable feature of Akron and Macon, easily visible in all photographs of the two ships, were the water recovery apparatus designed to recover water from engine exhaust to compensate for the weight of fuel burned during flight, to avoid the need to valve helium to maintain aerostatic equilibrium as fuel was burned. Akron participated in a very disappointing scouting exercise with the fleet off the west coast on June 1-4, 1932. With its control surfaces destroyed, Akron was lost, and the ship crashed into the ocean.
The capacity to embark and deploy fixed-wing aircraft was the essential element of Akron and Macon’s ability to serve as naval scouts.In earlier zeppelins, the staggering of engines at differing heights along the hull allowed each propeller to operate in clean air, undisturbed by the prop wash from the engine in front of it, whereas the propellers on Akron and Macon operated in the disturbed air created by the engines ahead of them. The ship was christened by First Lady Lou Hoover, the wife of United States President Herbert Hoover, on August 8, 1931, and made its first flight on September 23, 1931, under the command of Charles Rosendahl. While the ship’s range was impressive (it was able to stay aloft for several days and fly thousands of miles before returning to base), it performed poorly as a scouting aircraft, largely because it was not yet equipped with its squadron of fixed-wing aircraft, which would not become operational until the summer of 1932.Placing the engines in a straight line along each of the lower keels, however, allowed for a much simpler and lighter design, and was accepted as a better alternative than the additional weight and complexity of the framework that would have been required to stagger them. Rosendahl conducted a series of test flights over the next month, and then flew the new ship to the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where it was commissioned as a vessel in the United States Navy. On February 22, 1932, Akron suffered an embarrassing ground handling accident at Lakehurst, in front of a group of congressman waiting to board the ship for a demonstration flight, when the ship broke away from its handlers and smashed its lower fin into the ground.In, April, 1934, in rough air over Texas, Macon’s tail was damaged in the area where the fins attached to the framework.In the original design of both Akron and Macon, the leading edge of the fins would have been attached to one of the ship’s main rings, but the design was modified to provide better visibility of the fins from the control car.