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The Forgotten Airship Disaster

April 4, 1933 is the date of the world's greatest airship disaster. The helium-filled USS Akron crashed tail-first in a violent storm off the coast of New Jersey and of the 76 Navy personnel on board, all but three perished. Although the USS Akron and its sister ship, the USS Macon, are not as well known as the Hindenburg, they were incredible airships.

Photo courtesy of www.airships.net.

Today we think of airships as blimps that broadcast sporting events but as cited in Wikipedia.com, the historian Richard K. Smith wrote in his definitive study, The Airships Akron and Macon, "consideration given to the weather, duration of flight, a track of more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) flown, her material deficiencies, and the rudimentary character of aerial navigation at that date, the Akron's performance was remarkable. There was not a military airplane in the world in 1932 which could have given the same performance, operating from the same base."

The airship had an illustrious but troubled career. It made trips up and down the East Coast to Cuba and back up along the Mississippi. It traveled cross country to Camp Kearny in San Diego where unfortunately 3 men were killed as they tried to moor the airship. It also did a flyover of Washington, DC on the day of Franklin D. Roosevelt's first inauguration, March 4, 1933.

Photo courtesy of www.airships.net.

The ships were originally designed for long range scouting in support of fleet operations but over time their mission changed into that of a carrier. According to Airships.net, "Often referred to as flying aircraft carriers, each ship 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." The biplanes were stored in the belly of the ship and launched by a trapeze system.

Photo courtesy of www.airships.net.

In an article last year in The Star Ledger, Rick Zitarosa, vice president and historian of the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society was quoted as saying, "I've been trying to figure out for 40 years why they flew that night and what they were doing flying over the ocean with no life preservers and only a 14-man life boat." Most of the casualties were caused by drowning and hypothermia.

The USS Macon continued its missions until it crashed in a storm south of San Francisco in February, 1935. Fortunately for the sailors, the Macon had life jackets and all but 2 of the 83 men were rescued.

Last year on the 80th anniversary of the accident, the Navy Lakehurst Historical Society of Lakehurst, New Jersey, held a ceremony commemorating the airship at the Grand Army Memorial Park's Civil War monument, which holds a piece of the USS Akron. One of the attendees at the ceremony was William Moffett III, a grandson of Rear Admiral William Moffett, who was the great proponent of the dirigibles and who died on the USS Akron.

We want to thank Dan Grossman for permission to use pictures and information from his website, Airships.net. The website is great and has much more information on the building of the airships, the crews, and other missions of the airships.

Feel the Heat

Competition season for Honor Guard & Drill teams is here! A shout out to all participants at the National Fire Department Honor Guard Competition this week in Indianapolis, Indiana. Glendale Parade Store is a proud sponsor of the FDIC Honor Guard competition and the presentor of the Commanders Sword to the outstanding team commander. Good luck to all the teams and remember our motto: PARADE with PRIDE / COMPETE with CONFIDENCE.

Glendale and ParadeStore.com

Glendale outfits honor guards, color guards, and drill units. Visit our site for the best in parade and drill equipment and for uniform accessories at http://www.ParadeStore.com

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