the last great airship The Last Great Airship

Launched by the U.S. Navy in 1933, the airship USS Macon was one of the largest flying machines in history, but after just two years of service, disaster struck.

The Macon would be the nation's last great airship.



illustration of the uss macon

This massive, helium-filled behemoth measured more than 2 1/2 football fields in length.


outline of the uss macon overlayed on a football field showing the size of the macon



illustration of the uss macon

The Macon was one of the Navy's two state-of-the-art "flying aircraft carriers," with a squadron of five Sparrowhawk scout planes that could be launched and retrieved in midair!

illustration of Sparrowhawk scout plane

Aircraft were lowered through a door underneath the dirigible and released at full speed, earning pilots the nickname "Men on the Flying Trapeze." Returning to the Macon required pilots to "catch" the trapeze with a hook on top of the plane.

photo of a sparrowhawk from the view of the macon

In February 1935, the Macon was damaged in a storm off Point Sur, Calif. With the airship losing altitude, the captain ordered crew to dump ballast. It rose to a height of 5,000 feet before slowly falling tail-first into the ocean. All but two of the 83 crew members survived.

la times newpaper with the headline about the macon crash
sparrowhawk wreck at the macon crash site

The final resting place of the Macon stayed hidden for more than 55 years, until researchers discovered its remains nearly 1,500 feet below the surface of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary in 1990. National marine sanctuary scientists and partners used an underwater robot to document the wreck in 2005 and 2006, shedding new light on the fate of the last great airship.