Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The USS Akron: America's Flying Aircraft Carrier


(Kyle MizokamiNearly a hundred years ago the U.S. Navy asked a question: if airplanes can fly through the air, why couldn’t a vessel carrying them fly through the air as well? The result was the Akron-class airships, the only flying aircraft carriers put into service in any country. Although promising, a pair of accidents—prompted by the airship’s limitations—destroyed the flying carrier fleet and ended development of the entire concept.




Related The Secret Navy Behind the Ballistic Missile Attack on Hawaii

Source - National Interest 

by Kyle Mizokami, January 19th, 2018

The Akron-class airships were designed and built in the late 1920s. The ships were designed, like conventional seagoing aircraft carriers, to reconnoiter the seas and search for the enemy main battle fleet. Once the enemy fleet was located, the U.S. Navy’s battleships would close with the enemy and defeat them. This was a primitive and limiting use of the aircraft carrier, which had not yet evolved into the centerpiece of U.S. naval striking power.

The airships of the Akron class, Akron and Macon, were ordered in 1926 before the Great Depression. The two ships were commissioned into U.S. Navy service in 1931 and 1933, respectively. The Akron class was a classic pill-shaped interwar airship design, with a rigid skin made of cloth and aluminum and filled with helium. The air vessel was powered by eight Maybach twelve-cylinder engines developing a total 6,700 horsepower. At 785 feet each was longer than aTennessee-class battleship, had a crew of just sixty each, and could cruise at fifty-five knots. The airships were lightly armed, with just eight .30 caliber machine guns.



Unique among airships, the Akron class carried fixed-wing aircraft and could launch and recover them in flight. Each airship carried up to five Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk fighters, lightweight biplanes with a crew of one and armed with two .30 caliber Browning machine guns. The airships each concealed a hangar within their enormous airframe and launched and recovered the Sparrowhawks through a hook system that lowered them into the airstream, whereupon they would detach and fly off. The system worked in reverse to recover the tiny fighters.

The flying carrier concept had its advantages and disadvantages compared to the “traditional” seagoing carrier. Akron and Macon were twice as fast as surface ships, and could therefore cover more ground. By their very nature those onboard could see much farther over the horizon than surface ships, and their Sparrowhawks extended that range even farther. For just sixty men manning each airship the Navy had a powerful reconnaissance capability to assist the battle fleet in fighting a decisive naval battle.

The airships did have their disadvantages. Akron and Macon were both prone to the whims of weather, and could become difficult to handle in high winds: in February 1932 Akron broke away from its handlers just as a group of visiting congressmen were waiting to board. Three months later in San Diego, two sailors were thrown to their deaths and a third was injured trying to moor the airship to the ground. Bad weather grounded the airships entirely, weather a traditional seagoing warship could handle with relative ease.


On April 3, 1933 USS Akron was on a mission to calibrate its radio equipment off the coast of New Jersey when it ran into trouble. Strong winds caused the Akronto plunge 1,000 feet in a matter of seconds, and the crew made the snap decision to dump the water ballast to regain altitude. The airship ended up rising too quickly and the crew lost control. Akron crashed into the sea, killing seventy-three out of seventy-six personnel on board, including the head of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics and the commander of Naval Air Station Lakehurst and the station’s Rigid Airship Training & Experimental Squadron.

On February 12, 1935 USS Macon was over the Pacific Ocean when a storm caused the upper fin to fail. Macon had suffered damage to the fin months earlier, but the Navy had failed to repair the damage. The collapse of the upper fin took approximately 20 percent of the ship’s helium with it, causing the airship to rapidly rise. The crew decided to release additional helium to make it sink again, but too much helium was lost and the ship descended into the ocean. Macon’s slower crash than her sister ship Akron, as well as the presence of life jackets and life preservers aboard the airship, ensured that eighty-one out of eighty-three passengers and crew survived the accident.


The loss of both airships effectively ended the flying aircraft carrier concept. It’s interesting to speculate what might have happened had the concept been further developed and survived until the Second World War. As scouts, airship carriers would not have lasted long had they accomplished their mission and located Japanese ships and bases. Oscar and Zero fighters of the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy would have made short work of the delicate airships and their lightweight fighters. On the other hand, airships could have adapted to become formidable antisubmarine warfare platforms for convoy escort duty in the Atlantic Ocean, standing guard over unarmed merchantmen and fending off German u-boats with a combination of fighters and depth charges.

Regardless of speculation, World War II was won without flying aircraft carriers, proving they weren’t a war-winning asset. The concept has lain dormant for decades, but recent Pentagon research into turning the C-130 Hercules transport into a flying aircraft carrier for pilotless drones means the concept is still alive and well. The flying aircraft carrier could indeed stage a comeback, though with considerably fewer pilots involved.

About the AuthorKyle Mizokami is a defense and national security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

Image: Flickr


_________________________
Stillness in the Storm Editor's note: Did you find a spelling error or grammar mistake? Do you think this article needs a correction or update? Or do you just have some feedback? Send us an email at sitsshow@gmail.com with the error, headline and urlThank you for reading.
________________________________________________________________
Question -- What is the goal of this website? Why do we share different sources of information that sometimes conflicts or might even be considered disinformation? 
Answer -- The primary goal of Stillness in the Storm is to help all people become better truth-seekers in a real-time boots-on-the-ground fashion. This is for the purpose of learning to think critically, discovering the truth from within—not just believing things blindly because it came from an "authority" or credible source. Instead of telling you what the truth is, we share information from many sources so that you can discern it for yourself. We focus on teaching you the tools to become your own authority on the truth, gaining self-mastery, sovereignty, and freedom in the process. We want each of you to become your own leaders and masters of personal discernment, and as such, all information should be vetted, analyzed and discerned at a personal level. We also encourage you to discuss your thoughts in the comments section of this site to engage in a group discernment process. 

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." – Aristotle

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Stillness in the Storm, the authors who contribute to it, or those who follow it. 

View and Share our Images
Curious about Stillness in the Storm? 
See our About this blog - Contact Us page.

If it was not for the gallant support of readers, we could not devote so much energy into continuing this blog. We greatly appreciate any support you provide!

We hope you benefit from this not-for-profit site 

It takes hours of work every day to maintain, write, edit, research, illustrate and publish this blog. We have been greatly empowered by our search for the truth, and the work of other researchers. We hope our efforts 
to give back, with this website, helps others in gaining 
knowledge, liberation and empowerment.

"There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; 
not going all the way, and not starting." — Buddha

If you find our work of value, consider making a Contribution.
This website is supported by readers like you. 

[Click on Image below to Contribute]


Support Stillness in the Storm