Sunday, May 07, 2017

hard to believe the Navy had flying aircraft carriers, but they did.

The first flying aircraft carrier, USS Akron (ZRS-4), was commissioned in 1931 – and after several incidents in two years, the airship crashed and sank off the coast of New Jersey in 1933, killing 73 of 76 men onboard, including Rear Adm. William A. Moffett, the first chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics and the chief proponent of bringing LTA aircraft to the fleet.

Macon was commissioned a month and a half after the USS Akron crash. The airship was commanded by one of the only USS Akron survivors, Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Wiley, and was based in California.

One of the remaining 2 survivors of the USS Akron, Wiley, went on to be the CO of the battleship West Virginia, which was sunk in Pearl Harbor on Dec 7th

 The second-in-class dirigible had a slightly longer service life. The airship stayed mission-ready and participated in many fleet exercises in its two years.

Macon demonstrated its concept of operations, launching and recovering as many as five single-seat Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk biplanes via a “trapeze” that the crew used to recover the planes. The planes sometimes had their landing gear removed while operating from the airship, leaving little room for error for the pilots. shows a Sparrowhawk without the landing gear

View of the airship's lower starboard side, amidships between frames 125 and 147.5, taken during her commissioning ceremonies at Lakehurst, New Jersey, 27 October 1931. This section was left uncovered until after the ceremonies so the Public could see into Akron's interior. Important design features are labeled.

Start at the 1:15 moment, for the opening of the big doors to the hanger of the carrier


  1. I built a model of one of these.

  2. The picture you used shows a Sparrowhawk with (sensibly) its landing gear intact. Had the system been fully developed, the aircraft would have flown without that.

    Interesting as this aircraft carrier was, it was still nothing compared to what the British were seriously studying during WW2:

    1. I disagree. The facts are that airplanes can never be without landing gear.... the most obvious reason, that anything in the air only got that way from being on the ground first, and secondly that anything in the air will eventually be on the ground again, one way or another. 3rdly, blimps / dirigibles / flying aircraft carriers didn't land with the aircraft still aboard. Similarly, many of the planes on a US Navy aircraft carrier are from Navy bases near the ocean, where they are repaired and maintained... they only fly out to the carrier once the ship is out to sea. American cities refuse to allow ships in the harbor to have aircraft come and go, as it interferes with normal everyday aircraft patterns in the city.
      San Diego for example, has an international airport on the bay shore. And the aircraft carriers are in the bay. So is the Naval Air Station North Island. So, for jets or helicopters to land and leave the ships, it would require both the NAS, and the SDIA, plus the various ships in harbor to all coordinate air traffic control.
      No one wants that many aircraft in one ATC purview

  3. I read about this in National Geographic many years ago, and - now questioning my frail memory banks - looked it up on Wikipedia: "It became standard practice to remove the landing gear of the Sparrowhawks while aboard the airship and then replace it with a fuel tank, thus giving the aircraft 30 percent more range.[9]"

    So ok, I wasn't 100% correct, but not 100% wrong either.

    Numerous aircraft have been built without landing gear (see Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg, Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka or XF-85 Goblin), and Royal Navy was conducting tests with such planes on an aircraft carrier with a 'flexible deck'. Prototypes of Luftwaffe's Arado Ar 234 jet used trolleys for take-off and skids for landing, as did the French S.E.5000 Baroudeur. The latter even had enough power to take off on the skids. (Pilot joke: "If you need full power to taxi, your landing gear is up".)

    Yeah, typical answer from your plane-geek-know-almost-it-all. And yes, I don't have any friends left. :)

    1. I've seen some images of the Goblin, posted one too. It was not a production plane, 2 made, and nearly killed the test pilot. I think we can agree that Goblin had landing gear, a skid plate and spring skis for landing during testing. But, sure, if it had been a success, it would have stayed in the mothership B 36.
      Umm... how does the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg qualify as an airplane? It was a kamikaze bomb. It couldn't land, it couldn't take off again. That's a rocket, at best. It had a 1% chance of the pilot surviving the flight. Well, I think you'll agree we can say that the Fieseler Fi 103R Reichenberg isn't an airplane.
      Ditto the Yokosuka MXY-7 Ohka, another Kamikaze plane. Literally. One way, no landing, no survival.
      You chose some odd ducks to use as examples to solidify your position about airplanes without landing gear. a failure, and 2 kamikaze missiles.
      The Luftwaffe's Arado Ar 234 you already state used skids for landing. Well, that's landing gear. So... I'll see about the Sparrowhawk getting the landing gear removed.
      But, I don't think my opinion of history and airplanes with no landing gear has changed at all.
      From what I recall, the Navy Dirigibles didn't have working shops for repairing the planes. They hooked on, and stayed out in the wide open. I'm going to look into that, I've been wrong plenty of times before

    2. Yup, I was wrong the Macon and the Akron had hangers inside the dirigible.... Now to see if anyone has some images of the inside of the blimps! Awesome! I never thought about that before! Thanks!

  4. Awright, I should have written without 'conventional' landing gear. Of course a skid qualifies as landing gear. But all the ones I mentioned are aircraft, which is what gets them into books and magazines about aircraft. The fact that they're prototypes, one-way aircraft or whatever is irrelevant: Unlike rockets they got wings, and a pilot to maneuver them.

    We can agree that the Fi 103R was an awful idea, which test pilot (and bloody Nazi) Hanna Reitsch found out when testing the thing. Still she managed to land it without losing her life. Thankfully it never went into production - in fact the only production plane I can think of that literally did not have 'landing' gear was the Nakajima Ki-115, a conventional looking plane where the undercarriage was discarded with after take-off. Wikipedia says 104 or 105 were built.

    1. If you ask me to go for a plane ride with you, I'm going to say no. We don't think about airplanes the same... a pulse jet german V1 rocket missle ain't an airplane.
      What gets them into books and magazines is that it sells books and magazines.
      The space shuttle has wings too, it's not an airplane.
      The Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi (剣, "Sabre") was a one-man kamikaze aircraft / The Nakajima Ki-115 Tsurugi became a dedicated suicide fighter /
      and etc. Kamakazi one use airplanes that ain't coming back and are going to kill their pilots... tell me you are not serious. Sure the gear was discarded... why waste wheels on a bomb?
      No point in telling me I'm wrong, you were right on the Sparrowhawk, I've even posted the info, and a photo of it without the landing gear.
      I tried to see if they had the equipment inside the blimps for removing and replacing the landing gear, but so far, I haven't found any indication of a repair shop, garage, workbench area in the blimp, For all I can tell, that plane stays on the hook, and never goes anywhere except up and in. Or down and out. Did they have a floor they could walk on under the plane? Were the moveable hanger doors designed for working on?

    2. that photo of the airplane in the hanger doesn't give me the feeling that they could do work on the plane in the blimp. I'm still going to look around, and see if there's something online about it. Maybe not today, but soon, it's very intriguing to me, a former Navy mechanic, electronics tech, quartermaster, and submariner - just how they operated with the planes, in the blimp

  5. Hmm, I guess we just use different definitions of what constitues an airplane. It's not that I want to turn this into some endless exchange of comments, but just out of curiosity; do you count the Bell X-1, the wingless X-24A & B, and the DSF 346/Bisnovat B-5 as aircraft?

    1. Are they aircraft? Sure, so is a unmanned drone. But you brought up a good point, there must be a definition of an airplane, and that is my viewpoint of what we were discussing - airplanes... not aircraft, which of course include the other part of the original post, the aircraft carrier which is a Dirigible. So, aircraft, and airplanes. So without even looking up all those things you listed and I'm not familiar with, I'd say you listed aircraft, but I'd have to see each one to figure if I'd call them airplanes from a laymans point of view, not an experts with a definition from some recognized authority of aeronautics.

    2. Ok, Bell X-1, airplane. Has wheels, has pilot, not a Kamikaze. Reusuable.
      Martin Marrieta X 24 looks like wheels, pilot, and reusuable not Kamikaze
      Flying wing, or wingless, doesn't matter, it's all a matter of lift. Bernoulli effect.
      And the DSF 346/Bisnovat B-5 looks like it had a landing skid plates/skis. I didn't even read about it, but it looks like a rocket jet , early model version stuff

  6. PS Don't discount going with me on an plane ride. I don't hold a pilot's license, but there are fourseaters suitable for aerobatics, which I enjoy quite a lot. If that's a bit too wild for you, we could instead get ourselves bumped to 1st class on an A380 (tried economy class, still loved it) and discuss things over glasses of champagne...