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General Info & History

The USS Macon, a 785-foot dirigible, was lost offshore of Point Sur on February 12, 1935 when she foundered tail first into the chilly waters of the Pacific Ocean. For decades, her underwater location remained a mystery. In 1990 and 1991, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) and the U.S. Navy located the Macon's remains at a depth of over 1,000 feet.

In 2005, a team of scientists onboard the NOAA research vessel McArthur II conducted a side scan sonar survey in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary at the wreck site of USS Macon. To learn more about the 2005 expedition to the Macon, click here.

In September of 2006, researchers from the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, National Marine Sanctuary Program, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Stanford University, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and University of New Hampshire revisited the wreck site. To learn more about the 2006 expedition to the Macon, click here.

The remains of the Macon assemblage provide an opportunity to study the relatively undisturbed archaeological remnants of a unique period of aviation history. These remains are a significant resource both for the U.S. Navy and for the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Dirigibles were an important development in the history of aviation. There are no known existing examples of these craft that can be studied on land. While there is one known example of a Curtiss Sparrowhawk in existence, it is a composite biplane built from the parts of the last two surviving F9C-2s. Future aviation historians and the public will benefit from the comprehensive documentation and management of these craft.

Wreck of USS Mason Added to National Register of Historic Places
Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the loss of the U.S. Navy airship USS Macon, the wreck site and remains on the seafloor within Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, were added to the National Register of Historic Places in February 2010. The National Register listing provides additional federal protection for the wreck site and the artifacts there.

The National Register of Historic Places is the Nation's official list of cultural places considered worth preserving. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Register is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources. Properties listed in the National Register can qualify for Federal grants for historic preservation.

"Dirigibles were an important development in the history of aviation and the Macon's remains represent the only archaeologically-documented example of such aircraft in the United States and possibly the world," said Bruce Terrell, senior archaeologist, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries Maritime Heritage Program.

The wreck of the USS Macon is the second site in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to be included on the National Register, administered by the National Park Service. The wreck of the California Gold Rush side-wheel steamship Tennessee was listed in 1981.

The Era of Dirigible Disaster
The U.S. Navy conducted a lighter-than-air aviation program between 1921 and 1935, using large dirigibles as fleet scouts. A problematic balance between needing to be lightweight and needing structural integrity plagued the history of U.S. Navy dirigible design.

USS Shenandoah
Credit: Moffett Field Historical Society
  The USS Shenandoah failed spectacularly by breaking in half over an Ohio Valley and killing 14 crew members. The Navy's inaugural rigid airship, the Shenandoah proved to be just the first in a decade-long series of dirigible disasters.
USS Akron
Credit: Moffett Field Historical Society
  The USS Akron operated from November of 1931 to April of 1933. On April 4, 1933 the USS Akron encountered severe weather and strong gusts of wind. She sank tail first into the stormy Atlantic. Only three people, including Akron's Lieutenant Commander Herbert V. Wiley, of the 76 onboard survived. A Navy blimp, J-3, sent out to join the search for survivors also crashed with the additional loss of two men.
Telegram noting crash of USS Akron
Credit: Moffett Field Historical Societ
  A telegram from Lieutenant Commander Wiley notes the crash of the USS Akron.

Credit: Moffett Field Historical Society
  The USS Macon was the last U.S. built rigid lighter-than-air craft and at 785 feet in length was the largest of the design. On February 12, 1935 during a routine flight to its home base at Moffet airfield in Sunnyvale, California the airship encountered severe weather conditions. The USS Macon foundered tail first into the Pacific off the coast of Point Sur with 81 of the 83 men onboard surviving the crash. Lieutenant Commander Wiley was once again among the survivors. This crash marked the end of the U.S. Navy's rigid airship program.
Headline from Washington Post on 2/13/1935   Headline from the Washington Post on February 13, 1935.
URL: http://montereybay.noaa.gov/maritime/macon/welcome.html    Reviewed: June 12, 2014
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