Flying aircraft carriers are a hallmark of speculative fiction, appearing in some of the best sci-fi we’ve seen over the years. But long before Tony Stark and Richard Reed led the effort to design S.H.I.E.L.D.s imposing Helicarrier for badass, eye-patched comic book hero Nick Fury, there was another….
And long before super-hot (and badass) eye-patched Captain Franky Cook of the British Air Carrier H.M.S. Manta Base saved Sky Captain and Polly Perkins from the evil Nazi-esque Dr. Totenkopf’s natsy robot armies of doom, flying aircraft carriers roamed the sky.
And as the Cylons might say, while being thwarted once more in their attempt to rid the galaxy of pesky human vermin by the Battlestar Galactica and it’s erstwhile heroes, Apollo, Starbuck, Boomer, and their various comrades in their Vipers and Raptors, “All this has happened before, all will happen again.’
Damned straight. It did happen before, and it happened for real in the form of the airships USS Akron and USS Macon. These giant zeppelins carried fighter craft in compartments within their superstructure, launched them for reconnaissance and escort work, and recovered them via an ingenuous trapeze-like snare which then replaced them in their nests. How cool must that have been? I was totally amazed, when I recently discovered that not one but two of these ships–several times larger than the infamous Hindenburg.
Unfortunately, size was not the only way these ships outdid the nazi Hindenburg. In the end, both Akron and Macon experienced catastrophic crashes. Akron went down off the coast of New Jersey in fierce wind, with 73 dead–making it’s destruction, not the much more famous crash of the Hindenburg (35 dead), the deadliest airship accident in history. Most of Akron’s casualties drowned in the Atlantic ocean.
Less than a year later, and a continent away, the USS Macon fell into the Pacific, but with only 3 casualties since, after the loss of of it’s sister ship, Macon had been outfitted with life jackets. Why isn’t this story better known? It is probably because the Navy had little interest in promoting it’s failures, and both crashes happened off shore, with few witnesses, while the Hindenburg crashed before thousands, in front of the world media, in a dramatic fireball.