Feb 7

The Loss of the USS Macon, 12 February 1935

Thursday, February 7, 2019 12:01 AM


Lieutenant Harold B. "Min" Miller at the controls of his F9C over Moffett Field. In 1934, Miller became the HTA Unit's senior aviator and was co-developer of the radio equipment which "homed" the pilots back to the airship.

Lieutenant Harold B. “Min” Miller at the controls of his Sparrowhawk over Moffett Field. 


The interwar years were a period of rapid development for U.S. naval aviation. Achievements in carrier operations are well known. But the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics, led by Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, also featured a lighter-than-air program that reached it’s apogee with the commissioning of the USS Akron (ZR-3) in 1931 and Macon (ZRS-5) in 1933. The revolutionary airships were “flying aircraft carriers,” designed to scout for the U.S. fleet. Each featured hangar space for five Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk fighters that could be lowered from the belly of the dirigible for takeoff and raised back into the ship after reattaching to her “trapeze.”

But three airship crashes largely doomed the program: The USS Shenandoah (ZR-1) went down during a storm in 1925; the Akron crashed off the coast of New Jersey in 1933, claiming the life of Moffett; and the Macon was lost off the coast of California on 12 February 1935.

Following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1924, Harold B. Miller spent two years in the crew of the battleship USS California (BB-44) before going to flight training. As an aviator, he initially was in the battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) and carrier USS Langley (CV-1). He served as a scout plane pilot from the Navy’s last two rigid airships, the USS Akron and Macon. Rear Admiral Miller retired for the Navy in 1946.

In this excerpt from his second interview at his home in Manhasset, New York, Admiral Miller recounts the dramatic loss of the USS Macon.


USS Macon (ZRS-5) meets two of her Curtiss fighters over New Egypt, New Jersey, 7 July 1933.

USS Macon (ZRS-5) meets two of her Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawks fighters over New Egypt, New Jersey, on 7 July 1933.


To read more about the Naval Institute Oral History Program, go to https://www.usni.org/heritage/oral-history-catalog.


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