Saturday, September 24, 2011

Ghosts of the Old Airship USS Macon

It's the U.S.S. Macon. Almost.

When you see it in a photo--in two dimensions and without the benefit of perspective--it looks like the reincarnation of the 1930s Navy airship the USS Macon. Its perfection is a tribute to one man's fascination with history.

The original USS Macon at Moffett Field, about 1933.

The first USS Macon was 794 feet long and remains one of history's largest flying machines. Brought into service by the Navy in 1933, it was lost over the Pacific in 1935, off the coast of California near Big Sur. Though the airship was lost, most of its crew survived.

There has been no room for a car in Jack Clemens' garage for some time now.

Now, Californian Jack Clemens has built his twenty-foot long scale model remote contolled replica of the USS Macon. He's done it from scratch, using the specs of the old airship.

It has been a three-year, $6000-dollar quest for the retired engineer. He's planning its "official" test flight in Hangar Two at Moffett Field on October 15, 2011, the 78th anniversary of the original airship's arrival at NAS Moffett.

It has not been an easy journey. A first model was damaged by his cat. A second was lost in an outdoor test flight. He's not risking that this time and has jumped through lots of hoops with NASA--which controls Moffett Field today--to secure permission for the flight inside old Hangar Two.

This week, he brought the model over to Moffett--very, very carefully--in a U-Haul trailer.

NASA lawyers were concerned about liabilty--what if the model struck a bystander? They felt better when they learned this delicate balsa-and-mylar craft weighed just six pounds. Now, they've even supplied Jack with the helium for his flight. 

I'm biting my nails and rooting for him. His passion for lighter-than-airship history is making his own history. Once the model is successfully launched for the media in October--assuming no one has a cat in the hangar, and no owls in the rafters swoop down on it in surprise--the USS Macon model will hang in the Moffett Museum. We certainly hope.

Jack Clemens and his wife got up at dawn this summer for this pre-test, test flight. Dawn was chosen so they would have the least chance of wind and interference. From anything!

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Don Meuler said...

Very cool! Context is everything - it looks authentic.

Robin Chapman said...

The Commander in Chief has the runway tied up at Moffett today, but next week the Discovery Channel is coming to do a story on the Man with the Macon Model. It should be fun.