Macon Expedition Cruise dates: September 18th, 2006 to September 22nd, 2006

Cruise location: Point Sur, California
Chief scientists: Bruce Terrell, Robert Schwemmer, Chris Grech, Steve Rock
MBARI Ship: R/V Western Flyer
Vehicle: ROV Tiburon

  • Purpose: 

The primary goal of the NOAA MBNMS and MBARI USS Macon expedition 2006 is to conduct an archaeological investigation of the submerged wreck site of the rigid airship USS Macon and its' four Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk aircraft. The video and photographic data collected will be used to evaluate the archaeological context of the craft. This will allow an assessment of the site, and the level of preservation of the archaeological remains; it will also help determine eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

During the September 18-22, 2006 expedition, researchers working from MBARI's research vessel Western Flyer will deploy the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Tiburon and conduct a systematic deepwater visual survey of site features with high-definition videotape and still imagery to create a photo-mosaic. The photo-mosaic will record the distribution of site features that can be used as a management tool and support a variety of outreach and educational initiatives. A secondary objective of the mission is to identify and record in more detail specific artifacts, including newly discovered artifacts, and assess their condition. The survey is designed to build upon information gathered by the U.S. Navy and MBARI who first recorded the aircraft’s remains during expeditions in 1990/91.


  • Research: 

Conduct a systematic visual survey of the site and creation of a photo-mosaic, videotape and still imagery of site features. A secondary objective is to record in more detail specific artifacts. An assessment will also be made of the condition of the artifacts and identify any environmental issues. Additionally, this cruise offers MBARI an opportunity to further field trials of automatic control capabilities as pilot aids on the ROV. Using the new control software, we will be able to generate an on-the-fly video mosaic of the debris field.

  • Education: 

An education and outreach campaign began in Fall 2005 and is continuing through Spring 2007 to increase public awareness of the USS Macon, its contribution to naval aviation history and the role of the National Marine Sanctuary Program in the preservation and protection of submerged heritage resources. The campaign includes a lecture series, a teacher-at-sea component, high school curriculum, educational posters, commemorative materials, and live link ship to shore video.

  • Cruise History and Background: 

The 785-foot USS Macon , a U.S. Navy “dirigible,” and its four Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk aircraft were lost on February 12, 1935 during severe weather offshore of Point Sur, California, on a routine flight from the Channel Islands to its home base at Moffett Field. This expedition is designed to build upon information gathered by the U.S. Navy and MBARI who first recorded the aircraft’s remains during expeditions in 1990/91. A survey was completed in May 2005 utilizing side-scan sonar deployed from the NOAA research vessel McArthur II. This phase I expedition, in partnership with NOAA, MBARI, U.S. Geological Survey, and Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, identified what is believed to be undocumented wreckage that may have been missed during the 1990 and 1991 surveys and will be investigated during the Phase II September expedition.

The expedition is a collaborative venture involving NOAA's National Marine Sanctuary Program, NOAA's Office of Exploration, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Stanford University, University of New Hampshire, U.S. Navy, state of California, Monterey Maritime and History Museum and Moffett Field Historical Society and Museum. Noah Doughty, an educator from Mission College Preparatory High School in San Luis Obispo, Calif. was selected as a NOAA Teacher-at-Sea and will participate in the expedition, assisting the crew and gathering information to create high school curriculum.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along 276 miles of central California coast and encompasses more than 5,300 square miles of ocean area. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act mandates the management and protection of submerged archaeological sites within our nation's marine sanctuaries. Heightening public awareness through the exploration of submerged historic resources off California's central coast is an important MBNMS management plan goal. The USS Macon expedition is one of the MBNMS's top maritime heritage priorities.

Science Personnel Onboard:

  • Principals: 

Bruce Terrell - Senior Archaeologist/Co-Principal Investigator; National Marine Sanctuary Program

Robert Schwemmer - Co-Principal Investigator/Maritime Heritage Coordinator, West Coast/National Marine Sanctuary Program

Chris Grech - Deputy Director Marine Operations/Co-Principal MBARI, Investigator

Steve Rock - Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics/ Stanford University, Co-Principal Investigator

Kristoff Richmond - Graduate Assistant/ Stanford University

Lee Murai - GIS Coordinator, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Michele Roest - Education Specialist,  Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Noah Doughty - NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Teacher-At-Sea

Erica Burton - Research Specialist/ Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary