We are all familiar with the Goodyear Blimp and the Superbowl and the occasional hot-air balloon.  When we think of “blimp” we think of something rather like a large balloon–big, bulky, ungainly, and maybe just a little bit bumbly-looking, compared to a Stealth bomber or a fighter jet. Something harmless.

Then we think of an airship–we think of some silly-looking cul-de-sac of technological development that ended without fanfare, and the world was better off for the quiet exit in the face of an embarrassing failure. And yes, we tend to scoff at science’s failures, not really thinking through to how very much of our successes rest on those failures.

But then you see it in action–you see what it could have been, and what might still yet be, should circumstances suddenly take a bit of a side-trip down an unexplored avenue, and you get where they were going. You understand that it was not just a foolish notion, and you understand the potential that drove it.

This is the USS Macon, the largest airship in the world, on test flights in Akron Ohio in 1933.

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