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Scientists piece together a US Navy zeppelin's past

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The wreck may be the best preserved – and perhaps only – example left from the heyday of dirigibles, notes Bruce Terrell, a senior archaeologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Sanctuary Program. The US's first zeppelin, the German-built USS Los Angeles, was scrapped in 1939. The USS Shenandoah crashed in Ohio in 1925. And the Macon's sister ship, the USS Akron, crashed in the Atlantic shortly before the USS Macon took her first flight. But currents and fishing trawlers have scattered the Akron's remains. "There isn't much left of it," Mr. Terrell says.

During a five-day cruise in mid-September aboard the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute's R/V Western Flyer, the research team used a tethered, remotely operated vehicle (ROV) equipped with high-definition TV cameras to scan the site.

As crew members aboard the ship guided the vehicle back and forth along the bottom of the wreck's two debris fields, the hanger bay and four of the "Sparrowhawk" fighter planes slid into view. The team found five of the eight engines, as well as artifacts from the galley, the bow section and its mooring mechanism, as well as chairs and desks that may have tumbled out of officers' cabins.

Some of the large-scale objects first appeared in images taken in 1990 and 1991. Last year, researchers returned to the site and used side-scan sonar to map it. But on this trip, photos are rendered in far greater detail than was the case on the earlier photo expedition.

For example, the four fighters are in relatively good condition; Some still have fabric covering the wings. Each plane wore a unique color and stripes on the upper wing and fuselage. Chris Grech, one of the lead investigators on the cruise and a member of the team that visited the wreck in the early '90s, notes that the new camera gear enabled this year's group to tease out these faint markings on two of the aircraft. Earlier images failed to reveal the markings.

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