The “Muroc Maru” was a life-sized replica of a Japanese Atago-class heavy cruiser, built at Muroc AAF in 1943 to serve as a training target.

Constructed of wood and layered with chicken feathers over chicken wire and tar paper, it was designed to resemble an authentic warship.

While bomber crews practiced skip bombing techniques against it, the desert’s mirage sometimes made the ship appear as though it was sailing on water.

Contents

Background

In 1933, under the direction of General Henry “Hap” Arnold, Rogers Dry Lake in the Antelope Valley north of Los Angeles became a gunnery and bombing training site for the burgeoning US Army Air Forces.

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Located six miles west of Muroc town, the facility, overseen by staff from March Army Air Field in Riverside, featured a myriad of training targets across the dry lake bed, including mock structures, ship outlines for bombing drills, and a moving target track.

Additionally, retired Keystone biplane bombers were placed on a makeshift airfield. Two years later, a second location was initiated on the lake bed, just a mile north of Muroc.

The Muroc Maru pictured with a B-25 Mitchell flying overhead.

Starting with only a maintenance team of 13 Army members, the Muroc bombing range functioned as an extension of March Army Air Field. The base’s capacity fluctuated, hosting various sizes of units from bomber, attack, and even fighter squadrons for ground strafing drills.

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By the summer of 1941, the base had grown significantly in light of the looming war. By 1942, the base hosted over 40,000 personnel at any given moment, leading to the recognition of Muroc as a standalone air base, now termed Muroc AAF.

Muroc Maru

One notable target of Muroc AAF was introduced in March 1943: a life-sized replica of a Japanese Atago-class heavy cruiser labeled “AAF Temporary Building (Target) T-799.” Comprising wood and wrapped in chicken wire and tar paper, the ship’s exterior was layered with chicken feathers to resemble a genuine warship.

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This structure, located at the southern tip of Rogers Dry Lake, was nicknamed “Muroc Maru” and came at a significant cost of around $35,000 – a considerable sum back then for a mere target.

Lockheed XF-14 flying over the Muroc Maru in 1944.

To enhance its authenticity, sand berms mimicking bow waves and wakes surrounded the ship. Bomber crews practiced skip bombing techniques on it.

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On especially warm days, the desert’s mirage made it seem as if Muroc Maru was afloat. However, the harsh desert conditions eroded the feather covering faster than the sturdier underlying structure.

Legacy

Muroc AAF ceased its training operations in 1946, and with the US Air Force becoming independent, it was rebranded as Muroc AFB in 1948. A year later, it received the name Edwards AFB.

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Regarding the wooden vessel, it was deemed a flight risk and taken down in 1950. The engineers in charge of its removal were concerned about the unexploded ordnance within its structure.

To this day, remnants like sand berms and countless nails and staples from its disassembly remain on-site.