Multiple members of the dynein heavy chain (Dhc) gene family have been recovered in several organisms, but the relationships between these sequences and the Dhc isoforms that they encode are largely unknown. To identify Dhc loci and determine the specific functions of the individual Dhc isoforms, we have screened a collection of motility mutants generated by insertional mutagenesis in Chlamydomonas. In this report, we characterize one strain, pf9-3, in which the insertion event was accompanied by a deletion of ~13 kb of genomic DNA within the transcription unit of the Dhc1 gene. Northern blot analysis confirms that pf9-3 is a null mutation. Biochemical and structural studies of isolated axonemes demonstrate that the pf9-3 mutant fails to assemble the I1 inner arm complex, a two-headed dynein isoform composed of two Dhcs (1α and 1β) and three intermediate chains. To determine if the Dhc1 gene product corresponds to one of the Dhcs of the I1 complex, antibodies were generated against a Dhc1-specific peptide sequence. Immunoblot analysis reveals that the Dhc1 gene encodes the 1α Dhc subunit. These studies thus, identify the first inner arm Dhc locus to be described in any organism and further demonstrate that the 1α Dhc subunit plays an essential role in the assembly of the I1 inner arm complex.