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R32

Following on the heels of the R31, the R32 continued to prove herself not only to the Navy but to the American's as well.

Statistics:
Length 615ft
Diameter 65.5ft
Speed 65mph
Engines 5 x 300hp
Volume 1, 500, 000cft
R32 Plan of ship

Following the initial improvements made to the R 31, the R32 even though constructed with 6 engines, one again was removed and she went in to service with 5 giving a total of 1,500 hp and a top speed of 65 mph. No other alterations were made to the ship with the exception of the stressing of the tail fins following the lessons learnt with her sisters, R31's first flight. As with the R31, she was planned to have a 12-pounder semi automatic cannon for use against U-boats. This would be mounted in a special car 20 feet aft of the control car, along with the ship's other fitments of anti-aeroplane machine guns. A bomb load was decided as two 520 pound bombs and four 230 pound bombs. Unfortunately the turn of events with the war ensure that these would never be fitted to the R32.


As a note regarding the situation of the British airship programme in the period after the war, it was noted that even though the war had ceased on the Armistice in November 1918, it was viewed by the Admiralty that this was not to be regarded as a truce. It was proposed that the R32 to R40 airship programme be completed and that thereafter one airship a year be ordered from Armstrong Whitworths, Beardmores' and Shorts. However continued discussions over the new year, lead to changes to the original plans. The realisation of the cost of demobilisation of troops and the cost of the war was taking it's toll. It was estimated that the cost to complete the R32 to R40 and R80 would be £2,490,000 (or £ 61,245,291 today), it was therefore decided that the R35 be postponed but her cost was estimated at £210,000 (£ 5,165,265.51 today). It that therefor decreed that the major manufacturers complete their work on parts by Christmas 1918 and then then all work to be transferred over to the main constructional facilities.

The R32 was commissioned in to the Navy on 3rd September 1919, with the original plans of being a high speed Naval scout ship. However with the war over, there was confusion as to what to do with the R32, and the other airships still in existence. After her first trail flight on 3rd September 1919 which took the ship around Bedofrd to salute the town of her construction, she flew on to Pulham Airship Station in Norfolk on the 6th September. She was technically decommissioned from the Navy in October 1919 and her ownership changed to the new Royal Air Force, who took over all airship operations.

R32 over Amsterdam - Photo taken from R33

She was put in to operation straight away with a proving flight. On 10th September, 7 days after her first flight she was joined by the R33 in a flight over the Netherlands. The flight was staged as “Britain’s Power in the Air” campaign. The R 32 with the new R 33 flew to Amsterdam where the 1919 aircraft exhibition was being held. After a tour of Amsterdam, Brussels and Antwerp, the ships flew on to the battlefields of Flanders and then returned home to Pulham.

It was decided that the R32 should be seconded to the National Physics laboratory to carry out experimental work as with the R26. She provided to be a very handy ship to have for testing, as she had a turning coefficient of 7.5 as compared to the R26's 11.2 and she turned 50% faster.

The testing often involved very tight aerial manoeuvring at different speeds and angles, and one of the intriguing features of the ships wooden construction was that it was slightly flexible. Two crewmen standing at opposite ends of the keel corridor would loose sight of one another when the ship flexed making a tight turn. These test occupied some 20 hours and were often haphazardly scheduled by N.P.L. standards.

After this, in March of 1920 it was agreed that because the American's had sent over an American crew who were to be responsible for crewing the R38/ ZRII currently under construction at Cardington, that the R32 be allowed for training the American crews. The ship was then flown up to Howden on 20th March 1920. The ship was put in the hanger for some time whilst the crew got to know her and general airship operations.


Various training flights were undertaken by the new crew. In April 1920 the US Navy's Howden detachment was officially formed. As the British by this time were very short of airship manpower, the Americans were trained in refurbishing the R32 which remained housed from 20th March 1921 to August 11th. In August she was taken on various longer training flights, and some down to London. One flight was for 29 hours.

The R32 was due for deletion in January 1921 but with the accident eliminating the R34 in that month, the R32 was retained for training the Americans. In the same month, the R80 became available and the Americans requested the use of a metal airship

One suggestion of what to do with the ship was put forward by a passenger, the explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins who had hoped that at one time to be able to use the R32 for flights over the poles. However this plan was never fulfilled.

By the end of April 1921 the R32 was no longer needed and economy forced her deletion. In April she was walked in to the single shed at Howden. Engine cars removed and outer cover stripped for the last time. The bare framework exposed the cells supported by tackles overhead. On the 27th April the framework was tested to destruction by overpressurisation of cell 18 abaft the control car. Hydrogen was turned on at a pressure of 20mm of water. At 30 to 30 mm there was a loud cracking noise and the walking way and several other longitudinals. With the pressure remaining after 10 minutes a rapid succession of breakage's occurred until a total of 24 girder fractures were counted. The ships gas cells were then deflated and R32 framework was dismantled.

The R32 can be seen nearly be seen as the "other" US ship, a ship who's crew was nearly all American. Out of the total hours flow of 212 hours and 45 minutes the total recorded time with US crew was 203 hr 15 min

American commander Maxfield and his men learned much by flying the the R32 the art of loading and trim and balance in the hanger. With a history which was better than her sister ship, the R31, the R 32 was well liked by many crew members and the American service men who had come over to train on her in preparation for taking over the R38/ZRII. Even though she did not see action for what she had been created for, she had served a purpose for others.

 

Related ships: R31, R33

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