14 March, R.34 was brought out from her hangar and her crew began
the task of accustoming themselves on the ship. The maiden flight
lasting nearly five hours, was uneventful and the ship was returned
safely to her shed. On 24th March, despite cold, windy conditions
with intermittent fog, snow and hail, R.34 left lnchinnan in the
late afternoon for a more extended trial. She flew down the Clyde,
and then turned to fly over the North of England, towards
Newcastle, then turned and returned via Liverpool, over the Irish
Sea to Dublin, and returned via the Isle of Man. During this trial
it was discovered that her elevator had jammed down, lifting the
nose up, after bringing the ship to an even keel, the ship was
nursed home to Scotland. No real damage had been done, but on
return on the base, the ship was badly handled by the ground crew,
which caused damage to her propellers and some of the main girders.
The damage caused the ship to be laid up to be repaired, it was
this incident which caused the delay in the trip to the USA, and
hence loosing the title of the "first to cross the Atlantic" to
Alcock and Brown. The
was ready for service again at 6.00pm on 28th May and the ship
left Inchinnan for her new home of East Fortune, the main airship
base on the Firth of Forth. The R34 was enveloped in fog and so
headed out to sea to wait an improvement in the landing conditions
. The ship had to wait longer than expected and finally landed
at 3.30pm the next afternoon, the crew hungry after 21 hours as
no food had been carried on board this flight. The plans for the
transatlantic voyage were hurried forward . Two weeks after arriving
at East Fortune, the R34 flew with the R29 over Edinburgh and
Berwick. This short 6-hour flight was to confirm the stability
of the ship. On the evening of the 17th June 1919 the R34 was
sent on an endurance voyage to give her a proper test before her
major flight. The idea was that the ship would be scouting the
German Baltic Shores. The ship carried out its duties and also
flew up to Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The ship landed after this
endurance trial on the morning of the 20th June after a trip of
The Air Ministry had now finally decided to take the R34 to the
USA, and a northerly coastal route was decided in case the ship
ran out of fuel, then she would never be too far from landfall.
Two warships, the Renown and Tiger were offered as supply vessels
in case the ship would come in to difficulty and also to offer
meteorological reports. It was agreed that if the ship did get
in to difficulty, then the R34 would be taken in tow. The plans
which were being arranged in New York were the supply of hydrogen
for the ship, and a party of 8 experienced airmen were dispatched
to America to arrange and train the main part of the American
ground crew. The American s had at that time, no experience of
a rigid airship.
At the Admiralty, a room was set a side for wireless messages.
A map was also provided for the ship's progress. At East Fortune,
further alterations were being made to the ship itself for the
voyage. Food lockers replaced bomb racks, which had been installed
at her construction, and a compass was placed on the upper gun
platform in order that the magnetic field would not be interfered
with by any of the electrical equipment. Additional tables and
new wash basins were added in the crew space, and furnished with
lightweight curtains to stop the drafts from the interior of the
hull. Along the keel an additional 24 petrol tanks were fitted
bringing the total fuel capacity to some 6,000 gallons.
The crew were divided in to two watches for the trip. In addition
to the RNAS uniforms, the crew was issued with heavy duty flying
suits, which were redesigned to include parachute harnesses and
integral life saving collars.
On 1st July 1919 the ship was gassed to its limit and loaded to
its full capacity, and by the end of the evening the ship was
ready to go. The ships official departure time was set at 2.00am
(GMT) on 2nd July in order to obtain the maximum lift from her
gasbags. The ship was eased out of her shed slowly by 700 members
of the handling party. The weather forecast was favourable and
Major Scott decided not to wait any longer, and at 1.42 am (GMT)
the signal to release was given and the R34 lifted slowly in to
the misty night sky.
The engines were signalled to commence and the propellers roared
into life. The ship was on the way to America, but was so loaded
for the journey, that even with the forward momentum of the engines,
she very slowly gained height. The R34 travelled along the Firth
of Forth, then at a height of 1,300ft she cleared Rosyth, Glasgow,
and down the Clyde by daybreak.
Life on board began to settle in to routine of the agreed scheduled
watches, meals and rest times. Strains of jazz could be heard
through the ship from the gramophone , which was carried on board
for the entertainment of the crew. Crossing the ocean, the morning
fog lifted and the crew saw that they were stuck between two cloud
layers, the upper obscuring the sun. The wireless operators were
finding that these weather conditions were causing electrostatic
shocks from the equipment. The clouds soon parted and the sun
broke through. Major Scott was wary of the effect of superheating
on the gasbags, and wanted to avoid at all costs the valving of
hydrogen at this early stage of the flight, and so he bought the
ship down low into the layer of fog, which protected the ship
from the sunshine and soon cooled the gas. The ship carried on
with her voyage at a steady pace, and standard routines.
The main upset occurred at 2.00pm on the first day. It was discovered
that a stowaway had managed to creep on board the ship, and hide
up in-between the girders and the gasbags inside the hull of the
ship. Before starting on the voyage, it was decided that some
of the members of the crew, including W.W. Ballantyne , must be
left behind, the numbers being limited of necessity to thirty
on the voyage. Two hours before the flight, William Ballantyne
managed to climb back on board the ship, and hid himself in the
darkness of the ship. He had also carried with him, the crews'
mascot, a small tabby kitten called "Whoopsie". Both of these
stowaways had hidden themselves. But the cramped conditions and
the fact that the smell of the gas had made Ballantyne nauseous,
made him give up and come out of hiding.
The dishevelled stowaway was brought in front of Major Scott and
Maitland, and it was decided that there was actually nothing they
could do about it. It was agreed that had they been over land
then Ballantyne would have been put overboard by parachute, but
as the next landfall was in fact America, he was to stay on board.
The only problem that could occur was the strain on the very limited
and controlled resources. Having been quite ill for some time,
he was rested on one of the hammocks, and attended to by Lieutenant
Luck. When he recovered, Ballantyne was, as with traditional stowaways,
made to work his passage as cook and often having to hand pump
the petrol into the tanks. As to the second stowaway, Whoopsie,
it was deemed that the oldest airman on board, 42 year old George
Graham accepted responsibility for the cat, and Whoopsie worked
her passage throughout the rest of the voyage, providing entertainment
and comfort to the other crew members.
The weather slowly worsened, and all the ships engines were engaged
to full power as the wind speed increased and a storm began to
approach. The next morning the R34 was halfway across the Atlantic
but the weather was continuing to deteriorate. However throughout
the day there were some breaks in the weather causing the ship
to be able to view the transatlantic shipping traffic below, for
some 50 miles in each direction. By the evening the weather became
increasing stormy and the wind turned head on to the ship. Coming
up from the southeast, the winds were blowing at about 50mph causing
the ship to fight her way forwards and sideways.
Throughout the night, Major Scott tried to move the ship up higher
to avoid the wind, but if was found to be the same at each level.
By morning the cloudbank had moved away and clear skies brought
a sight of a 150ft iceberg below the ship, further behind it smaller
bergs and pack ice was visible. The clouds soon returned as Newfoundland
was not far off the ship, and fog enveloped the ship once more.
Concern was beginning to show by Major Scott as there were no
gauges on the petrol tanks and use of the dipstick showed that
there were only some 2,200 gallons of petrol left. With further
strong headwinds expected down the coast, the thought of getting
to New York without stopping was looking more unlikely every hour
that drew on.
The ship flew over Labrador and at 12.50 the land was sighted
for the first time. Now the ship had to follow the coast down
and head for it's landing place at New York. With only 500 gallons
of fuel left, the ship was bought down to 800ft to try and escape
the worst of the headwinds. From this height, the crew had superb
views of the North American forests and could see, smell and hear
every detail. The ship had been in the air for 4 days and the
crew was beginning to tire. Emergency preparations were tentatively
being made in Boston for emergency landing there, but the ship
continued on her voyage. Each fuel tank was inspected and whatever
was left in the bottom of the tanks was collected and poured in
to the main tanks to keep the engines running. Major Scott made
the decision to continue onto the agreed landing area at Mineola,
Long Island, New York. In the last hour of the flight, the crew
busied themselves in making themselves presentable.
By 9.00am Mineola came in to view. All the carparks were full
and a huge grandstand had been erected for local and national
dignitaries. Major Pritchard donned a parachute and whilst the
ship circled overhead, dropped to the ground and became the first
man to arrive in America by air. He hastily arranged the ground
crews, and helped ease the ship to the ground. The R34 landed
at 9.54am after 108 hours 12 minutes flying time. This became
the world endurance record breaking that set previously by the
British NS 11. There were 140 gallons of fuel left on board, which
was sufficient only for another 2 hours flying at reduced power.
The ship was only in America for 3 days. During this time the
crew were allowed to rest and have hot showers, they attended
a constant series of events where they were saluted for their
historic crossing. The people of New York lavished their generosity
on the crew and they were bombarded with offers of invitations
to formal functions during their stay. The engineering crew stayed
with the ship ready to give the engines a long-awaited overhaul
and a full check over in preparation for their return voyage home.
It was found that that no repairs were necessary and the engines
had performed well. The propellers had accumulated a thick coating
of engine oil and this was proudly removed by a local firm, free
of charge and just happy to offer assistance to the crew and to
The R34 was in very good shape, and moored to a three-wire system
at the bows, whose own lift kept the wires taut. The crew returned
to the ship and provisions were loaded back onto the ship for
her return voyage. The final preparation was to gas the ship,
and this was carried out using thousands of cylinders of hydrogen
gas. As with the flight to America, the R34 would be gassed to
capacity again, and await the coolest part of the day to depart,
and so the ship was finally launched at 6 minutes to midnight
on Wednesday July 10th. The great crowd which had always been
around the R34 her entire time in America gave a huge cheer, and
the ship was launched.
The wind had picked up before the launch and was gusting at 30mph,
which caused concern, but the ship cleared the landing field,
and made her way eastwards. As a gesture of gratitude to the city,
which had generously hosted her crews, the R34 flew towards the
illuminated metropolis. The ship made her way up to a height of
2,000ft as Major Scott was unsure of the height of the skyscrapers.
Searchlights illuminated the ship as she flew over the city and,
despite it being 1.00am in the morning; thousands of well wishers
took to the city streets and rooftops to wave. The ship then turned
out to the sea and headed on towards home.
Very good progress was made during the night as the ship had the
advantage of a strong tail wind, and her speed increased to 90mph
as she flew in the prevailing air current. The forward engine
was rested and still the ship was managing to race along at 90
mph. The crew was unprepared for the swiftness of their eastward
crossing of the Atlantic. It was considered that, as the R 34
was gaining time on her voyage and not expending much of her fuel
compared to her outward journey, the ship change her flight route
and fly over London before returning to East Fortune. The return
home was uneventful, and the standard ship routine continued.
The only problem occurred when an engineer fell against the clutch
of an engine causing the engine to be freed and race until destruction
because the connecting rods fractured.
The repairs could not be made in flight and so the engine was
stopped, but this in no way impeded the speed of the ship. Due
to this event and not having any spare power in case of emergencies,
it was decided to cancel the voyage over London and head straight
home. It was not until the final evening at midnight when a message
was received from the Air Ministry to divert the ship from landing
at East Fortune, but go directly to Pulham. It was initially due
to bad weather at East Fortune, but a few hours later a message
from East Fortune confirmed the weather conditions had improved.
A request was put in to the Air Ministry to have the ship return
to East Fortune but this was turned down and the ship was ordered
to Pulham. No reason was ever given for this change in plan and
no explanation can be found for it. The ship carried across the
English countryside and came, rather quietly to Pulham Air Station
at 6.57 GMT to be welcomed by the RAF personnel, which was rather
quieter than that which greeted the ship at New York, and than
expected at East Fortune.
The return journey had taken three days three hours and three
minutes. The ship had travelled some 7,420 miles on this voyage
at an average speed of 43 mph.