in place and outer cover beign stretched over framework
putting the painted balsa wood fittings over the metal framework
in the dining room
paining the downstairs hallway which was decorated white
with gold inlay.
the registration markon the tail of the ship
passenger lounge under construction
passenger lounge and corridors under construction, prior
to the gasbags in place. Details on the columns can be seen
clearly, which was painted white and inlaid with gold. Notice
the nose of the ship can be seen to the top right of the
view of the loung,e and corridor leading to the stairs to
the deck below can be seen.
outer cover being stretched over the framework
the R.101, a gas bag and wiring shown above the passenger
construction, passenger accommodation and part of new main
Nose fabric being sewn in to place
public lounge of the R.101, the largest on any airship.
dining room could seat 50 people per sitting.
relaxing in the lounge, possibly taken on one of the MP's
visit to the ship in 1929
engine car showing the aerodynamic profile, the crew referred
to them as "power eggs"
in the shed showing the scale of the ship.
on her maiden voyage 1929
- photo copyright Roger Davis taken by his father in Enfield,
on the mast at Cardington with shed 2.
Crew of HMA R.101
Officers of R.101 standing by the control car. Left to right
Sq Ldr E.L. Johnston (navigator); Flt Lt H. Carmichael Irwin
(captain); Mjr G.H.Scott Assistance Director (flying) Airship
Development; Lt Cmdr N.G. Atherstone (first officer) Flying
Officer M.H.Steff, (second officer)
on the ground showing the scale compared to the handling
crews holding the ship
majestic on the mast
Comparison with R.101 against various other modern ships
being hauled to the mast 1929
unusual shot below the R.101 in 1929 showing both sets of
promenade deck windows, dining room, and bedroom/ staterooms
corridor, on both sides of the ship. The stateroom corridor
set was later removed in 1930 for weight saving.
Photos from the 1929 Hendon Air Pagent.
101 in her original configuration delighting the crowds
as part of the Air Pagent held at Hendon, 26th July
1930. The top photo shows a comparison with heavier
than aircraft, and the height which the R. 101 passedd
over the crowds. These photo's was found in an album
showing other flypasts of the day.
R.101 cut in half
in the summer of 1930 prior to the new 35ft bay being
inserted in to her
crew prior to departure. Sir Sefton Branker, Director
of Civil Aviation, is standing in the centre in civilian
final layout of the R.101, showing extra bay and outer
impression of the R.101 flying over Hastings (from
an original painting by Ken Marschall)
Route of the R.101
the angle of dive over time
of final stages of the loss of the R.101
of final impact of the nose
R.101 crash site
wreckage of the tail section
passengers and crew, lying in state in St
six surviving members of the R.101 crew after
Imperial Airship Scheme
for the R.101 were laid down as far back as 1924 when the Imperial
Airship Scheme was proposed. The requirements included that a
ship was proposed to take some 200
the military or 5 fighter craft as an aerial aircraft carrier.
It was noted that a larger ship of some 8 million cubic feet would
be required, however, for initial plans, two prototype ships of
5 million cft were to be constructed.
It was decided
that to promote innovation, one ship would be contracted out to
a private company and the other would be built at the Royal Airship
Works in Cardington. The first ship, the R100, was built by a
subsidiary of Vickers, the Airship Guarantee Company, at the shed
at Howden in Yorkshire.
prototype ship, the R.101, again moved away from traditional lines
of design. After some delays with the initial project the scheme
soon got underway when work on the ship began in 1926.
The ship was
to have many innovative design features and incorporating these
within the ship was to cause some delay to the original completion
date of 1927. However, it must be remembered that this project
was the largest of its kind ever undertaken in the world at that
time. The previous largest ship was the Graf Zeppelin, and that
was based on the original design of the "LZ126" Los
Angles, a much smaller ship than was being constructed in Britain.
airship programme was under the direction of the Director of Airship
Development (DAD), Group Captain Peregrine Fellowes, with Colmore
acting as his deputy. Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond was appointed
Director of Design: later he was credited as "Assistant Director
of Airship Development (Technical) with Squadron Leader Michael
Rope as his assistant, and the Director for Flying and Training,
responsible for all operational matters for both airships, was
Major G.H. Scott, who had developed the design of the mooring
masts that were to be built.
R.101 was to be built only
after an extensive research and test programme was complete. This
was carried out by the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). As
part of this programme, the Air Ministry funded the costs of refurbishing
and flying R33 in order to gather data about structural loads
and the airflow around a large airship. This data was also made
available to Vickers; both airships had the same elongated tear-drop
shape, unlike previous airship designs. Hilda Lyon, who was responsible
for the aerodynamic development, found that this shape produced
the minimum amount of drag. Safety was a primary concern and this
would have an important influence on the choice of engines.
An early decision had been
made to construct the primary structure largely from stainless steel
rather than lightweight alloys such as duralumin. The design of
the primary structure was shared between Cardington and the aircraft
manufacturer Boulton and Paul, who had extensive experience in the
use of steel and had developed innovative techniques for forming
steel strip into structural sections. Working to an outline design
prepared with the help of data supplied by the NPL, the stress calculations
were performed by Cardington.
This information was then supplied
to J. D. North and his team at Boulton and Paul, who designed the
actual metalwork. The individual girders were fabricated by Boulton
and Paul in Norwich and transported to Cardington where they were
bolted together. This scheme for a prefabricated structure entailed
demanding manufacturing tolerances and was entirely successful,
as the ease with which R.101 was eventually extended bears witness.
Before any contracts for the
metalwork were signed, an entire bay consisting of a pair of the
15-sided transverse ring frames and the connecting longitudinal
girders was assembled at Cardington. After the assembly had passed
loading tests, the individual girders were then tested to destruction.
The structure of the airframe was innovative: the ring-shaped transverse
frames of previous airships had been braced by radial wires meeting
at a central hub, but no such bracing was used in R.101, the frames
being stiff enough in themselves. However, this resulted in the
structure extending further into the envelope, thereby limiting
the size of the gasbags.
The specifications drawn up
in 1924 by the Committee for the Safety of Airships had based weight
estimates on the then existing rules for airframe strengths. However,
the Air Ministry Inspectorate introduced a new set of rules for
airship safety standards in late 1924 and compliance with these
as-yet unformulated rules had been explicitly mentioned in the individual
specifications for each airship.
These new rules called for
all lifting loads to be transmitted directly to the transverse frames
rather than being taken via the longitudinal girders. The intention
behind this ruling was to enable the stressing of the framework
to be fully calculated, rather than relying on empirically accumulated
data, as was contemporary practice at the Zeppelin design office.
Apart from the implications for the airframe weight, one effect
of these regulations was to force both teams to contrive a new system
of harnessing the gasbags.
R.101 used pre-doped linen
panels for much of its covering, rather than lacing undoped fabric
into place and then applying dope to shrink it. In order to reduce
the area of unsupported fabric in the covering R.101 alternated
the main longitudinals with non-structural "reefing booms"
mounted on kingposts which were adjustable using screw-jacks in
order to tension the covering.
There were other innovative
design features. Previously ballast containers had been made in
the form of leather ballast bags which looked like a pair of large
leather "trousers", and one or other leg could be opened
at the bottom by a cable-release from the control car. In R.101,
the extreme forward and aft ballast bags were of this type, and
were locally operated, but the main ballast was held in tanks connected
by pipes so that ballast could be transferred from one to another
to alter the airship's trim using compressed air.
The arrangement for ventilating
the interior of the envelope, necessary both to prevent any buildup
of escaped hydrogen and also to equalise pressure between the outside
and inside, was also innovative. A series of flap-valves were situated
at the nose and stern of the airship cover (those at the nose are
clearly visible in photographs) to allow air to enter when the airship
was descending, while a series of vents was arranged around the
circumference amidships to allow air to exit during ascent.
Heavy oil (diesel) engines
were specified by the Air Ministry because the airship was intended
for use on the India route, where it was thought that high temperatures
would make petrol an unacceptable fire hazard because of its low
flash point. A petrol explosion had been a major cause of fatalities
in the loss of the R38 in 1921.
Initial calculations were
based on the use of seven Beardmore Typhoon six-cylinder heavy-oil
engines which were expected to weigh 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) and deliver
600 bhp (450 kW) each. When the development of this engine proved
impractical, the use of the eight-cylinder Beardmore Tornado was
proposed instead. This was an engine being developed by Beardmore
by combining two four-cylinder engines which had originally been
developed for railway use.
In March 1925 these were expected
to weigh 3,200 pounds (1,500 kg) and deliver 700 bhp (520 kW)
each. Because of the increased weight of each engine, it was decided
to use five, resulting in overall power being reduced from 4,200
bhp (3,100 kW) to 3,500 bhp (2,600 kW).
Unexpectedly, severe torsional
resonance of the crankshaft was encountered above 950 rpm, limiting
the engine to a maximum of 935 rpm, giving an output of only 650
bhp (485 kW) with a continuous power rating at 890 rpm of 585
bhp (436 kW). The engine was also considerably above estimated
weight, at 4,773 lb (2,165 kg), over double the initial estimate.
Some of this excess weight was the result of the failure to manufacture
a satisfactory lightweight aluminium crankcase.
The original intention had
been to fit two of the engines with variable-pitch propellers
in order to provide reverse thrust for manoeuvring during docking.
The torsional resonance also caused the hollow metal blades of
these reversing propellers to develop cracks near the hubs, and
as a short term measure one of the engines was fitted with a fixed-pitch
reverse propeller, consequently becoming dead weight under normal
flight conditions. For the airship's final flight two of the engines
were adapted to be capable of running in reverse by a simple modification
of the camshaft.
Each engine car also contained
a 40 bhp (30 kW) Ricardo petrol engine for use as a starter motor.
Three of these also drove generators to provide electricity when
the airship was at rest or flying at low speeds: at normal flight
speeds the generators were driven by constant-speed variable-pitch
windmills. The other two auxiliary engines drove compressors for
the compressed air fuel and ballast transfer system. Before the
final flight one of the petrol engines was replaced by a Beverly
heavy oil engine. In order to lessen the risk of fire, the petrol
tanks could be jettisoned.
Diesel fuel was contained in
tanks in the transverse frames, the majority of the tanks having
a capacity of 224 imp gal (1,018 l). A mechanism was provided for
dumping fuel directly from the tanks in an emergency. By the use
of tankage provided for weight compensation when travelling with
a light passenger load a total fuel load of 10,000 imp gal (45,000
l) could be carried.
In normal service the R.101
carried a crew of 42. This consisted of two watches of 13 men
under the officer of the watch, this duty being divided among
the three principal ship's officers.
In addition there were the
chief navigator, the meteorological officer, the chief coxswain,
the chief engineer, the chief wireless officer and the chief steward,
who were not assigned to watches but were on duty as necessary,
and four supernumeraries (three engineers and a radio operator)
who were available to provide relief watch keeping if necessary,
and an assistant steward, a cook and a galley boy who were on
duty as required between 06:30 and 21:30.
The minimum crew requirement,
as specified in the airship's Certificate of Airworthiness, was
The control car was occupied
by the duty officer of the watch and the steering and altitude
coxswains, who respectively controlled the rudder and elevators
using wheels similar to a ship's wheel. The engines were individually
controlled by an engineer in each of the engine cars, orders being
given by an individual telegraph to each car. These moved an indicator
in the engine car to signal the desired throttle setting and also
rang a bell to draw attention to the fact that an order had been
With the agreement
and funding made for the Imperial Airship Scheme, it was noted
that the original shed was too small for the designed R.101, and
so had to be lenghthened and also raised in height.
Work was started
in October 1924 on the lenghtening and raising of Shed 1, which
was completed in May 1926. A second shed was also required, and
so it was agreed that shed 2 from the Pulham operational base be
used. This was dismantled in June 1927, and re-errected next to
Shed 1. The second shed was completed in 1928. In that time the
R.101 was slowly being assembled in shed 1 next door. Shed 2 was
going to house the R100 which was being built in the airship construction
facility in Howden, Yorkshire. The delay in dismantling the Pulham
shed was due to very bad weather at the time.
and girders were subcontrated out and made by Boulton and Paul
in Norwich in the begining of January 1927. These were then driven
to Cardington on the back of a lorry, or sent by railway wagon
for the larger items. Hundreds of these smaller girders were assembled
on the floor of the shed to make the rings, then winched up and
connected up like a giant meccano set. The R.101 would eventually
contain over 30,000 ft of girder work on the R.101.
Work on the rings at Cardington
started in December 1927, and rings 4-11 were completed by July
The engineers and designers
were based at Cardington and the "Administration" block,
was where the design offices were. There were some 270 people
involved in the design and drawing offices, and some 700 people
on the construction side, split between Cardington and Boulton
and Paul, in Norwich.
huge airship mast was constructed for the civil programme in 1926,
built by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company under the
direction of Major General Sir William Liddell, Director of Works
and and Buildings at the Air Ministry. 202 feet high and 70 feet
in diameter at the base, the tower was the first ever cantilever
mooring mast to be built.
The lengthy process of inflating
the R.101's hydrogen gasbags began on 11 July 1929 and was complete
by 21 September. With the airship now airborne and loosely tethered
within the shed, it was now possible to carry out lift and trim
trials. These were disappointing. A design conference held on
17 June 1929 had estimated a gross lift of 151.8 tons and a total
airframe weight, including the power installation, of 105 tons.
The actual figures proved
to be a gross lift of 148.46 tons and a weight of 113.6 tons.
Moreover, the airship was tail-heavy, a result of the tail surfaces
being considerably above estimated weight. In this form, a flight
to India was out of the question. Airship operations under tropical
conditions were made more difficult by the loss of lift in high
air temperatures: the loss of lift in Karachi was estimated to
be as much as 11 tons for an airship the size of R.101.
On 2 October the press were
invited to Cardington to view the finished airship. However, weather
conditions made it impossible to take it out of the shed until
12 October, when it was walked out by a ground-handling party
The event attracted a huge
number of spectators, with surrounding roads a solid line of cars.
The moored airship continued
to attract spectators, and it was estimated that more than a million
people had made the trip to Cardington to see R.101 at the mast
by the end of November.
- The First Trial Flights (Flights 1-7)
R.101 made its first flight
on 14 October. After a short circuit over Bedford, course was
set for London, where it passed over the Palace of Westminster,
St Paul's Cathedral and the City, returning to Cardington after
a flight lasting five hours 40 minutes. During this flight the
servos were not used, without any difficulty being experienced
in controlling the airship.
A second flight lasting nine
hours 38 minutes followed on 18 October, with Lord Thomson among
the passengers, after which R.101 was briefly returned to the
shed to enable some modifications to be made to the starting engines.
A third flight lasting seven
hours 15 minutes was made on 1 November, during which it was flown
at full power for the first time, recording a speed of 68.5 mph
(110.2 km/h): even at full speed it was not found necessary to
use the control servos. During this flight it paid a visit to
the Boulton and Paul works near Nottingham and also circled over
Sandringham House, observed by the King and Queen.
On 2 November the first night
flight was made, slipping the mast at 20:12 before heading south
to fly over London and Portsmouth before attempting a speed trial
over a 43 mi (69 km) circuit over the Solent and the Isle of Wight.
These trials were frustrated by pipe breakages in the cooling
systems of two of the engines, a problem later solved by replacing
the aluminium piping with copper. It returned to Cardington around
09:00, the mooring operation ending in a minor accident, damaging
one of the reefing booms at the bow.
On 8 November a short flight
purely for public relations purposes was made, carrying 40 passengers
including the Mayor of Bedford and various officials. To accommodate
this load, the airship was flown with only a partial fuel and
ballast load and was inflated to a pressure height of 500 ft (150
Two days later, the wind began
to rise and gales were forecast. On 11 November the wind touched
83 mph (134 km/h), with a maximum gust speed of 89 mph (143 km/h).
Although the ship's behaviour at the mast gave cause for a good
deal of satisfaction, there was nevertheless some cause for concern.
The movement of the ship had caused considerable movement of the
gasbags, the surging being described by Coxswain "Sky"
Hunt as being around four inches (ten cm) from side to side and
"considerably more" longitudinally. This caused the
gasbags to foul the framework, and the resulting chafing caused
the gasbags to be holed in many places.
A sixth flight was made on
14 November to test the modifications that had been made to the
cooling system and the repairs to the gasbags, carrying a load
of 32 passengers, including 10 MPs with a special interest in
aviation and a party of air ministry officials headed by Sir Sefton
Brancker, the Director of Civil Aviation.
On 16 November it had been
planned to carry out a demonstration flight for a party of 100
MPs, a scheme that had been suggested by Thomson in the expectation
that few would wish to take advantage of the offer; in the event
it was oversubscribed.The weather on the day was unfavourable,
and the flight was rescheduled. The weather then cleared, and
on the following day R.101 slipped the mast at 10:33 to carry
out an endurance trial, planned to last at least thirty hours.
R.101 passed over York and
Durham before crossing the coast and flying over the North Sea
as far north as Edinburgh, where it turned west towards Glasgow.
During the night a series of turning trials were made over the
Irish Sea, after which the airship was flown south to fly over
Dublin (the home town of R.101's Captain, Carmichael Irwin) before
returning to Cardington via Anglesey and Chester.
After some delay in finding
Cardington owing to fog, R.101 was secured to the mast at 17:14,
after a flight lasting 30 hours 41 minutes. The only technical
problem encountered during the flight was with the pump for transferring
fuel, which broke down several times, although subsequent examination
of the engines showed that one was on the point of suffering a
failure of a big end bearing.
The flight for the MPs had
been rescheduled for 23 November. With the barometric pressure
low, R.101 lacked sufficient lift to carry 100 passengers, even
though all but a bare minimum of fuel was drained off and the
ship lightened by removing all unnecessary stores.
The flight was cancelled because
of the weather, but not before the politicians had arrived at
Cardington: they accordingly embarked and had lunch while the
ship rode at the mast, only kept in the air by dynamic lift produced
by the 45 mph (72 km/h) wind. Following this, R.101 remained at
the mast until 30 November, when the wind had dropped enough for
it to be walked back into the shed.
While the initial flight trials
were being carried out, the design team examined the lift problem.
Studies identified possible weight savings of 3.16 tons. The weight-saving
measures included deleting twelve of the double-berth cabins,
removing the reefing booms from the nose to frame 1 and between
frames 13 to 15 at the tail, replacing the glass windows of the
observation decks with Cellon, removing two water ballast tanks,
and removing the servo mechanism for the rudder and elevators.Letting
the gasbags out would gain 3.18 tons extra lift.
Since there were thousands
of exposed fixings protruding from the girders; chafing of the
gasbags would have to be prevented by wrapping these in strips
trials, it was decided that more drastic action would be required
to enhance the overall lift of the airship. During the winter
of 1929 to 1930, the airship was brought in to the shed and the
re-wiring of the gasbag bracing could commence, and obtain extra
lift. The R.101 was put in the shed from 30th Nov 1929 - 23rd
On a visit
to Cardington in the Graf Zeppelin, Hugo Eckener was given a tour
of the new ship and agreed that the R.101 heralded a new breed
of exceptional ship. There was confidence in this new prototype
which would lead to bigger ships, as planned in the R102 and R103.
HMA R.101 Schedule to Karachi
(approx. due to local conditions)
Sunset 28th September
Sunset 29th September
Sunrise 1st October
(approx. due to local conditions)
Sunset 5th October
Sunset 8th October
Sunrise 9th October
Sunset 11th October
15 days round trip Outward: 5 days
Stop Over: 4 days
Return: 6 Days
comparison, the existing Imperial Airways service took 8 days
ONE WAY and had 21 stops en route. By Liner, the quickest sea
route took 4 weeks.
1930 a passenger was so confident in the proposed service that
he had sent the Royal Airship Works £20,000 for one airship
passage to New York in 1931. It was thought that the two ships
could earn useful revenue over 1931-1932 with commercial operations.
Even though the R.101 was often said to be flying too low compared
to the earlier Zeppelins, which had reached some 20,000 feet altitude
during the war, it was advised that all commercial (non military
airships) had to fly long range and to do this had to fly at a
low level, hence the ships were designed for this.
The best economical results were if a ship could maintain a height
of 1,500feet. This was not only financially advantageous but would
also "afford splendid views of the ground and sea".
The Zeppelin Company had to adopt this policy with the LZ129 -
Hindenburg, which would keep between 1,500 and 4,000 feet.
was seen as a lavish floating hotel. Even by today's standards,
the open promenades and public spaces would be seen as unique
in the skies.
large British ships were the first to adopt the style of using
the interior of the ship for the passenger accommodation.
The only contemporary ship which was running a passenger service
was the German Zeppelin ZL127 - Graf Zeppelin.
then the ship could only accommodate 20 passengers who were
situated in a stretched forward gondola beneath the hull of
the ship. The utilisation of interior space within the R100
and R.101 was a first of its kind and the R.101 could boast
2 decks of space, a dinning room which could seat 60 people
at a time and a smoking room which could seat 20. The promenades
showed off the view to the fullest advantage.
to the noisy smelly and tiring journey in an aeroplane, the
airships were seen as pure luxury, with service comparable
to that of the greatest ocean liners. For more information
to see life on board, view our interiors
Times and Dining
for passengers and Officers were to be taken in the Dining room
which could seat up to 60 people. It was not known what would
have been eaten en route but a recent discovery of an R.101
Menu (unfortunalty undated) and a wine list from 6th November
1929. It is suspected that the menu was from the visit by 50
MP's on November 23rd 1929. It gives an idea of the menu available.
It is also interesting to noted that the "smoking room"
is referred to the "smoke room"
you ever want to host your own R.101 dinner party below
are the authentic menu's of meals and wine enjoyed on board
weight was the biggest issue with airships, crew and passengers
could take up to 30lbs of kit/baggage as an allowance. On the
R.101's final flight the baggage and kit of some 54 people had
an average weight of baggage per person of 22lbs.
of the items included:
Cask of Ale - 70lbs
Carpet Roll - 129lbs (flown over for the state dinners at Karachi
Two cases of Champagne - 52lbs.
were run along the lines of maritime service with ship watches
set on similar lines to their naval partners. The watches were
split in duration as 4 hours for a "day" watch and reduced
to 3 hours for a "night" watch:
08.00am - 12.00pm
20.00pm - 23.00pm
02.00am - 05.00am
05.00am - 08.00am
-1930 More Lift Need - further refit
Over the summer of 1930, the R.101 lay in the Number 1 shed at
Cardington undergoing extensive modifications, which were needed
following on from her 1929 and early 1930 trial flights.
It was already
known that both the R100 and R.101 were lacking in the disposable
lift originally planned at the outset of the Imperial Airship
Scheme in 1925. Those involved in the scheme had already learnt
that the R100 and R.101 would not be viable for full commercial
operations to Canada and India, and these intentions were later
to be passed on to the new ship, the R102 class.
- Further Trial flights (8-10)
On the morning of 23 June
when R.101 was walked out of the shed. It had been at the mast
for less than an hour in a moderate wind when an alarming rippling
movement was observed and shortly afterwards, a 140 ft (43 m)
tear appeared on the right-hand side of the airship. It was decided
to repair these at the mast and to add more strengthening bands.
This was done by the end of the day but the next day a second,
shorter, split occurred. This was dealt with in the same way,
and it was decided that if the reinforcing bands were added to
the repaired area the scheduled appearance at the RAF pageant
at Hendon could be made.
R.101 made three flights in
June, totalling 29 hours 34 minutes duration. On 26 June a short
proving flight was made, the controls, no longer servo-operated,
being described as "powerful and fully adequate". At
the end of this flight the R.101 was found to be "flying
heavy" and two tons of fuel oil had to be jettisoned in order
to lighten the airship for mooring. This was initially attributed
to changes in air temperature during the flight.
On the following two days
R.101 made two flights, the first to take part in the rehearsal
for the RAF display at Hendon and the second to take place in
the display itself. These flights revealed a problem with lift,
considerable jettisoning of ballast being necessary. An inspection
of the gasbags revealed a large number of holes, a result of the
letting out of the gasbags which allowed them to foul projections
on the girders of the framework
the additional lift, R.101 it was agreed that a new central bay
and gas bag installed. The
R.101 entered shed number one, on 29th June
It was expected
that the new bay and extra gas bag and would give her another
nine tons of disposable lift bringing her up to some 50 tons.
The alterations were completed by Friday the 26th September and
the R.101 was gassed up and floated in the shed.
ship, R.101c, had disposable lift calculated at 49.36 tons, an
improvement of 14.5 tons over the original configuration. Pressure
was on for the ship to leave for Karachi on 26th September to
carry the Air Minister, Lord Thompson of Cardington. Although
the target date was on course to be met, wind was to keep the
modified R.101 in the shed until the morning of 1st October.
It was at
06.30 on the 1st October that the R.101 emerged from the shed
and was secured to the mast. The new ship had a more elongated
look as she had been extended by 35 feet to insert the new bay.
At the same
time, R100 was removed from Shed No 2, and walked in to shed No.1
where she too was to be altered in the same way to obtain more
lift. It was the last time the outside world would see the R100.
The R.101 was moored serenely to her mast at Cardington and the
crew were busy making preparations for a full 24 hour trial flight.
A permit to fly had been issued and a full report on the new ship
would be submitted later, a draft having been prepared. The permit
to fly had been granted after a "good deal of general thinking".
It was said
by Professor Bairstow, who issued the permit, that "comparison
on limited information has been required in reaching our conclusion".
Trial Flight: 1st October 1929
The R.101 slipped
her mast at 4.30pm on 1st October to fly a 24 hour endurance flight
to complete the engine and other trials. It was noted however, and
agreed by officers, Reginald Colemore, Director of Airship Development
(DAD) and the AMSR that if the ship behaved well and Major Herbert
Scott, one of the most experienced airshipmen in the UK, was satisfied
during his flight, then they could curtail the tests to less than
The ship left Cardington and headed south to London then turned
east following the Thames and out across Essex. She spent the night
out over the North Sea. Those on board noted that the atmosphere
was quiet and serene.
Due to the
early failure of an engine cooler in the forward starboard engine,
it was impossible for the ship to make a full speed trial. During
the flight, it was noted that conditions were "perfect"
and all other items in the ship behaved perfectly.
there was not time to make formal reports, it was noted that
the ship handled and she appeared to be much better in the air
than before. It was agreed to curtail the flight and head for
home at Cardington. The ship returned to the mast at 09.20 on
Thursday 2nd October; she had been in the air for just over
17 hours in smooth flying conditions.
were need by the crew following this flight. Captain Irwin had made
special notice of all the concerns before the alterations. He noted
that there was practically no movement in the outer cover; all sealing
strips appeared to be secure; no leaks were observed in the gas
valves; the movement of the gas bags was so slight that it was barely
perceptible; and the padding was secure. All other items were found
to be in good order and he was satisfied with the independent inspection
which had been carried out on the ship.
members of the crew and technical office, along with the DAD held
conference on the Thursday evening and discussed whether to make
the flight to India. It was noted that a longer trial whereby
full speed testing could be carried out in adverse conditions
was normally essential before such a long voyage.
It was also
noted that a full speed trial was not recommended during the India
flight due to the possibility of failure. At this stage it had
not been calculated what the state of the engines would be with
the new design of the ship. Also, the risk of engine failure would
mean putting the whole voyage in jeopardy and hence it was deemed
that cruising speed would be the maximum recommended speed for
pressure had been put on all involved with the R.101 by the Air
Minister suggesting that he must go to India and back in time
for the Imperial Conference due on the 20th October 1930, there
was one note on the 2nd October by Lord Thompson
"You mustn't allow my natural impatience or anxiety to start
to influence you in any way. You must use your considered judgment."
Flight - Saturday 4th October 1930
With the decision
made that the India flight should take place, there were two further
days of final preparation. The ship remained on the mast and the
crews busied themselves in preparation for this momentous voyage.
Of course all staff were keeping an eye on the weather conditions
to ensure that the ship would be able to make the voyage in the
suggested time, not wanting to be inhibited by the problems all
airships suffer with the natural elements.
the meteorological officer, had been providing the officers with
updates on the weather forecast over the last few days and the
route was selected on his information.
conference was held on the morning of the 4th October and it was
noted that the weather conditions over northern France were becoming
cloudy with moderate winds. It was agreed that the ship would
depart between 4pm and 8pm that evening.
forecasts were issued to the ship during the day; these indicated
that the weather conditions over Cardington and Northern France
would begin to deteriorate during the evening, however it was
noted that the wind conditions would not increase significantly.
These forecasts, even thought not particularly good, were not
bad enough to cancel the voyage. The decision was made to hurry
the passengers on board, complete the loading of the ship, and
begin the trip in order to be passed the worst weather.
R.101 left the Cardington mast in misty fine rain and darkness.
The ship was illuminated by lights from the promenade deck and
searchlights from the mooring mast.
As the ship
was fully loaded with fuel to make it to the first stop, Egypt,
it was noted that 4 tons of ballast had to be dropped before the
ship gained height. The R.101 cruised passed the sheds and then
headed west towards Bedford to salute her home town. She passed
around the town and then headed south-east towards London. She
was flying at her cruising height of 1,500 feet just below the
cloud base and by 8pm R.101 was flying over London.
message from the ship was sent at 8.21pm:
London. All well. Moderate rain. Base of low clouds 1,500ft. Wind
240 degrees [west south west] 25mph. Course now set for Paris.
Intend to proceed via Paris, Tours, Toulouse and Narbonne."
hour later R.101 was requesting the Meteorological Office at Cardington
to wireless a forecast of the weather expected from Paris to Marseilles
"with special reference to wind and cloud".
the following message was sent:
21.35 GMT crossing coast in the vicinity of Hastings. It is raining
hard and there is a strong South Westerly wind. Cloud base is
at 1,500 feet . After a good getaway from the Mooring Tower at
18.30 hours ship circled Bedford before setting course. Course
was set for London at 18.54. Engines running well at cruising
speed giving 54.2 knots. Reached London at 2000 hours and then
set course for Paris. Gradually increasing height so as to avoid
high land. Ship is behaving well generally and we have already
begun to recover water ballast."
It was noted
that with the loss of ballast at the beginning of the flight,
the crew were more than confident that the water recovery system
would replenish the supplies. The R.101 was fitted along the top
of the envelope with catchment arrangements by which, when rain
fell, water could be recovered to increase ballast and so compensate
for the loss of weight arising from the consumption of fuel. It
is noted that at this point the R.101 crew did not consider the
ship to be heavy as original sources suggested.
crossing took two hours for at 11.36 pm the ship reported :
French coast at Pointe de St Quentin. Wind 245 true. 35mph"
to 02.00am the crew changed watches, R.101 continued on it's usual
The 60 miles
crossing was well known by Squadron Leader Jonhson, who had flown
the route many times between London and Paris. We can see that
the wind speed was increasing at this time. It was estimated that
at the time of crossing the channel the R.101 was at a height
of between 700 to 800 feet. It was later recorded that First Officer
Atherstone took over the elevator wheel and ordered the coxswain
not to go below 1,000ft.
At 00.18 the
R.101 sent out the following wireless message :
Cardington from R.101.
15 miles SW of Abbeville speed 33 knots. Wind 243 degrees [West
South West] 35 miles per hour. Altimeter height 1,500feet. Air
temperature 51degrees Fahrenheit . Weather - intermittent rain.
Cloud nimbus at 500 feet. After an excellent supper our distinguished
passengers smoked a final cigar and having sighted thisFrench
coast have now gone to bed to rest after the excitement of their
leave-taking. All essential services are functioning satisfactorily.
Crew have settled down to watch-keeping routine."
This was the
last message from the R.101 giving speed and position. The ship
continued to send out directional wireless signals to checking
her position or to test the strength of the signals. The last
directional signal addressed to Cardington was at 1.28am. A final
signal was sent from Cardington to the Croydon Station and relayed
via ship at Le Bourget at 01.51am. An acknowledgement at 01.52am
was the last signal ever sent by the R.101.
the watch changed as with normal routine on the ship and still
nothing was reported wrong with the ship. It can be assumed that
had anything been noticed the Captain would have had this signaled
back to base. Also, if anything had been noticed, the Captain
would not have allowed the men on duty to stand down and pass
over to the new watch. Evidence of engineer Leech at the inquiry
confirmed that Leech was off duty and enjoying a smoke in the
smoking room between 01.00am and 02.00am, when Captain Irwin came
in to the room and spoke to him and the Chief Engineer.
made no remarks about the ship except that the after engine continued
to run well. Chief Engineer Gent later turned in and Leech went
and inspected all the engine cars. He found them all to be running
well and returned to the smoking room.
the ship reached Beauvais and passed to the east of the town.
At this time witnesses suggested that the ship was beginning to
have difficulty with the gusting winds. Some suggested that the
promenade lights became obscured and early suggestions were made
that the ship was rolling in the winds, however no amount of rolling
would explain obscuring of the lighes and it seems more probable
that intervening cloud was the cause.
accounts, at 02.00am the ship made a long and rather steep dive,
sufficient to make the engineers lose balance and cause furniture
in the smoking room to slide.
It is estimated
that a rent occurred in the rain soaked upper part of the nose,
causing the forward gas bags to become exposed to the elements
and damaged by the gusting wind. The loss of gas at this point
could have led to the loss of control of the ship. Also, the ship
was traveling towards the notorious Beauvais ridge which was well
know by aviators for its dangerous gusting wind.
of gas at the forward part of the ship, combined with a sudden
downward gust of wind would have forced the nose down. Calculations
by the University of Bristol in 1995 provided evidence that the
maximum downward angle was 18 degrees in this first dive through
a time span of 90 seconds.
The crew in
the control car would have tried to correct the downward angle by
pulling the elevator up. In the next 30 seconds, the ship pulled
out of the forced dive and the crew were steadying the ship. Flying
at a nose-up angle of three degrees enabled the ship to regain some
aerodynamic stability. However it was realised that the elevator
was "hard up" and yet the crew knew that the nose was
only three degrees above the horizon. This meant that the nose was
now extremely heavy and hence a serious loss of gas from the forward
bags must have occurred.
The Captain then rang the order for all engines to reduce speed
from the original cruising speed, if not to stop them. The bells
were heard and acted upon by the crew as evidence from the survivors
Hunt moved aft from the control car to the crew's quarters. At
this point he passed crew member Disley, and warned "We're
down lads". This famous comment by one of the most experienced
airship crew members showed that the R.101 was not going to be
able to continue and that an executive decision had been made
make an emergency landing
this point the ship moved into a second dive. It is calculated
that R.101 was now at a height of about 530 feet, which for a
vessel of 777 feet long was precarious.
of the ship had already occurred and any further oscillation would
cause it to fail. Rigger Church was ordered to release the emergency
ballast from the nose of the ship and was on his way to the mooring
platform when he felt the angle of the ship begin to dip once
more from an even keel.
by Dr Brian Lawton, whose
research paper can be found here, updates the notion of a
second gust of wind causing the nose to drop, whereby his research
states that a control cable snapped, and depite the tail elevator
being hard wound in the up position, that the elevator itself
failed to respond. Dr Lawton's research is now being seen as the
most accurate concusion as to why the R.101 was unable to recover
from the dive fully.
The ship began
to drop again through a downward angle and at this point the nose
hit the ground. Evidence from the official inquiry noted that
the R.101's ground speed had reduced to almost that of a perfect
landing. The impact of R.101 with the ground was very gentle,
and it was noted that the forward speed of the ship was only 13.8
mph. The ship bounced slightly moving forward some 60 feet and
then settled down to the ground.
recall that a "crunch" was heard and the ship leveled.
There was no violent jarring from the impact.
the crash site confirmed this as the only impact mark in the ground
was a two foot deep by nine foot long groove which was cut by
the nose cone, in which soil was later found. Also, the starboard
forward engine had struck the ground whilst the propeller was
still revolving and grooves were made by this. The engine car
had been twisted completely around on its struts.
impact, fire broke out. The most probably cause of this was that
the starboard engine car was twisted around and the hot engine
had come into contact with the free gas from the rents in the
forward gas bags. The fire immediately consumed the ship, causing
each gasbag from the forward to after part of the ship to explode.
of the explosions was noted by the position of the gas valves
and the damage to the framework of the ship. The outer cover was
immediately consumed in the ensuing inferno.
Of the crew
and passengers only 8 men were able to escape from the wreck.
Engineer J H Leech -was sitting in the smoking room
at the time of the impact and was saved by the accommodation bulkhead
collapsing from above and being held by the top of the settee
in the smoking room. He was able to escape through the side of
the damaged wooden walls of the smoking room, out through the
framework and through the cloth outer cover of the ship to safety.
A V Bell, J H Binks, A J Cook V Savory were in their
respective engine cars which were positioned outside the main
hull. When the ship landed, they were able to escape through the
windows of the engine cars and run away from the ship.
W G Radcliffe were in their respective engine cars
which were positioned outside the main hull. When the ship landed,
they were able to escape through the windows of the engine cars
and run away from the ship.
Operator A Disley who was asleep in the crew's quarters,
was awakened when his bunk, which was aligned in the same forward
direction as the ship, assumed the curious angle of the first
dive. He felt the ship come out of that dive to an even keel and
then to a nose up angle. At the same moment Hunt passed through
the crew's quarters and advised them of the situation.
At this point
Disley heard the telegraphs ring out in the ship. The electrical
switchboard was close at hand and he started to get out of his
bunk to cut off the electric current to the ship as he knew that
in any aircraft crash there may be the chance of fire. There were
two field switches and he recalls tripping on one of them.
action the ship went into its second dive and he was just about
to cut the second switch when the impact was heard and the lights
went out all over the ship. Disley recalls that the impact was
so gentle that it was not enough to unbalance him from his feet.
Seconds later, like Leech, he was fighting his way through the
wreckage to the outside of the ship.
The last survivor
was Rigger Church, who later
died of his injuries three days after the crash. He was interviewed
and gave the following statement.
"I would consider the flight rather bumpy, but not exceptionally
so. The second watch had just come on and I was walking back when
the ship took up a steep diving attitude. At this moment I received
an order to release the emergency forward water ballast [1/2 ton
in the nose] but before I could get there the crash came."
ballast was in the very nose of the ship. It could not be released
from the control car and had to be jettisoned locally.
The R.101 came to rest with the forward part of her nose in a
wood of small trees and the rest of her hull in a meadow. When
getting away from the ship, both Disley and Cook made some valuable
observations. Disley noted that even though the outer cover was
burning, there was almost no cover left on the top of the ship
aft of frames 10 and 11; the ship appeared to be a skeleton. Cook
noticed that the underside of the elevator still had its outer
cover and was positioned in a full up position, suggesting that
the coxswain was still trying to keep the nose up on landing.
The inquiry noted that the number of turns on the auxiliary winch
drum confirmed this.
were treated in the local hospital and the inquiry began the following
morning with the French authorities surveying the site and condition
of the wreck whilst the British investigators were flown in. Messages
were wired to England in the early hours of the morning, reporting
the crash to a stunned British public.
died in hospital of his injuries and joined the other victims
of the crash. Full state honours were given to the victims and
special trains were laid on to transport them from the crash site
to the channel. They were carried by H.M.S. Tempest from Boulogne
to Dover, where a special train took the bodies to Victoria Station.
From there they were carried in state to Westminster Hall at the
Palace of Westminster and were laid in state. The mourning public
waited many hours to pay their respects by filing past the coffins.
A memorial service was held at St Pauls Cathedral on Saturday
11th October, after which the coffins were taken by train to Bedford.
walked the two miles to Cardington Village, where a space had
been prepared in the churchyard. All 48 dead were finally laid
to rest in a special grave. A final small service was undertaken,
with distinguished guests including Hugo Eckener and Hans Von
Schiller, followed by a flypast by the RAF flight. In 1931 a memorial
tomb was completed and inscribed with the names of the victims.
This memorial still dominates the tiny churchyard to this day.
of the R.101 lay where it had fallen until well into 1931, becoming
a haunt for air accident investigators and day trippers who wanted
to see the near perfect skeleton of the largest airship in the
world. Thomas William Ward, scrap metal contractors from Sheffield
who were specialists in stainless steel were employed to salvage
what they could. It was noted in the records of the Zeppelin company
that they purchased 5,000kgs of duraluminium from the wreckage
for their own use. Whether this was for testing and analysis or
to re-cast and use in the "Hindenburg", is open to further
research and speculation.
Foreman Engineer Henry James Leech was one of the survivors of
the R.101 crash and was awarded The Albert Medal for his bravery
in rescuing Arthur Disley (wireless operator) from the burning
wreckage of the airship despite suffering serious burns himself.
He was presented with this medal by King George in 1931. He was
already the holder of an Air Force Medal for gallantry gained
in WWI. Harry lived in Shortstown from 1925-1930. He was also
an engineer together with Leo Villa for Sir Malcolm Campbell and
his son Donald during their World Speed Records. Harry himself
was partially blinded when returning from Coniston in a car driven
by Lady Campbell which crashed.
He was a brilliant engineer
and worked at the University of Southampton, and later at the
South Hants Hospital where he also helped develop and build a
'Caesium Unit for the treatment of malignant disease in the late
Harry Leech died aged 77 in
There is very little known
of what happened to Victor Savory, but thanks to his relative
John Millman, we know that his real name was Alfred Victor Alexander
Savory and John remembers him as a "lovely man - 6ft 4ins
tall and of heavy build." He began his career as an Engineer
in the Royal Air Force and was badly burned in the R.101 crash.
In WW2 Victor worked as an AID (Air Inspectorate Division) Inspector
at the A V Roe Company (AVRO) in Lincoln.
In Johns words again - "Occasionally
he would visit us for a couple of days and mother (Gertrude Savory
n. Millman) would always put herself out for him, he was her favourite
brother" We don't have details after that of his career or
when or where he died.
HENRY 'JOE' BINKS
Engineer John Henry Binks
(more commonly known as Joe) was born on 29.12.1891. John Henry
served in the Navy for 12 years and joined the crew in 1929 and
by 1930 was a resident of Shortstown. In 1933 it was reported
in the local press that he had fainted at the first R.101 memorial
service held at Allone in France. He continued to work on the
camp for many years after and was part of the small team who worked
on Lord Ventry's airship The Bournemouth in the early 1950's.
Binks Court in Shortstown is named after him in a tribute to his
long association with the area . We don't have details of when
or where he died.
Survivor Engineer Arthur Victor Bell first arrived in Shortstown
in 1927 and his son Bill was born here in 1929. He had joined the
Airship Service back in 1919 and was also on the R33 when it broke
away. Arthur remained In Shortstown for many years and played a
very active role in village life. However we don't have his death
date or location.
Wireless Operator Arthur Disley was one of a few men who served
on both the R100 and R.101 airships and indeed was part of the crew
on the R100 flight to Canada. According to the R100 pre flight press
release he joined the RNAS on 04.03.1920. He was stationed in Shortstown
from 1930-1931. When the R.101 fell to the ground Arthur Disley
was able to escape however his hands were badly burned but he showed
great fortitude and insisted on relaying the news back home before
allowing himself to be medically treated. For this act of selflessness
he was awarded an Order of The British Empire medal. We don't have
any details of his further career or details of his death.
The details we have obtained
from his daugher on his further carrer. During WW2 he was ranked
a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm reserves. After the
war he continued working for the Air Ministry in aircraft maintenance,
at RAF Wroughton, Wiltshire. He moved up to Wellington in Shropshire
again for a RAF station. In 1951 he moved to Gloucestershire when
he was posted to RAF Aston Downs and when that closed RAF Kemble
where the Red Arrows were first formed.
In January 1958 he was awarded
the MBE by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the Air Ministry.
He retired as a Senior Technical Superintendent Royal Air
force in the late 60s and bought a guest house in Sidmouth
before retiring to Alicante in Spain. He returned to the UK in
the 80s again to Gloucestershire and died aged 91 on the
7th November 1998