in place and outer cover beign stretched over
carpenter putting the painted balsa wood fittings
over the metal framework in the dining room
decorator 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 picture.
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 accommodation.
construction, passenger accommodation and
part of new main ring shown
Nose fabric being sewn in to place
public lounge of the R.101, the largest on
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, London
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
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
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.
cut in half in the summer of 1930 prior
to the new 35ft bay being inserted in
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 cover changes
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
of final impact of the nose
R.101 crash site
wreckage of the tail section
passengers and crew, lying in
state in St Stephens Hall.
six surviving members of the
R.101 crew after the crash
Imperial Airship Scheme
plans 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 troops for 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.
The second 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.
whole 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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
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 15 men.
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 transmitted.
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.
The framework 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 1928,
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,
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.
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 of 400. 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
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 m).
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 of cloth.
more 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 June 1930
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
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.
R.101 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. These 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
Even 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.
Compared 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
meals 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
though 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 and Ismalia)
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.
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
To achieve 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
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.
The "new" 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
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
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 24 hours.
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.
Even though 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.
things 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.
The senior 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 the journey.
Even though 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
that "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
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. Giblett, 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.
weather 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
Two further 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.
At 6.24pm 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.
wireless 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".
9.47pm 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."
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.
Channel crossing took two hours for at 11.36 pm
the ship reported :
French coast at Pointe de St Quentin. Wind 245
11.00pm to 02.00am the crew changed watches, R.101
continued on it's usual watchkeeping status.
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.
00.18 the R.101 sent out the following wireless
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."
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.
02.00pm 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. Captain Irwin 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.
At 02.00am 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.
survivor 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. The loss 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.
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
confirmed. Chief Coxswain 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
after 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. Rapid oscillation
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.
Recent research 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.
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. The survivors
recall that a "crunch" was heard and
the ship leveled. There was no violent jarring
from the impact.
Evidence from 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.
the 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.
The force 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.
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.
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. During
this 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.
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."
emergency 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.
survivors 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.
Church 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.
They were 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
wreck 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
died aged 77 in November 1967
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 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
JOHN HENRY 'JOE' BINKS
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.
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
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