in place and outer cover beign stretched over framework
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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
he 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
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
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 15 men.
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.
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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. 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 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. 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
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
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
- 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
the additional lift, R.101 it was agreed that a new central bay
and gas bag installed. The
R.101 entered shed 1 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
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.
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 Lord Thompson
that "You mustn't allow my natural impatience or anxiety
to start to influence you in any way. You must use your considered
Flight - Saturday 4th October 1930
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 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.
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.
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
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 watchkeeping status.
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.
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."
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. 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Harry Leech 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 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.
JOHN 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