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 R101, 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 R101, 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 R101 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 R101 against various other modern ships
being hauled to the mast 1929
unusual shot below the R101 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 R101, showing extra bay and outer
impression of the R101 flying over Hastings (from
an original painting by Ken Marschall)
Route of the R101
the angle of dive over time
of final stages of the loss of the R101
of final impact of the nose
R101 crash site
wreckage of the tail section
passengers and crew, lying in state in St
six surviving members of the R101 crew after
plans for the R101 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 R101, 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
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.
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
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 R101 was eventually
extended bears witness.
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 R101, 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.
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.
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
R101 alternated the main longitudinals with non-structural "reefing
booms" mounted on kingposts which were adjustable using screw-jacks
in order to tension the covering.
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 R101, 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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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 R101 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.
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 transmitted.
the agreement and funding made for the Imperial Airship Scheme,
it was noted that the original shed was too small for the designed
R101, 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 R101 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 R101
would eventually contain over 30,000 ft of girder work on the
on the rings at Cardington started in December 1927, and rings
4-11 were completed by July 1928,
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.
lengthy process of inflating the R101'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 R101.
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 R101 at the mast by the end of November.
- The First Trial Flights (Flights 1-7)
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.
second flight lasting nine hours 38 minutes followed on 18 October,
with Lord Thomson among the passengers, after which R101 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
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.
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).
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
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.
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 R101 slipped the mast at
10:33 to carry out an endurance trial, planned to last at least
thirty hours. R101 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 R101's
Captain, Carmichael Irwin) before returning to Cardington via
Anglesey and Chester. After some delay in finding Cardington owing
to fog, R101 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.
flight for the MPs had been rescheduled for 23 November. With
the barometric pressure low, R101 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, R101 remained at the mast until 30 November, when
the wind had dropped enough for it to be walked back into the
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 R101 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 R101 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 R101 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 R101 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.
R101 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.
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 R101 was a first of its kind and the R101 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
R101 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 R101 dinner party below
are the authentic menu's of meals and wine enjoyed on
though weight was the biggest issue with airships, crew and
passengers could take up to 30lbs of kit/baggage as an allowance.
On the R101'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
the summer of 1930, the R101 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 R101 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 R101 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)
the morning of 23 June when R101 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.
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 R101 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 R101 made two flights,
the first to take part in the rehearsal for the RAF display
at Hendon and the second to take place in the display itself.
These flights revealed a problem with lift, considerable jettisoning
of ballast being necessary. An inspection of the gasbags revealed
a large number of holes, a result of the letting out of the
gasbags which allowed them to foul projections on the girders
of the framework
To achieve the additional lift, R101 it was agreed that a new
central bay and gas bag installed. The
R101 entered shed 1 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 R101 was gassed up and floated in the shed.
The "new" ship, R101c, 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 R101 in the shed until the morning
of 1st October.
was at 06.30 on the 1st October that the R101 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 R101 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
R101 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 R101
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.
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 evening.
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
At 6.24pm R101 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 R101 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 R101 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 R101 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
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 R101 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
R101 crew did not consider the ship to be heavy as original
Channel crossing took two hours for at 11.36 pm the ship reported
French coast at Pointe de St Quentin. Wind 245 true. 35mph"
11.00pm to 02.00am the crew changed watches, R101 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
R101 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 R101 sent out the following wireless message :
Cardington from R101.
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 R101 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 R101.
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
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
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 R101 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 R101 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 R101
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 R101's ground speed had reduced to almost that
of a perfect landing. The impact of R101 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
the crew and passengers only 8 men were able to escape from
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
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
emergency ballast was in the very nose of the ship. It could
not be released from the control car and had to be jettisoned
The R101 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 this day.
wreck of the R101 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 R101 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.
was a brilliant engineer and worked at the University of Southampton,
and later at the South Hants Hospital where he also helped develop
and build a 'Caesium Unit for the treatment of malignant disease
in the late 1950's.'
Leech died aged 77 in November 1967
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 R101 crash. In WW2 Victor worked as
an AID (Air Inspectorate Division) Inspector at the A V Roe
Company (AVRO) in Lincoln.
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
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
R101 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 R101 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 R101 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.
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.
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