under construction at Cardington. Notice the unusual registration
with a "dot" after the 32.
emerging from Cardington constructional shed 3rd September
view of R.32. on landing field, notice the crew member on
upper gun platform
over Amsterdam - Photo taken from R33
the initial improvements made to the R 31, the R32 even though
constructed with 6 engines, one again was removed and she went
in to service with 5 giving a total of 1,500 hp and a top speed
of 65 mph. No other alterations were made to the ship with the
exception of the stressing of the tail fins following the lessons
learnt with her sisters, R31's first flight. As with the R31,
she was planned to have a 12-pounder semi automatic cannon for
use against U-boats. This would be mounted in a special car 20
feet aft of the control car, along with the ship's other fitments
of anti-aeroplane machine guns. A bomb load was decided as two
520 pound bombs and four 230 pound bombs. Unfortunately the turn
of events with the war ensure that these would never be fitted
to the R32.
As a note regarding the situation of the British airship programme
in the period after the war, it was noted that even though the
war had ceased on the Armistice in November 1918, it was viewed
by the Admiralty that this was not to be regarded as a truce.
It was proposed that the R32 to R40 airship programme be completed
and that thereafter one airship a year be ordered from Armstrong
Whitworths, Beardmores' and Shorts. However continued discussions
over the new year, lead to changes to the original plans. The
realisation of the cost of demobilisation of troops and the cost
of the war was taking it's toll. It was estimated that the cost
to complete the R32 to R40 and R80 would be £2,490,000 (or
£ 61,245,291 today), it was therefore decided that the R35
be postponed but her cost was estimated at £210,000 (£
5,165,265.51 today). It that therefor decreed that the major manufacturers
complete their work on parts by Christmas 1918 and then then all
work to be transferred over to the main constructional facilities.
R32 was commissioned in to the Navy on 3rd September 1919, with
the original plans of being a high speed Naval scout ship. However
with the war over, there was confusion as to what to do with the
R32, and the other airships still in existence. After her first
trail flight on 3rd September 1919 which took the ship around
Bedofrd to salute the town of her construction, she flew on to
Pulham Airship Station in Norfolk on the 6th September. She was
technically decommissioned from the Navy in October 1919 and her
ownership changed to the new Royal Air Force, who took over all
was put in to operation straight away with a proving flight. On
10th September, 7 days after her first flight she was joined by
the R33 in a flight over the Netherlands. The flight was staged
as “Britain’s Power in the Air” campaign. The R 32 with the new
R 33 flew to Amsterdam where the 1919 aircraft exhibition was
being held. After a tour of Amsterdam, Brussels and Antwerp, the
ships flew on to the battlefields of Flanders and then returned
home to Pulham.
It was decided that the R32 should be seconded to the National
Physics laboratory to carry out experimental work as with the
R26. She provided to be a very handy ship to have for testing,
as she had a turning coefficient of 7.5 as compared to the R26's
11.2 and she turned 50% faster.
The testing often involved very tight aerial manoeuvring at different
speeds and angles, and one of the intriguing features of the ships
wooden construction was that it was slightly flexible. Two crewmen
standing at opposite ends of the keel corridor would loose sight
of one another when the ship flexed making a tight turn. These
test occupied some 20 hours and were often haphazardly scheduled
by N.P.L. standards.
After this, in March of 1920 it was agreed that because the American's
had sent over an American crew who were to be responsible for
crewing the R38/ ZRII currently under construction at Cardington,
that the R32 be allowed for training the American crews. The ship
was then flown up to Howden on 20th March 1920. The ship was put
in the hanger for some time whilst the crew got to know her and
general airship operations.
Various training flights were undertaken by the new crew. In April
1920 the US Navy's Howden detachment was officially formed. As
the British by this time were very short of airship manpower,
the Americans were trained in refurbishing the R32 which remained
housed from 20th March 1921 to August 11th. In August she was
taken on various longer training flights, and some down to London.
One flight was for 29 hours.
The R32 was due for deletion in January 1921 but with the accident
eliminating the R34 in that month, the R32 was retained for training
the Americans. In the same month, the R80 became available and
the Americans requested the use of a metal airship
One suggestion of what to do with the ship was put forward by
a passenger, the explorer Sir Hubert Wilkins who had hoped that
at one time to be able to use the R32 for flights over the poles.
However this plan was never fulfilled.
By the end of April 1921 the R32 was no longer needed and economy
forced her deletion. In April she was walked in to the single
shed at Howden. Engine cars removed and outer cover stripped for
the last time. The bare framework exposed the cells supported
by tackles overhead. On the 27th April the framework was tested
to destruction by overpressurisation of cell 18 abaft the control
car. Hydrogen was turned on at a pressure of 20mm of water. At
30 to 30 mm there was a loud cracking noise and the walking way
and several other longitudinals. With the pressure remaining after
10 minutes a rapid succession of breakage's occurreduntil a total
of 24 girder fractures were counted. The ships gas cells were
then deflated and R32 framework was dismantled.
R32 can be seen nearly be seen as the "other" US ship,
a ship who's crew was nearly all American. Out of the total hours
flow of 212 hours and 45 minutes the total recorded time with
US crew was 203 hr 15 min
commander Maxfield and his men learned much by flying the the
R32 the art of loading and trim and balance in the hanger. With
a history which was better than her sister ship, the R31, the
R 32 was well liked by many crew members and the American service
men who had come over to train on her in preparation for taking
over the R38/ZRII. Even though she did not see action for what
she had been created for, she had served a purpose for others.