unique R36 was the first ship to carry civil registration for
an Airship - G-FAAF and was renowned for her destinctive passenger
3 Sunbeam Cossack III (Coatalen) of 350 hp each and 2 Wolseley-Maybach
MbIVa of 260 hp. each.
the German manufactured Maybach MbIVa's were initially secured
from the German L71 (surrendered to Britain as part of war
reparations), they proved unreliable and were replaced with
the Wolseley copies during overhaul after the third flight.
36 nearing completion with the outer cover in place and
registration livery, in the Beardmore Shed, Inchinnan near
staff putting finishing touches to the outside of the control
car. Note the ship crest positioned under the control car
were employed in the assembly of car components, varnishing,
as well as gas cell and outer cover fabrication. Here they
inspect one of the three Sunbeam engine cars. Notice the
cooling radiator emerging from the top of the car. This
could be raised and lowered in to the airstream to assist
cooling of the engine.
unique passenger comaprtment of the R.36
passengercompartment, laid out for lunch and tables for
two beside the downward slanting windows.
compartment showing the night time layout with bunks in
a Pullman sytle. Each bedroom could be cordon'ed off with
the thick curtains.
crew members observing from
a window, showing the day
configuration of the passenger
36 Riding on the Pulham Mast
36 on the ground at Pulham
up from below of the control car, showing the guide rails
and bump bag, and the passenger accommodation windows in
an inverted "T" shape behind
36 directly above showing the shape and outline of the passenger
photo taken from the port forward engine car facing backwards,
showing the control car and the port midship engine car.
You can see the cooling radiator raised in to the airflow,
out of the engine car.
36 on the Pulham mast. Notice the small open hatch on the
nose of the ship, to allow access to crew and passengers.
With the cessation of hostilities
and the sudden flurry of airship production in the late part of
the war, it was obvious that major decisions regarding peacetime
airship applications had to be made. R36 was among the last of
the rigids to be completed in the early 1920s. Given the British
government's policy to discontinue naval airship operations, several
alterations were made during final assembly to convert her to
a commercial vessel. Although conceived for naval purposes, she
flew as the world's first commercially registered rigid airship
Design work on R36 had started
in February 1917 when she was still a part of the R33 class, but
these plans were altered in November of 1917 in light of intelligence
gathered from the wreckage of L48 (shot down near Theberton, Suffolk
on June 17th, 1917) (1). Although extensive
destruction limited what the British could learn from L48, they
were still able to glean some of the newer methods the Germans
were employing to lighten their airships (2).
The strategies actually had little to do with the lightening of
girder member specifications. In fact, on R36 lightened scantlings
were restricted to the bow forward of Frame 2, and even some of
these girders were later reinforced to accommodate bow mooring.
The marked improvement in
the lift of R36 over R33 was due to the collective use of many
other strategies. Structural weight reduction was mostly attained
through use of lighter engine cars, a lighter control car, and
more efficient suspension. The wing car supports and their heavy
interconnecting transverse corridor as had existed in the L33
were eliminated. Were it not for the much lighter wing cars and
associated suspension traced in L48 and later inspected by the
French in L49, the heavier layout from L33 would have been retained
in R33 through R37(3). Although the British
wished to adopt further weight reduction methods discerned from
L49, the progress of design and construction of R33 through R37
had advanced to the point that it meant further employment of
lighter scantlings had to be reserved for R38. Further amendment
to R33 through R37 could only occur if such changes would not
significantly delay their completion. This made more sense than
scrapping everything to start anew(4).
Contrary to current popular
belief, the evidence proves that girder member specifications
for R36 were not lightened as compared to girder member specifications
of R33. Girder compression testing was conducted on girder members
from both airships and the results were comparable, revealing
a generous safety factors of 2.25 for main frames. Gas cell inflation/deflation
stress tests were also conducted upon the R36 and R37 and both
provided satisfactory results deemed suitable for commercial standards,
unlike the later R38 which was built to a very different design
(5). The reduction of weight with the outer
cover, the use of fewer gas cell wires and the insertion of an
extra gas cell bay all helped secure much of the additional ten
tons of lift over R33 with little consideration being given to
the manufacture of lighter girder members.(6)
The Airship Design Department
decided to lengthen the R36 by ten metres (33 feet), but this
decision did not occur until Sept. 14th, 1918, when 87% of all
girders and gas cells had already been prefabricated along with
45% of the main frames and 38% of intermediate frames. This change
came fifteen months after L48 was shot down and ten months after
L49 was forced down, indicative that the decision to lengthen
R36 and install an additional bay had nothing to do with L48 or
The main post-war changes
to facilitate commercial conversion involved placing the lighter
control car further back near the new passenger car, which straddled
the centre of gravity. The control car, unlike the passenger car,
was not attached directly to the hull. It was suspended by 12
external suspension cables and one short, single spacer strut.
The strut could not be observed from the exterior due to the enclosing
and streamlining fabric fairing. This fairing only gave the impression
that the control car was directly attached to the hull. The distance
between the control car and the hull was minimal in comparison
with R33, but still tangible and can be noted if one looks carefully
at the widely published plans of the airship(8).
The floor level of the control car was also a fair bit lower than
that of the passenger car.
Although the passenger car
was faired in with the control car, it was still separated from
the radio room by a double bulkhead and a small gap. It was thus
not possible to directly walk between the two. One had to go up
a ladder into the hull from the control car and then down the
staircase into the passenger area, to walk between the two.
R36 was able to carry 50 passengers
in Pullman style accommodation. The only contemporary ships which
had been designed with passenger accommodation were the LZ120
Bodensee and the LZ121 Nordstern, which when completed in 1919
carried 20 passengers each. The project to convert R36 was thus
Entry to the passenger accommodation
was via the nose of the ship, as bow mooring gear had been added
to the ship during construction. The passengers would ascend the
mast, enter the airship through a bow hatch, walk down a covered
gangway along the keel and then to the staircase which would lead
them down to their cabins behind the control car. An alternative
doorway entrance direct into the passenger car was situated opposite
of the galley and could be utilized by passengers if loading was
occurring inside the shed. This door opened into a small reception
area between the forward and aft passenger saloons(9).
The car was 131 feet long,
7 feet 6 inches in height from floor to ceiling, and 8 feet 6
inches wide from port to starboard at the floor level. (10)The
exterior fairings encompassing the entire perimeter of both the
control and passenger cars were designed to reduce air resistance.
This fairing, along with the entire envelope of the hull, were
well-manufactured, taut, and found to be a considerable improvement
over previous rigid airship envelopes in Britain.(11)
The linear method of envelope attachment to the hull was a first
for Britain, greatly reducing parasitic drag.
Passenger accommodations included
25 double cabins arranged along the sides. Each cabin measured
8 feet in length and about 3.8 feet in width. This small fit of
about 30 square feet of floor space for two passengers was not
so tiny as it might first sound. The car sloped outwards and upwards
so that at the bunk level the cabin was about 8 feet wide. A very
efficient folding system for the beds and table resulted in a
cozy arrangement. Space could be augmented by drawing back the
curtain walls on flights with less than a full passenger compliment
or to socialize with neighbouring passengers. The cabins were
set up in daytime with two wicker chairs and a dining/writing
table that could be folded up revealing a mirror attached to the
underside. At night, two bunks were released on hinges from the
outer wall and let down to provide for sleeping, with curtains
screening off the cabins. Each cabin had its own electric light
and windows affording an excellent view. It was noted that the
wicker chairs, carpet and general finishing of the cabin were
made of lush blue damask, with fixtures and fittings of nickel.
A galley situated at the mid point of the car allowed for preparation
of hot meals. There were two sets of lavatories and wash rooms.
The ladies' room was situated forward, behind the staircase, and
the gentlemen's room was located mid-car, next to the kitchen.
The storeroom for luggage was situated at the aft end of the car.
The crew nominally consisted
of four officers and 24 men. The intended Captain of R36 was Flt.
Lt. Victor Goddard, but he was seriously hurt in a car accident
and would only be well enough to participate in a few flights
by June. Although Flt. Lt. Archibald Wann was the Officer in Charge
of Trials for R36, his Air Ministry commitments placed him in
other important roles. As a result, Goddard's friend, Flt. Lt.
Carmichael Irwin, was to be trained to become the captain. He
was recently transferred from North Sea non-rigid airship duties
but had never commanded a rigid airship before, having only had
one previous flight on R29 as an observer, hence the training
requirement. Others who were in command of R36 included Major
G. H. Scott and Cpt E. L. Johnston. The Chief Steward was A. H.
Savidge who later served in the same role upon R100 and R101.
The crew accommodation was situated above the passenger car in
the main keel.
R36 was equipped with five
engines, three of which were Sunbeam Cossack III 12-cylinder Vee
water-cooled of 350 hp each, and two smaller Maybach MbIVa 260
hp. air-cooled engines which were removed from the L71. These
Maybach's ultimately proved unserviceable and were replaced during
overhaul after the third flight by virtually identical but new
Wolseley Maybach engines manufactured in Wolverhampton.(12)
The engine layout was somewhat similar to that of the later R101,
in this case with the two Maybach's situated in small cars forward,
two Sunbeam's in larger cars outboard amidships, and one Sunbeam
in a large car suspended centre line, aft.
R36 was launched at 3:00 pm
on April 1st, 1921, the third birthday of the RAF, from the Beardmore
works at Inchinnan near Glasgow. Flt. Lt. Wann flew R36 in a number
of circuits over Glasgow, Renfrew, and Paisley before returning
to the base about two hours later. She was secured back in the
shed by 6:45 pm.
On April 2nd, Wann was in
command for the delivery flight to Pulham, during which the ship
and her engines were tested, with the exception of the port Maybach
which refused to start. (13)The crew started
to get the feel of the ship, which would take a few more flights
as the controls were "worked in". She left Inchinnan
at 7:40 pm on a cool evening in overcast conditions. The ship
flew over the Forth Bridge, rounded St. Abbs Head, continued over
Berwick, then turned south, flying over Howden before continuing
towards Pulham. Arriving at 8:00 am the next morning, April 3rd,
the testing continued until late morning, in part due to the airfield
being shrouded in a stubborn and heavy fog. The flight lasted
12 hours 35 minutes covering about 412 miles.(14)
Two days later, on April 5th,
R36 made a demonstration flight with representatives from the
Air Ministry and National Physical Laboratory (NPL) staff on board.
Contrary to some more recent accounts, there were no journalists
invited or present on board this flight. She left Pulham at 07:25
am bound for the West Country and the south coast of Ireland with
a return intended via Liverpool. The invited NPL staff had received
very little notification of the flight, so were unable to outfit
the ship for the testing that they would have otherwise performed.
Still, they agreed to participate because there remained some
tests and observations they could nevertheless make. Flt. Lt.
Wann was in command with Major Scott on board; Captain Irwin is
not believed to have flown on this flight, his first confirmed
presence on R36 being on the fourth flight in June.
R36 crossed central London
heading southwest before turning northwest for Chorleywood. All
rudder turning tests that NPL staff wished to conduct were performed
during a 48-minute period ending before 10:00 a.m. and were restricted
to 5 degrees rudder. When 7 degrees was inadvertently reached,
Lt. Elmhirst raised his concerns and the rudder coxswain made
the necessary adjustments. The NPL staff noted that the new airship
was still getting her controls worked in and that the coxswains
were still gaining the "feel" of the airship. All remaining
tests were completed to satisfaction by 10:00 a.m. and no further
turning trials occurred during this flight.(15)
The air became turbulent over Chorleywood and remained so for
the next few hours.
Continuing on a course for
Bath, the next set of tests called for extended speed trials for
over one hour using various combinations of engines, which was
a normal part of the testing regimen for any new airship. Captain
Wann and Major Scott had no concerns and it was time to join Air
Ministry officials for lunch and promote the commercial use of
airships. Contrary to recent popular belief, Scott never ordered
a rapid 130-degree turn at full speed (he was not even present
in the control car at the time this hypothesized manoeuvre was
claimed to have occurred), nor did any other officer on board
order such a manoeuvre. The orders left before Wann and Scott
left the control car was for Flt. Lt. Scrogg and Flt. Lt. Elmhirst
to keep the ship on a straight course to ensure they could discern
the maximum speed figure. Any turn would have been counter productive
to speed tests. Although turbulence continued, there was nothing
unusual and the weather continued to be considered acceptable
for the trials. As turbulence increased the conditions became
less ideal for speed tests, but had not reached a point where
cancellation was warranted.(16)
Over the village of Calne
at an altitude of 3,000 feet at approximately 12:20, the coxswains
reported to Flt. Lt. Elmhirst that they had lost control of the
vessel. The upper and starboard stabilizers and their respective
control surfaces had been seriously damaged. This was due to three
design factors that will be detailed below; the flight officers
and crew were in no way culpable.
R36 was flying at somewhere
between 63 and 65 mph in rough air when this failure occurred.
She began to dive at a 45-degree angle, losing 1,800 feet of altitude
in 45 seconds. Elmhirst ordered the engineers to disengage propellers
and ease down all engines (not stop them, which would have caused
serious damage to them) and he immediately discharged emergency
ballast from the bow. In the rear passenger saloon Major Scott
grabbed hold of the hallway columns to prevent falling as he rushed
and swung himself forward, "looking like Tarzan of the Apes."(17)
On arriving in the control car he ordered Elmhirst to go to the
passenger saloon to calm worried Air Ministry officials and standby
to receive orders to distribute the crew throughout the ship to
regain balance. F/Sgt. S. J. Heath and F/Sgt. W. R. Mayes volunteered
to inspect and repair the damage to the upper rudder and starboard
elevator. For their daring work, Mayes was awarded a bar to the
Air Force Medal (AFM), which he was previously awarded for his
role as Coxswain on board the transatlantic flight of R34. Heath
was awarded the AFM. The airship had now risen to about 4,000
feet after recovering from the dive and was flown slowly in large
circles due to the jammed rudder forcing a steady turn to port.
The damage was assessed and in-flight repairs commenced.
Once the makeshift repairs
were completed a new was course set for Pulham.
It was this new course setting for home, made after the accident
and after repairs were completed, that was subsequently misinterpreted
from the flight log by some historians as being an indication
of a 130-degree turn. This inferred "turn" was assumed
to have triggered the stabilizer and control surface failures,
but such a turn never occurred. Turning trials and
speed trials are not consistent activities, and R36 had still
not yet attained the maximum speed she was believed to be capable
of.(18) Moreover, NPL reports classified
at the time would have included all details any such hypothesized
turn, had it occurred. The report reveals nothing of the sort,
nor did the Court of Inquiry, both documents confirming that all
turning trials were concluded earlier that morning.(19)
Scott, being the most experienced
officer on board, took charge as was normal in an emergency situation.
He ordered her flown at low speed, altering the engine speeds
to give a degree of directional control to compensate for the
loss of use of one rudder and one elevator. R36 was skillfully
landed at Pulham at 9.15 pm. R33 had already departed on a four-hour
flight in the vicinity of Pulham in order to make room in one
of the sheds for the damaged R36, which was hangared without issue.
R33 moored to the Pulham mast around midnight.(20)
The Court of Inquiry provided
further understanding as to why there had been failure of one
elevator and one rudder along with serious damage to two of the
stabilizers. One significant factor occurred due to standard load
testing of the cantilevered stabilizers conducted during final
pre-flight tests in the Inchinnan shed. This had resulted in undetected
shearing of several rivets in the upper and starboard stabilizer
attachments. In addition, a weak joint of faulty design did not
help.(21) But as noted the more fundamental
cause was that there was an insufficient safety factor allotted
for the overall design of the stabilizers for speeds over 60 mph.
In this scenario, air pressure on the stabilizer surfaces will
increase at the square of the speed.(22)
The designer, Charles I. R. Campbell, was not solely responsible
for this oversight because comparable stabilizer failures had
also occurred with Barnes Wallis' R80, in addition to the Short
Brother's R31. British designers in general were just on the cusp
of realizing their design shortcoming when the accident to R36
occurred. In consequence, the stabilizers on R36 were repaired
and strengthened to meet the new safety factor requirements immediately
after this flight. The control surfaces and stabilizers gave no
further trouble thereafter.
The stabilizer issue was in
no way indicative of any deficiency in the R36 hull structure,
and this incident had no origin within the hull design or hull
strength. Moreover, R36 never experienced any structural issue
with her hull during her career, and the rapid dive of 1,800 feet
in 45 seconds was certainly a rigorous test of her strength and
car suspension systems. By comparison, the bow of the German naval
Zeppelin L49 failed during an intentional test dive, requiring
a major repair as a result.(23)
R36 left her shed on the evening
of June 8th, having been fuelled and provisioned for the next
two flights. The first brief test lasted 2 hours 15 minutes, and
was primarily to test modifications to her mooring cone and have
her ready for another flight early the next morning. R36 was secured
back on the mast at 8:15 pm. She then punctually undertook a flight
of 11 hours on June 9th via Nottingham and Manchester to Liverpool
before returning to Pulham, being made fast to the mast at 8:30
With the government imposing
financial cutbacks during a post-war recession, the role of airships
was under scrutiny. The Air Ministry hoped to attract a private,
commercial purchaser to take over all former naval airships but
failed to do so. They continued to operate R36 on a rigorous basis
and planned a demonstration flight to Egypt, still hoping to attract
investors or perhaps operate a service themselves as a last resort.
The commercial conversion of R36 resulted in the loss of about
half of her useful lift from the naval configuration. She was
therefore only capable of conducting such a flight to Egypt with
a much-reduced payload and an intermediate stop. However, the
French were amenable to allowing her to use their facilities at
Cuers-Pierrefeu.(24) This made the proposition
tenable, although R36 would not have been capable of carrying
a full complement of 50 passengers on such a long flight nor making
a profit on such a service (although this had yet to be fully
comprehended by several government officials). To have been commercially
successful on this run, it would have been necessary to permanently
reduce the passenger complement down to about 20, along with removing
one half of the overweight passenger car and then repositioning
it. This was technically feasible, but there is no evidence that
it was considered and, given the budgetary constraints, to have
done so could have signalled defeat. It was ultimately deemed
better to conduct short and medium length demonstrations largely
(but not exclusively) within British territory.
On June 10th R36 was loaded
for a longer flight during which all navigation and wireless equipment
went through successful testing and acceptance.(25)
At 10:00 pm the ship slipped the mast and made her way via London
for Southampton and by 4:00 am she passed over Portsmouth. This
was an impressive speed given that today the same journey by rail
takes nearly five hours. The ship climbed to 3,500 feet, headed
out over The Solent and set a course to the Channel Islands. The
passengers could see the coast of France and had a spectacular
view of the islands whilst enjoying the comfortable accommodation.
Sark was seen two miles to starboard before the ship passed over
St. Helier. R36 then left British territory, flying over Paimpol,
France before a course was set for Ushant on Isle of Ouessant.
She then turned north, leaving France and returning to England
at The Lizard, Cornwall. Continuing over Devon, advantage was
taken of a following wind as she passed near Swindon, Oxford and
Aylesbury. She then flew over the Home Counties and approached
Pulham around 1:00 am. R36 was secured to the mast as the sun
was about to rise around 4:00 am on June 12th. She completed the
voyage with ease over mixed land and sea air conditions, for a
duration of 29 hours and 54 minutes, of which 446 was over land
and 288 miles over sea, for a total of 734 miles.
approval "press pass"
"Airship Mail"inflight newspaper
Yoxall - circled
London Metropolitan Police requested the use of R36 to conduct
aerial traffic surveillance during the Ascot Races after having
made similar use of R33 during the Epsom Derby. This original
"eye in the sky" was used to signal officers on the
ground to highlight where traffic congestion was occurring. Two
days after the Channel Islands flight concluded, R36 slipped from
her mast at 7:31 am on June 14th with a passenger compliment of
police officers and journalists. The ship flew southwest towards
Wembley and Ealing before turning towards Windsor Great Park.
At 9:45 she was in position and watching the main roads of Staines
and Windsor, police officers on board sending reports to traffic
constables on the ground. Summer lunch consisting of ham and salad
with beer, fruit salad, biscuits and cheese was served by Steward
A. H. Savidge as the ship cruised in large circles over the countryside
surrounding the race course. At 2:00 pm the ship overflew the
Croydon airfield where the journalists dropped their reports by
parachute to be sent by motorcycle courier to the newspaper offices
in Fleet Street, London.
Among the journalists on board
was Mr. John Yoxhall, who was a photographer working for Flight
magazine. During the flight, one of the journalists produced what
could only be described as the world's first "inflight magazine".
The "Airship Mail" included articles of news which were
transmitted to the ship by wireless from the local press offices.
His copy of the "onboard newspaper" was donated to the
AHT, along with his flight ticket and instructions for the day.
It was met with some disappointment because of the news in "Airship
Mail" that England had just lost a key cricket match at Lords.
As with great British traditions,
afternoon tea was served at 4:00 pm with the food and beverages
on offer being comparable to those of lunch. The ship returned
to traffic reporting duty in the late afternoon as traffic built
up after the races. Flt/Lt Victor Goddard was on board, having
returned to duty (but not as Captain) and noted that the police
officers on were not proactive with their observations and did
not seem to have implemented any kind of methodology for the aerial
surveillance. Goddard, skilled in aerial reconnaissance, observed
early signs of traffic congestion developing, yet the officers
would fail to communicate such occurrences until after it was
too late to prevent a traffic jam. It was apparent to him the
police had been provided with little to no aerial observation
training. This did not prevent some from trying to blame the airship
platform itself as somehow being deficient for the mission, when
the deficiency was clearly in their inadequate training.(27)
The airship turned for home,
crossing North Hertfordshire and Knebworth House en-route to Pulham.
R36 was moored at 10:00 pm that day. A round aerial cruise of
some 556 miles for 14 and a half hours had been completed, carrying
60 passengers and crew. Mr. Yoxhall congratulated Major Scott
on his efficient mooring of the airship in turbulent conditions.(28)
Trials continued and on June
17th the ship was readied for another demonstration, this time
for Members of Parliament. This was a shorter, summer afternoon
flight of three hours around the Norfolk coast and countryside.
Forty MPs were greatly impressed with their experience and this
flight no doubt factored positively towards the ultimate decision
by Parliament to approve the Imperial Airship Program of 1924.
On June 21st the ship slipped
the mast at 8:00 a.m. to conduct a flight for the Director of
Research. Flying north from the station, she continued up the
coast as far as Scarborough. There she turned inland and headed
for York, returning via Howden and Cranwell, the latter being
reached at 5:45 pm. R36 then headed towards Norwich and home.
Upon arrival, it has been
claimed by some historians that when coming in to moor Major Scott
took over from Lt. Irwin, tried to do the mooring himself, and
made a mess of things.(29) Yet there is
no evidence that any intervention took place and Irwin states
nothing of the sort in his own report on the accident. Major Scott's
report states that Irwin was conducting the landing under his
supervision, which is not the same thing as "taking over".
This makes sense because Irwin was the most junior officer with
the fewest flying hours and the least rigid airship experience
of any of the officers on board, thus Major Scott would naturally
have watched him closely. If any intervention did in fact occur
(and there is no evidence of such), Scott would have been within
his authority to do so.
Three attempts were made to
moor in completely becalmed conditions. With no wind whatsoever
and a temperature inversion at 1,000 feet, R36 had become statically
unstable. In order to maintain rudder control, some speed was
essential in the absence of a steady headwind. But the first approach
was deemed too fast for safety so it was aborted. On the second
attempt, an engineer in a midship engine car had started to ease
down his engine at the very moment an order came through for full
power astern. With inadequate reverse thrust, this attempt also
had to be aborted. On the third try, everything went normal, and
the main mooring wire was hooked up at 9:15 pm.
Unfortunately, this line looped
around the yaw line tractor winch, which had been set outside
of the pyramid of the support guy wires of the mooring tower.
This yaw winch was not at the base of the mast as some believe
(but the main winch was). The placement outside the mooring tower
pyramid was unusual and dangerous but necessary because the cheap
and deficient tractor winch, which Major Scott had complained
about vigorously several times (and was ignored), lacked enough
storage capacity for the normal yaw line length.
Having fouled the yaw winch
tractor, the main mooring wire partially overturned it.(30)
This fouling also had the effect of reducing the amount of space
R36 had on the free main wire for astern engines to take full
effect by a full 50%. In sum, had government parsimony not been
allowed to interfere and had a proper winch been supplied, this
accident would never have occurred. The main winch also had deficiencies,
upon which Scott reported:
present ploughing tractor which is used for hauling in the wire,
has no brake fitted to the drum; it is therefore necessary to
secure the rope with a carpenter's stopper which has no give.
If the winch is fitted with a brake the wind can be allowed to
overhaul and then taken gradually by the slow application of the
brake; with the present unsuitable type of winch, there is always
a danger of a similar accident occurring. This necessity for a
brake on the winch was pointed out several times in the mooring
report; I also mentioned it strongly when it was proposed to use
a similar winch at Croydon.(31)
Scott's credibility on this
point was reinforced by the American Naval Attaché present,
Emory Land, who was highly critical of the crude "home-built"
The fouling of the main wire
resulted in a jerk that triggered the forward emergency ballast
bags to discharge their contents. The bow pitched up, but because
the main winch lacked any kind of reversing gear, the rise of
R36 could not be arrested until the main wire snapped taut. The
strain on this wire caused the bow to crumple, but the attachment
held. The ship was soon eased down into the hands of the ground
crew as the damage was assessed from both inside and outside the
All berths in the two Pulham
sheds were occupied by R33, L71 and L64. These airships were undergoing
overhaul and had their gas cells deflated.(33)
Scott ruled out any attempt to fly to Howden with the bow in such
condition, deeming it too risky with deteriorating weather forecast.
(In a comparable situation, Lt. Gayer was ordered to fly L49 with
a collapsed bow from Ahlhorn to Wildeshausen in perfectly calm
weather, and he considered himself very fortunate to have gotten
his ship safely there).(34) After some discussion,
it was decided that L64 should be scrapped and removed from its
shed, given that it was the oldest rigid and in the worst condition
of all four rigids present, even when considering the damaged
bow of R36 (all L64 gas cells required replacement as they were
too brittle to withstand another inflation). It was decided to
drag her out of the shed by steam tractor. After her engines were
removed, she was dropped to the hangar floor, but the dragging
attempt failed. All available hands were then called upon to break
her up with saws, axes and any other suitable equipment available.
As her remains were deposited outside the shed, space was slowly
cleared to receive the damaged R36.
Meanwhile winds were increasing
and volunteers had to be sought from the surrounding communities
to supplement the ground crew to keep R36 under control. She was
moved behind a wind screen and this worked for a time, but the
situation grew increasingly desperate and one ground crew member
was injured and had to be hospitalized. By 2:00 am about one third
of the hangar space had been cleared. It was decided that R36
should be brought in so that the forward handling lines could
be firmly attached to mooring rings inside the shed. This would
release several groundcrew to assist in holding the mid and rear
sections of the airship. Although this might have worked in theory,
there were two problems. First, the ill-conceived wind screens
created worse eddies at the shed entrance than if no wind screens
had of been built. Second, Major Scott and Major Pritchard had
both already complained that the attachment points on R36 for
the main handling lines were of insufficient strength and insisted
upon their replacement after the second flight. But once again
the parsimonious government refused to fund this, along with other
required improvements, such as the more state of the art mooring
equipment already noted.
Despite the bow having been
secured in the shed, and with wind gusts only increasing in strength,
it was just a matter of time before two of the main handling line
attachment points in the hull failed. R36 was yanked away from
her ground crew in a strong gust and her port side slammed against
the shed doors, but control was regained. Eventually the debris
of the dismantled L64 was cleared and R36 was fully housed by
7:00 am. Upon viewing the damage after disembarking the airship
in the shed, Captain Irwin burst into tears and was consoled by
The Court of Inquiry ultimately
blamed the accident upon a chain of eight different events, all
of which were related to substandard equipment and consequences
arising therefrom. They did not find any crew culpable. Specifically,
the substandard main winch was highlighted because it had no reversing
capabilities. The yaw winch would never have been placed outside
the boundary of the mooring guy-wire pyramid if it had of had
greater wire storage capacity.(35) Given
the sharp rebuke levelled at Captain Wann and Brigadier-General
Maitland by a similar Court of Inquiry as regards to the loss
of the earlier R34 (and Maitland was not even on board that ship
when it was lost), if any R36 crew had been in anyway culpable,
they would have been censured. The Court did no such thing.
With R36 back in her shed
and the shutting down of the airship service, no repairs were
authorized. Yet there was also no willingness by the government
to authorize scrapping her. Hope still remained that a private
operator could be found, at which point some government assistance
might have been reconsidered to help with repairs. Several suggestions
were made including offering R36 as a replacement for the US Navy
after the destruction of R38, as well as the possibility of using
her for an Arctic research expedition. Neither proposal came to
With the Imperial Airship
Program of 1924, the refurbishment of the R33 and R36 was authorized
to provide testbeds for the scheme. The goal was for R36 to carry
out a flight to Egypt to gather meteorological and other operational
data. All gas cells and much of the outer cover were removed and
at least some of the replacement cells were manufactured by Royal
Airship Works at Cardington. However, although it is widely believed
refurbishment of R36 was finished in August 1925, this was not
the case. After the R33 mast breakaway incident, the first intent
was to abandon R33 and put all emphasis upon completing refurbishment
of R36. However, as work proceeded and more detailed inspections
ensued, it became evident that an unexpectedly large number of
new girders would be required for the R36 hull, not just to replace
those already known to be damaged, but to replace some showing
signs of corrosion and weakness due to improper heat treatment
during manufacture. In addition, corrosion had advanced due to
the three years of maintenance neglect. Parts of the passenger
car were also badly corroded.(36) Plans
to refurbish R36 were quietly abandoned (although this did not
escape parliamentary notice) and the bow of R33 was repaired to
allow testing with her to continue. The actual scrapping of R36
does not appear to have transpired until after June of 1926.
It is of interest to note
that there is a set of plans for the R101 at the National Archives
showing a concept drawing of the ship with a very similar engine
configuration and a totally external passenger car, very much
of the same shape and style as that of the R36. This of course
later evolved in to the R101 design as well known today.
Even though R36 was initially
built to be a naval airship, her conversion into a civilian vessel
proved she could carry out flights in the comfort comparable to
later, larger commercial airships. She was ground-breaking and
in 1921 had a passenger complement larger than the roughly contemporary
Bodensee, Nordstern and the later Los Angeles and Graf Zeppelin.
She could also carry more passengers than the later Los Angeles
and Graf Zeppelin, albeit not for the same distances. She would
not be surpassed in passenger comfort until the advent of the
R100 and R101. Her unique lines and layout gave her a sleek style
all her own among commercial airships.
thanks to AHT Member, Kent O'Grady for sharing his extensive research
of over 7 years on the R 36's activities and log, for the deatils
on this page.
 Higham, Robin. The
British Rigid Airship: 1908-1931: A Study in Weapons Policy. (London:
G.T. Foulis & Co. Ltd. 1961), 170.
 AIR 2/169, p. 5. (2679997).
National Archives of Great Britain (formerly Public Records Office).
 Ibid., p. 5.
 Higham, 170, 343.
 Lewitt, E. H. The Rigid
Airship: A Treatise on the Design and Performance. (London: Sir
Isaac Pitman & Sons Ltd. 1925, pp. 196, 198.
 OGrady, Kent.
Britains First Commercial Airship: An Historical and Technical
Analysis of HMA R36. (Saskatoon, Canada. Publication to be released
in 2021), 20.
 R36 Construction Reporting
and Flight List. Imperial War Museum.
 Engineering, Apr. 15,
1921. p. 454. Figure 27. The control car suspension wires are
only partially shown in these plans but are very apparent in the
Tom Keyes R36 photo collection, available for viewing on this
 Engineering, Apr. 15,
1921. p. 454.
 Ibid., 455.
 Wann, A. H. Captain.
Flight Trials of R.36 G-FAAF. Captains Report. 08
April 1921, 4.
Pulham Reports. See
also: Pritchard, E.M. 1st and 2nd Trial Flights of H.M.A. R.36.
1st & 2nd/3rd April 1921. Officer-in-charge, Airship Flying
Trials Report, 2, 9. See also: Upson, Ralph. The British
Passenger Airship G-FAAF in Aviation. May 16, 1921, p. 633-634.
 Trial Flight of H.M.A.
R.36. 2nd-3rd April, 1921 from Inchinnan To Pulham: Machinery
Report. 3pp. (Author not indicated; attached to Capt. Wanns
 AIR 3/58. G-FAAF Fair
Log. Rigid Airship Log. Flying Log. H.M.A. R.36. 2-3.4.21. Clocks
on board used GMT. Britain shifted to BST during the night of
this flight, causing some confusion for researchers.
 DSIR 23/8849. R-36
Rigid Airship G-FAAF: Preliminary Experiments, pp. 2, 3, 5, and
Ae. Tech. 93, Fig. 1. (NPL Report) National Archives of Great
Turpin, Brian, recounting
his interview with Sir Thomas Elmhirst. Also, no further turning
or rudder trials were conducted on this flight as confirmed in
DSIR 23/1615. Report of the Accidents Sub-Committee on the accident
to HMA R.36 on April 5th, 1921. Aeronautical Research Committee
and Bateman, H. & Pannell, J. R. Preliminary Experiments on
Rigid Airship R.36 (G-FAAF), Aerodynamics Sub-Committee, Aeronautical
Research Committee. National Archives file: DSIR 23/8849.
 Frazer quoted in:
Alfred G. Pugsley Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal
Society. Vol. 7 (Nov., 1961), pp. 75-84.
 DSIR 23/8849. R-36
Rigid Airship G-FAAF: Preliminary Experiments, pp. 2, 3, 5, and
Ae. Tech. 93, Fig. 1. (NPL Report) National Archives of Great
Britain. Retired commercial airline pilot and RAF Bomber Command
engineer Brian Turpin, also an airship historian, has vetted AIR
3/58, G-FAAF Fair Log. Rigid Airship Log. Flying Log. H.M.A. R.36
and found the interpretation of a 130 turn having been conducted
and triggering the fin failure to be in error.
 Turpin, Brian noting
R33 Log; also, Weekly Report No. 16. Pulham 2nd April 1921 to
9th April 1921.
 OGorman, Mervyn.
Report of the Accidents Sub-Committee on the accident to H.M.A.
R.36 on April 5th, 1921. Aeronautical Research Committee, June
1921. National Archives of Britain and Ireland. DSIR 23/1615.
 Lewitt, E. H. states:
It is the British practice to design fins to withstand a uniformly
distributed load of 2 lb. per square ft. and to use a factor of
safety of 2 ½ to 3; but [with] R31, R36 and R80, the
fins failed during their trial flights... [due to] these failures
the factors of safety in the girders should be at least 3½
when assuming the above loading Also, the loading of 2 lb
per sq. ft. is only suitable for a speed of 60 mph, it should
be increased in proportion to the square of the velocity for ships
having a greater maximum speed.
 Strahlmann, Fritz.Memories
of Ahlhorn: Recollections of a German Naval Airship Base in World
War One. Trans. by Alastair Reid. (Lulu Press, 2016), 163-165.
In this case the L49 proved to have inadequate ventilation ports
to compensate for the relatively rapid air pressure changes, causing
the immediate damage to her bow framework. Her frame was also
less resilient than that of the earlier L33, upon which the framework
of R33 and R36 were based.
 Higham, 198.
 Johnston, E. A. OBE.
Airship Navigator. (Stroud: Skyline Publishing. 1994), 47.
 Goddard, Robert Victor
Sir (Oral history). 3189. Royal Air Force, Airship R36. iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80003175
 Yoxall, John. Long
Look Back: RFC and RAF Experiences, 1913-1962 in Flight
International. 17 May 1962. P. 777.
 Walmsley, Nick. R.36-Harbinger
of the 1924 Airship Programme in Dirigible Vol. XI, Nr.
1, p.7. This myth appears to have originated with Sir Peter Masefield,
who also erroneously believed Cpt. Irwin had a crew serving under
him on HMA R29.
 Walmsley, 7. See also:
Robinson, Douglas H. Dr. Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid
Airships. (Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1973), 179.
 Pritchard, 9 and Scott,
 Pritchard, E.M. 1st
& 2nd Trial Flights of H.M.A. R.36, 5; (Subsection B): Specific
Defects. 12 pp.
 Pulham Weekly Report
Nr. 19, April 23rd to April 30th, 1921.
 Strahlmann, 163-165.
 DSIR 23/9569. Draft
Report on Accident to H.M. Airship R.36 while mooring at the mast
on 21st June, 1921. Accident Investigation Sub-Committee: Aeronautical
 AIR 11-10 R.36 Inspection
and Reconditioning. Within this file is a letter from R.S. Hubbard
to Major Scott, April 25th, 1925. See also: AIR 10-1204 Progress
Report for the Quarter Ending 30 September 1925. (London: Director
of Scientific Research), 10.
 AIR 11/184. Pulham
Weekly Report Nr. 18, 16 23 April 1921. See also: Upson,
Ralph. The British Passenger Airship G-FAAF in Aviation.
May 16, 1921, p. 633-634.
 Turpin, Brian. His
Majestys Rigid Airships HMA R31 & R32 in Cross
and Cockade International Journal. Vol. 37, Nr. 2, p. 82.