Airship R101

Airship R101 was a newly-built British airship that crashed on October 5, 1930 in France with 48 casualties.

Creation of R101 was a result of a competition between private company of Vickers and British government Air Ministry. Vickers was to produce airship R100 and Air ministry the R101. One of the engineers working for Vickers was Nevil Shute Norway, a future author who later wrote about the case.

Building of R101 begun on 1926 in Royal Airship Works in Gardington, England. Due to failed attempt to create hydrogen-using engines and other new design concepts, the projectís end was delayed from 1927 to 1929. It was meant to have useful lift of 60 tons but ended up having only 35. It had two decks and a dining room for 60 and it was fitted with heavy diesel engines. Gas bag valves might have also been defective, which lead to the continual decrease of lift in flight.

Stability of R101 was in doubt. In its flight in the Hendon air show in 1930 it almost plunged to the ground and kept trying to dive during the return flight. Gas bags also developed numerous leaks. Despite of this, it was given Permit to Fly. Engineers added another gas back, reversing propellers and replaced the outer cover. After that shipís volume totaled to 5.5 million cubic feet (about 1.7 million cubic meters) and it was 777 feet (237 meters) long.

Air Ministry pressured the engineers to finish the project. Last trial flight of R101 was originally scheduled on September 26, 1930 but unfavorable wind delayed it to October 1. It returned to Gardington after 17 hoursí flight.

R101 departed on October 4 at 6:24 PM towards its intended destination in India under command of flight lieutenant Carmichael Irvin. Passengers included Lord Christopher Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, and Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation. It had to drop 5 tons of water ballast to lift off.

Over France R101 encountered gusting wind and crashed into a hillside near Beauvais, north of Paris, France. 48 of its 54 passengers and crew were killed. Two men who escaped the crash died later in a hospital. According to survivors, top layers of some of the gas bags had been torn loose in the wind and wrecked hot engine had ignited the escaping hydrogen.

R101 spelled the end of British attempt to create lighter-than-air aircraft.


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