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Forgotten Tragedy: British Giant Airship R.101

Jun 09, 2021
4 october 1930 the crew of the

british

airship

r101 was finishing final preparations before leaving on its maiden flight r101 the largest

airship

ever built at the time was heading to

british

india after the most important passenger, the minister of air, lord thompson, would have boarded the enormous airship motionless from the tower and slowly lifted into the sky r101 was the first step in britain's grand plan to build a fleet of

giant

airships that would connect the metropolis with the more distant parts of the colossal British empire that dominated the waves now wanted to rule the skies, but just a few hours after departure the only thing that remained of the ambitious imperial plans was the smoking structure of the airship that lay on the ground.
forgotten tragedy british giant airship r 101
The R101 disaster, the deadliest in the history of commercial airships, became a surprising and at the same time event. Tragic example of the consequences arising from a dangerous intertwined web of political ambitions and engineering errors, today air transport of cargo and passengers belongs entirely to airplanes, but if we look at this image from 1926 that shows how it was imagined London in 100 years, in addition to the airplanes in the sky over the city we also see huge airships and it is worth mentioning that 100 years ago there was a good reason for such a vision: in the early period of aviation development the airplanes had That fighting intensely for their place in the sky was the

giant

airships and may be hard to believe from today's point of view, but the outcome of that battle was not yet clearly determined.
forgotten tragedy british giant airship r 101

More Interesting Facts About,

forgotten tragedy british giant airship r 101...

The First World War became a powerful impetus for the development of aviation, in particular the construction of airships. The huge German zeppelins dropping bombs on London are perhaps one of them. One of the most recognizable images of that war, but what is interesting is that the direction for the development of airships in the post-war period was largely based on the achievements of completely different and lesser-known airships. On November 21, 1917, the German zeppelin L59 loaded with weapons, ammunition and medical supplies took off from Bulgaria and headed south to the besieged German garrison in East Africa. The airship crossed the Mediterranean Sea then the Sahara and was already deep in the African continent when they received the message that the situation at their destination had changed and they were ordered to return to base although the mission was unsuccessful, the l59's achievement was astonishing carrying 15 tons of cargo on board, The airship managed to cover a distance of 6,800 kilometers, amounts simply unimaginable for the aircraft of the time, the L59 was in the air non-stop for 95 hours a day. record that remains unbeaten to this day the flight of the L-59 is still considered the longest non-stop combat flight in history, therefore, in terms of cargo and passenger transportation, this commitment to airships seemed quite reasonable and logical that commercial airliners of the time did not have enough payload and their unstable passenger cabins filled with engine exhaust gases provided passengers with minimal comfort and for long-haul flights we also needed to add frequent stops along the way. along the route to refuel and rest for the crew, meanwhile the airship could offer passengers comparable in comfort to an ocean liner, but the travel time compared to ships was reduced several times in terms of interest in airships Great Britain was no exception, since the question of communication between the metropolis and the most remote corners of the empire has always been of critical importance, in addition, the British government was seriously determined to become the world leader in the construction of large airships in the same way that British battleships ruled the seas, British airships were to govern these types in 1924, Great Britain launched the so-called imperial airship Scheme a large project that was designed to link the metropolis with Australia, Canada, South Africa and India by fleet of aircraft in commercial service throughout the imperial airports.
forgotten tragedy british giant airship r 101
The plan involves the construction of at least six giant aircraft, as well as the construction of a network of docking stations in key cities of the British empire such as Ottawa, Cape Town, Cairo, Mumbasa, Karachi and Melbourne. To start this program, the British government decided to build the first two rigid airships that were supposed to serve as prototypes for future airship models. It is worth mentioning here that the British Army's previous attempts to build rigid airships were not completely failures but could not be considered successful either, so at the time there was a strong public opinion that this type of work should be carried out by private companies, but in 1924 the prime minister became ramsey mcdonald, who was the first prime minister in the history of the united kingdom who belonged to the labor party and firmly believed that effective results could only be achieved under the control of the government based on the recommendation of the newly appointed secretary of state for The heir Lord Thompson, who was a strong supporter of airships, the new government approved the launch of the imperial airship plan, but in a slightly unusual way, after long debates and discussions, it was decided that the government would finance the construction of two airships, but one of them would be designed and built by a private contractor, while the other would be built by the government's Royal Airship Works.
forgotten tragedy british giant airship r 101
It was believed that competition between the two teams would promote and encourage innovations which in turn would ensure the overall success of the Imperial airship program. The team whose airship was most successful would be awarded a contract to build the four remaining airships planned in the Imperial program. The development of giant airships and the competition between the two teams aroused enormous public interest in the country, according to regular media reports. the news, rumors and the progress of the work of the rival parties that received joking names such as capitalists for the airship designed by a private company and socialists for which the state was being built, both the private airship that received the designation r100 and the State The R101 airship was of a rigid type, unlike balloons and airships in which the shape of the gas envelope is maintained by the pressure of the lifting gas itself.
The shape of the rigid airship like the R101 is made up of a metal frame that the inside of the frame contains. the balloons or gas bags filled with hydrogen that provide the lifting force on the outside these bags are covered by a fabric skin stretched over the frame whose main purpose is to provide the airship with an aerodynamic shape as well as protect the gas bags from the wind, sun, rain and other adverse weather conditions, all those characteristics provide the aircraft with higher speeds and payloads compared to non-rigid airships, but at the same time, this type was much more difficult to build and the construction of these Airships required great efforts, perhaps this was best reflected in the gas bag production technology: the frame of the R101 housed 15 giant gas bags filled with hydrogen with a total volume of 140,000 cubic meters, enough to lift about 170 tons in the air to build these gas pockets.
Engineers were looking for a material that could not only contain hydrogen but at the same time be lightweight and flexible but durable. They tried using rubber and biscuits, but the first version of these materials often suffered from small cracks that eventually led to gas leaks, so British engineers decided to use a traditional and time-tested material, more specifically deoxygut called decicum, which was thin and flexible and at the same time could retain hydrogen quite well. If you hate your job, compare it to the work of the women who made gas at the Royal Airshop - they worked in a room filled with the smell of rotting meat, they soaked the intestines for hours, then scraped off the pieces of fat with a knife, after which They left the intestines to soak overnight and in the morning scraped the fat again.
When they were ready, small pieces of intestines were glued together until a large leaf was large enough to produce a gas. To at least roughly understand the scope of this work, imagine how many guts are needed for one gas. The sikum of an ox has an average. size of 15 by 75 centimeters, which is just over a tenth of a square meter, while the total area of ​​​​the deployed gasback was almost 3,000 square meters, so, on average, the women needed to glue between 50 and 60,000 intestines to create a double-walled gas bag that could contain more than 10,000 cubic meters of hydrogen.
The total cost of such a bag of gas was 10 times the average cost of a house in suburban London, compared to helium. The choice of flammable hydrogen to fill the gas. At first glance, airbags may seem like a bad decision and helium is not dangerous to Earth, but its lifting power is seven percent less than that of hydrogen. Seven percent might not seem like much of a reason for safety, but for commercial airships, hydrogen was the most appropriate option, if not the only one, allowing hydrogen for the construction of lighter airships and, therefore, therefore, less expensive.
Here's why let's compare the lifting power of an airship using the r101 as an example, filled with helium and hydrogen. The r101 frame was capable of carrying around 140,000 liters. meters of gas that provided a lifting power of just over 177 tons for the hydrogen and helium, in turn, 93 of that number would be about 165 tons, but this is for pure hydrogen and pure helium, in life The actual purity was less than 100, especially for helium, which means that several tons and lifting power are lost and that means that the helium lifted only 88 of the weight lifted by the hydrogen.
Now let's calculate the payload. The airframe weighed 113 tons. The crew's fuel and other materials needed for the flight consumed another. 44 tons, so in the case of hydrogen, this left about 13 tons of pallet available that could be used for passengers, their luggage and other cargo, all those things that make an airship commercially viable, while for helium this number will be negative: 7 tons, meaning that the airship could not carry the payload, in fact, in this particular example, the airship could not even lift its crew and fuel, on top of that, the Helium was incredibly expensive, about 70 times more expensive than hydrogen, at the beginning of the last century helium was mined. in the united states only after which it had to be shipped to the end customers, say to britain, meanwhile hydrogen was quite easy and relatively cheap to produce, that is why hydrogen, despite all its risks of fire and explosion, it was widely used in the construction of airships in most countries.
At the time when hydrogen lifted the R101 into the sky, the airship normally flew at an altitude of about 500 meters at a speed of about 100 kilometers per hour. The airship was powered by five diesel engines. By the way, the decision was made to employ diesel engines done for safety reasons and was one of the many innovations in the r101, however, the Japanese consequences of this decision turned out to be more negative, unlike what was expected, the real engines turned out to be less powerful and much heavier as a result, instead of the original intention of using 6, only 5 engines were installed on the aircraft and even then its total weight exceeded the anticipated weight by more than 5 tons.
The engines were housed in carriages beneath the aircraft, two in the front, two in the middle and one in the rear. each engine was operated by an engineer who worked directly next to the engine and received orders from the control car just like on the ship c the working conditions of the engineers were far from comfortable in this image from the popular magazine the place of The engineer's work may seem quite spacious but in reality the engineer could not even stand at his full height. The student in this photo gives a real idea of ​​how much space was available for an engineer in the car.
The middle part of the car was used for the engine itself and all that. What the engineer was left with was just a small space on the sides of the engine, imagine what it was like to work for several hours hunched over most of the time and all that, close to a roaring 600 horsepower diesel engine originally designed for railway use , add to this the The indescribable pleasure of starting or finishing your worksheet was climbing back to the aircraft using a common ladder. I'm sure the views of the landscape from above were magnificent, but this was barely there.compensated for difficult working conditions as part of the imperial airship plan in In addition to the airships, the necessary infrastructure was also designed and built, for example, unlike the German zeppelins that embarked passengers from the ground, British engineers designed a mooring tower believing that this was much safer for airships of that size and that it was not just a solitary tower in itself, but a huge infrastructure object that, among other things, included a huge reservoir with water.
Huge fuel tanks hidden underground that were filled with hydrogen supplied by underground pipes directly from the plant located nearby. The hydrogen was then pumped into the aircraft's tanks using a powerful pumping station. To board the airship, passengers would take an elevator to the top of the mooring tower, where they would enjoy a stunning view from a height of approximately 20 stories. Passengers would board the airship via a small, flexible bridge that, for the safety of passengers, was equipped with handrails and small wheels at the bottom that, in case of strong wind, allowed the bridge to will rotate the airship around the tower without interrupting the boarding process.
Mentioning here a very significant innovation that was first used in the construction of the R101, unlike, for example, the famous German zeppelin in which the passengers and crew were placed in a car search under the airship, in the R101 the outer car was intended only for the crew, while the passenger. The recommendations were contained within the body of the aircraft, therefore again compared to Grav Zeppelin where the crew and 24 passengers traveled in a long, narrow gondola. The 42 crew members and 50 passengers of R101 had two spacious decks at their disposal. On the lower deck there were mainly several technical and personnel rooms and the upper deck was intended for passengers.
One, two or four passenger cabins were available for accommodation, as well as a dining room for 60 people. It is worth noting that at the r101 guest service was provided at the highest possible level, comparable to that of the best London hotels and restaurants of the time. related to the entire staff, including the well-trained weight and kitchen staff, after a lavish dinner usually consisting of seven meals, guests could smoke a cigar or pipe in the 20-person smoking room, the walls, The floor and ceiling of the beach were carefully finished with fireproof asbestos because above in the heads of the smokers there were still gigantic gas bags filled with flammable hydrogen.
Guests also had at their disposal a large, spacious room the size of a tennis court. During the day you could spend time here reading the newspaper or chatting with other passengers. In the evening you can enjoy the plane ride with the sounds of the foxtrot or the Viennese walls on both sides of the lounge. There were two spacious and prominent decks. Here, through large windows set at an angle of 45 degrees, passengers could enjoy magnificent panoramic views on their way from London to Karachi and back along the route along which, according to the scheme of the imperial airship, they were supposed to travel. would fly R101, but after doing some calculations, it suddenly turned out that R101 could not complete such a trip.
The R101 made its first test flight on October 14. 1929 two months earlier than its rival R100, although both airships may seem quite similar to each other, the capitalist R100 compared to its socialist twin was more conservative from a technological point of view and for the most part its engineers used proven technologies when building the R100. largely because the capitalist r 100 completed its test flights before the r101 and in July 1930 undertook its maiden voyage to Canada the transatlantic flight lasted only 78 hours and was generally quite successful this socialist pass turned out to be somewhat more complicated One reason in particular was that from the second test flight onwards, Air Minister Lord Thompson began inviting all sorts of politicians, journalists and other important guests to fly and dine on board the airship.
Multiple articles full of emotion that would appear after such flights of course contributed to the growth of the popularity of the socialist project, but at the same time it did not in any way help the normal development of the tests. Worse still, the first flights made it clear that the airship turned out to be too heavy and the actual characteristics of the R101 turned out to be much lower than anticipated, part of the reason was that the R101 engineers moved away from the traditional principles of airships and Of the time-tested designs of German zeppelins, for example, the frame of the Graph zeppelin airship consisted of several lightweight and relatively flexible circular rings.
The strength of the structure was achieved by a rigid metal wire inside the ring similar to the spokes of a bicycle wheel, while in the r101 design the wires were removed and the rings were made thicker to maintain strength, which which made the frame of the airship heavier and also reduced the internal volume available for attaching gas bags, which in turn reduced the overall lifting power of the aircraft, as part of the R101's route was flying over the deserts where the air was thinner. According to calculations, it would lose around 11 tons in lift. This miscalculation by the engineer made the flight of R101 to Karachi and back impossible, but the problem was that at the government level the flight to Karachi had already been scheduled and scheduled to occur before the next imperial conference in London to postpone or cancel the flight of R101, especially in light of the success of the liner.
The flight of the rival R100 to Canada was a serious blow to the prestige of the government and the Air Minister in particular, who staked his reputation on the success of his R101. The existing situation was such that the flight to Karachi had to take place no matter what. In this situation, the r101 engineers came up with a bold and I would even say bold decision. In this image you can see the result of its solution at the top is the r101 on June 30 and at the bottom, six weeks later, in August, the r101 has been lengthened by 14 meters.
The engineers at r101 didn't use one of those emails in their spam box promising to make their blimp bigger. What they did was cut the airship frame in half and insert an additional gas-backed section, which increased the overall lift less. More than two months later, despite the lack of test flights for speed and structural tests, on October 2, 1930, the R101 airship received a serious error certificate, which was especially necessary for international flights. Carmichael Irving, the captain of the airship R101, received the certificate on October 4 a few hours before departure for Karachi on a rainy afternoon on October 4, 1930 in the small town of Cardington the airship R101 took off into the air at that moment It was the largest airship in the world ever built.
On board the plane bound for British India were 42 crew members and 12 guests, including the British Air Minister, Lord Thompson, Director of Civil Aviation, Sir Sefton Banker, Director of aircraft development, reginald kolmer, chief designer of the r101, lieutenant colonel vincent richmond, as well as his deputy representatives of the australian and indian air forces and other noble guests despite worsening weather conditions the airship did not return the r101 crossed successfully crossed the English Channel but then near the small French town of Bouvez 70 kilometers from Paris a

tragedy

occurred according to the results of an official investigation it is believed that a strong A gust of wind tore the outer cover of the area of ​​​​the nose, exposing and rupturing the main gas, resulting in a rapid loss of lift.
The aircraft made a sudden steep drop and began to lose altitude, but the crew managed to level the ship for only a moment. The captain ordered to turn off the engines but the airship made its second dive and at 2 am at an angle of about 18 degrees it crashed into a hill. The impact was actually not very strong. The speed of the airship at the time of collision with the ground. It was around 20 kilometers per hour normally even bicycles can travel at higher speeds but the impact caused a small fire maybe a spark from the electrical wiring of the aircraft maybe the heat from the engines or one of the flares in the car control but fire had ignited a hydrogen leak causing an instant explosion and in just a few seconds the giant aircraft was completely destroyed.
All that remained of the once majestic machine built to become the symbol of Britain's aeropower empire was a smoking metal frame of the 54 people on board. r101 48 died as a result of the accident, including the heir's secretary of state, lord thompson. The R101

tragedy

became one of the largest airship disasters in all of aviation history and the deadliest among civilian airships for the British public. The r101 disaster was a big shock. comparable and in strength only to the sinking of the titanic the effect of the tragedy was so strong that the imperial airship construction program was finally canceled the remaining twin r-100 despite its successful flights across the atlantic was soon cut into pieces and sold for scrap after the disaster at the british brewery not only built big airships but no airships and that's how the era of airships ended for britain it's hard to point out a single reason that led to the r101 disaster for example nasa studied The case of R101 in particular is an example of the possible consequences of government attempts to excessively drive the innovation process as a result of political pressure.
Road technologies are being introduced too quickly and in large quantities, which combined with other factors can eventually have catastrophic consequences, although looking at the causes of some air disasters that followed, it seems that no lessons have been learned from the R101 tragedy. The interesting thing is that the story of the r101 did not end with the accident and, in a sense, the airship flew again with the structure of the r101. which lay on a hill near a French town was cut into pieces and sent back to England, where the parts of the R101 were melted into scrap metal.
Five tons of this metal were purchased by the German company Zeppelin, which then used it in the construction of the lz129 airship, better known in history as the hindenburg, this amazing fact and many others in the history of the r101 that I have learned come from the incredible book Fatal Flight, the true story of Britain's last great airship by bill hammack, if you want to learn more about r101, you can buy the book or you can enjoy a free audio version that the author himself made available and I recommend that you Check out the links in the description to support Bill Hammack's educational work.
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