A fallen dream: the end of commercial airships~part 2


Large passenger airships, despite their ignomius fall from favor, had started promisingly. Despite the common image of the Hindenburg single handedly causing the demise of big rigids, their type of transportation had been delicately balanced between failure and success ever since the British R101 first flew in 1929. Going back several years to 1925, Lord Thomson, the British Minister of Air, proposed the Imperial Airship Scheme, a plan to connect the far flung colonies of the “empire on which the sun never set”, with regular, reliable, and expedient airship service. Accordingly, facilities were built in St. Hubert’s Canada, and Karachi, India, with a planned site in Australia being considered. The plan was both farsighted and brilliant, perhaps too much for its own good. Two experimental ships were ordered to serve as a large test as to whether the Scheme was feasible. The first ship, the R-100, was to be built by private companies and was quickly named “The Capitalist Ship” by the general public, and the second, the R-101, was contracted to the government’s Royal Airship Works thus earning the name “The Socialist Ship”.
 From the very start, the public saw the R-101 as the more impressive of the two ships. Every month or so, a newsreel would come out praising whatever new technology had been incorporated into the ship. With that publicity and an agency so concerned about their public image came trouble. The design team suddenly found it difficult to remove a piece of equipment that had been paid for by public taxes; thus, failed machinery stayed onboard the ship, and, as a direct factor, made it dangerously overweight.
The R-100 on the other hand faired much better even though it was further from the public eye. Designed primarily by Barnes Wallis, the R-100 was The ship was designed to fly on the Transat route and, on July 29th, 1930; it departed for the mooring mast in St. Hubert with a full contingent of reporters. The flight was as well received as it was stunning: Before departing back to Cardington, the R-100 and its passengers were serenaded by Mary Bolduc’s “toujours L ‘R100” *a song commemorating (or rather to poke fun at) the R-100’s flight, inundated with lapel pins praising the “Gallant R-100”, and treated to a 24 hour flight to Ottawa. Upon the start of the return trip passengers had breakfast in an ornate and distinctly British atmosphere over Niagara Falls, lunch was served over Toronto, and dinner above the white caps of the Atlantic. The ship arrived safely at Cardington twenty-two days later. It would never fly again.

* Madame Bolduc's song commemorating the R-100 can be heard here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H_unQjYP8pI

Cheers,
H e n d r i c k

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