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H.M.Balloon Factory R101



The British Government formulated plans for the construction of two new airships, the R100 to be built by private enterprise and the R101 to be constructed by the Government Airship Works at Cardington.

Both airships had their maiden flights in 1929 with R100 being the more successful of the two to the extent that R101 was returned to the Cardington hangar for extensive modification including the insertion of another section into the ship to accommodate an additional gas cell in order to increase her lifting capacity. This added another 55 feet to the length of the ship and further delayed her flight trials.




In the meantime R100 completed a successful trial flight to Canada and back before the modified R101 had begun its trials following the modifications.


Over Bedford on its first flight


In spite of reservations, held by many technical personnel, as to the airworthiness of the modified ship, pressure brought to bear by Air Ministry Officials and the Secretary of State for Air saw the untried R101 hastily prepared for the inaugural flight to India where a mooring mast and facilities had already been prepared at Karachi.

Upon the successful completion of this flight to India and back hinged the approval of the British Government for an airship service linking the outposts of Empire including a future service to Australia and New Zealand.

Sadly, political jealousies between the Government backed faction supporting the R101 and the private enterprise airship, plus the insistence of Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air that the India Flight begin without delay saw the R101 lift off from Cardington on 4 October 1930 without having completed its speed trials and with a Certificate of Airworthiness issued without an inspector's report.

R101's departure was into overcast, wet and stormy weather. Over France worsening conditions were encountered which highlighted the airship's deficiencies in performance and construction to the extent it became almost impossible to control.

Shortly after 2 am on 5 October, almost uncontrollable, the ship made contact with the ground, burst into flames, killing all but six of the 54 persons on board. Among those killed was the Secretary of State for Air on whose insistence the airship began its ill-fated flight long before its airworthiness had been proven.

The loss of the R101 heralded the end of the British dream for an airship service linking the outposts of Empire.







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