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Thursday, June 09, 2011


  In 1924 the first Labour government amended a previous Tory plan to build an airship to make travel across the Empire easier. They decided, putting their ideological convictions on the line, to have 2 built. One by a private company, Vickers, that became the R100 and another by the civil service, that became the R101.

  To be fair the "capitalist" project was also the "great engineers" project, led by Barnes Wallace and including Nevil Shute.The "socialist" one wasn't any sort of progressive adventurous socialist but the old British civil service adopting the newly fashionable ideological protective colouring as they now do with "environmentalism".

  The R100 was a well designed craft 
R100's contract originally required a final acceptance trial flight of 48 hours duration, together with a demonstration flight to India. The decision to change the specification to petrol engines prompted a change in destination to Canada as it was reasoned that a flight to the tropics with petrol aboard would be too hazardous. It was also decided that the Diesel powered R101 would make the flight to India instead

R100 duly departed for Canada on 29 July 1930, reaching the Canadian mooring mast at the airport in Saint-Hubert, Quebec in 78 hours having covered the great circle route of 3,300 mi (5,300 km) at an average speed of 42 mph (68 km/h). The airship stayed at Montreal for 12 days and over 100,000 people visited the airship each day she was there, and a song was composed by La Bolduc to commemorate, or rather to make fun of, the people's fascination with R100. She also made a 24 hour passenger-carrying flight to Ottawa, Toronto, and Niagara Falls while in Canada.

The airship departed on her return flight on 13 August, reaching Cardington after a 57½ hour flight.
  The flight was so successful the US offered to sell or perhaps even give helium in exchange for seeing the technical specifications. Up till then the only source in the world for helium was some US oil wells but by then Canada had some too. Nonetheless it does show how serious they were.
Vickers' experts had calculated that the fare on an airship journey might be £45 (around US$215 at the time),[1] compared to a contemporary airliner fare of £115 (about $550), and the non-stop range of an airship would be far superior, making the journey quite competitive.

  The R101 was less successful
From the first the Air Ministry promoted its ship, R101, by using press agents to keep up public interest, presenting R101 as a great public enterprise: so the designers of R101 became the prisoners of public and political expectations.

At the time, and even today, opinion about R101, varies from the best airship ever designed to an appallingly bad piece of engineering. This is largely because, whilst the design was undoubtedly both elegant and ingenious, and the workmanship superb, the ship had basic flaws which were largely due to weaknesses in the design committee...

R101 departed from Cardington on 4 October at 6:24 p.m. for its intended destination of Karachi (then part of British India) via a refuelling stop at Ismaïlia in Egypt under the command of Flight Lieutenant Carmichael Irwin. Among the 12 passengers were Lord Thomson, Secretary of State for Air, Sir Sefton Brancker, Director of Civil Aviation, and Squadron Leader William Palstra, RAAF air liaison officer (ALO) to the British Air Ministry.[11] On release from the mooring mast, the nose of R101 dipped alarmingly,[citation needed] forcing the airship to drop four tonnes of water ballast from the nose section to bring the airship back to true.[10] This used all the forward ballast and reduced usable lift by almost half.[citation needed]

In contradiction of reports received from the airship about cruising height, observers both across the UK and in France were amazed and alarmed to see the airship flying so low. Even though the weather was foul, observers reported that it was so close they could see people at the windows of the airship.[citation needed]

In France, the low and erratic flying pattern further alarmed observers with a number concerned that it was going to hit rooftops (from witness reports at the formal inquiry held at the end of 1930).[citation needed]

Over France, R101 passed close to Beauvais ridge at a height estimated at 800 feet (240 m) and went into a dive from which she slowly recovered. Rigger Church was sent forward to release the forward ballast bag but before he could do so the ship went into another dive and hit the ground.
  It should be noted that the R100 was built on a very tight fixed price contract. I have been unable to find any information about what the failed R101 cost, which itself I find as conclusive evidence that it was  embarrassingly more expensive. So it looks like absolute proof of the superiority of private enterprise and good engineering to government control. However there are 3 even more disgraceful things to be set against the state control ledger:

1) When government regulates itself there is no regulation
Despite the issue of a Temporary Permit to Fly the safety inspector, McWade, refused to issue a Certificate of Airworthiness citing the following causes: that her outer cover was in a poor state, that her gas bags were leaking badly, that the 4000 odd protection pads were not working. He also questioned the effect of lengthening her on her stability in pitch, which had always been very poor.

The Air Council, which had no members with any experience of airships, asked Cardington, the Royal Airship Works and builders about these matters and received an emollient reply. The record shows that despite Inspector McWade's objections a Certificate of Airworthiness was issued on 2 October; tradition has it that it was only handed to Captain Irwin an hour before her flight to India
.2 Government "Enquiries" are a whitewash in which the government will lie to itself and pretend to believe its lies
During the inquiry held into the disaster, all reports both from the Air Ministry and the government painted glowing reports of the airworthiness and competence of the airship prior to its flight to India. This was in direct contradiction to the experiences of the technical and support crew who worked on R101 and also the observations of those working on the sister ship, R100. [N 1] The true state of the construction only came to light in later decades as a number of technicians and also Nevil Shute made public observations and details of the problems that had accompanied the airship's construction
3 Government will do anything, no matter how damaging to cover their arses 
R100 represented the best that conventional airship technology in Britain had to offer at the time...

After R101 crashed and burned in France, en route to India on 5 October 1930, the Air Ministry ordered the R100 grounded. She was deflated and hung up in her shed for a year

In November 1931, it was decided to sell R100 for scrap and the entire framework ofs flattened by machinery and sold for less than £600.
 But scrapping the R100 is not like calling in Hondas because of a few crashes. These were 2 entirely separately designed and constructed vessels All that scrapping R100 was to stop itbeing a success and thereby rubbing government's nose in its own proven incompetence. At the very worst it could have been sold to the US or Canada
The R100 was seen as very advanced for its time and in the lighter than air world it was a real innovation. So much so that the American Government had offered cheap or even free helium to inflate the ship in return for the British technical knowhow and data.
It was declared that Helium deposits had been discovered in Canada and so an option was for the sale of the ship to the Canadian Government.
   And that is why we don't have an airship industry today. Not because it was uncompetitive, not even because the state could not produce a vessel matching the free enterprise one but because government found it to their own political advantage to destroy it and thus hide their own failure..

G-FAAV, Airship Guarantee Company RIGID AIRSHIP R100 C/N R100, R-100 at Saint-Hubert airport in Montreal in 1930


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Doesn't that just sound like government/ They can't do anything. The controls are non-existent whilst money is plentiful.

The government keeps on repeating the same mistakes. £4B wasted on nimrods. Building an aircraft carrier with no planes to out on it. Then building another to keep as a spare? I mean you couldn't make it up.
Very interesting, I knew nothing of this, but it is a most instructive lesson if anyone cares to learn it.
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