Fatal Flight: The True Story of Britain's Last Great Airship

Fatal Flight: The True Story of Britain's Last Great Airship

by Bill Hammack


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Fatal Flight brings vividly to life the year of operation of R.101, the last great British airship—a luxury liner three and a half times the length of a 747 jet, with a spacious lounge, a dining room that seated fifty, glass-walled promenade decks, and a smoking room. The British expected R.101 to spearhead a fleet of imperial airships that would dominate the skies as British naval ships, a century earlier, had ruled the seas. The dream ended when, on its demonstration flight to India, R.101 crashed in France, tragically killing nearly all aboard.

Combining meticulous research with superb storytelling, Fatal Flight guides us from the moment the great airship emerged from its giant shed—nearly the largest building in the British Empire—to soar on its first flight, to its last fateful voyage. The full story behind R.101 shows that, although it was a failure, it was nevertheless a supremely imaginative human creation. The technical achievement of creating R.101 reveals the beauty, majesty, and, of course, the sorrow of the human experience.

The narrative follows First Officer Noel Atherstone and his crew from the ship’s first test flight in 1929 to its fiery crash on October 5, 1930. It reveals in graphic detail the heroic actions of Atherstone as he battled tremendous obstacles. He fought political pressures to hurry the ship into the air, fended off Britain’s most feted airship pilot, who used his influence to take command of the ship and nearly crashed it, and, a scant two months before departing for India, guided the rebuilding of the ship to correct its faulty design. After this tragic accident, Britain abandoned airships, but R.101 flew again, its scrap melted down and sold to the Zeppelin Company, who used it to create LZ 129, an airship even more mighty than R.101—and better known as the Hindenburg.

Set against the backdrop of the British Empire at the height of its power in the early twentieth century, Fatal Flight portrays an extraordinary age in technology, fueled by humankind’s obsession with flight

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781945441035
Publisher: Articulate Noise Books
Publication date: 12/27/2017
Pages: 324
Sales rank: 977,904
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.73(d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations / xi

Prologue: The Perennial Promise of Airships / 1

Part I: The Airship Rises

Chapter One: The Debut of the Great British Airship (October 12, 1929) / 17

Chapter Two: Airborne at Last (October 14-15, 1929) / 35

Part II: Troubles

Chapter Three: An Inept Commander Takes Charge (October 18-November 10, 1929) / 55

Chapter Four: Inside the Great Airship (November-December 1929) / 69

Chapter Five: Problems with the Cloth Cover (June 1930) / 89

Chapter Six: The Airship Flies Again (June-July 1930) / 101

Chapter Seven: Radical Surgery (July-September 1930) / 113

Part III: A New Airship

Chapter Eight: Departure for India (October 4, 1930) / 127

Chapter Nine: To Ride the Storm (October 4-5, 1930) / 141

Part IV: The Postmortem

Chapter Ten: The Causes of R.101’s Crash / 161

Epilogue: Stories of the Survivors and the Fate of British Airships / 177

Acknowledgments / 183

Appendices / 185

Appendix A: British Passenger Airships Prior to R.100 and R.101 / 187

Appendix B: Passenger and Crew on Board R.101’s Flight to India / 191

Appendix C: Flight of HM Airship R.101 to India: Notes for Press Use / 195

Appendix D: Report on Flight in the Graf Zeppelin and Visit to Friedrichshafen by Lieutenant-Colonel V. C. Richmond and Squadron Leader F. M. Rope / 215

Appendix E: Manufacture of the Gas Bags of R.101 / 245

Appendix F: Colmore Report on R.101’s Lift (November 1929) / 255

Notes / 267

Bibliography / 283

Index / 305

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