Zeppelin Mania-Book Review: “Zeppelin Hindenburg”

Nothing excites the imagination more than does the great zeppelin Hindenburg. In 1936, the world was abuzz with airship fever. The fastest ocean liners were crossing the Atlantic in 5 days. The Hindenburg cut that time in half on the westbound flight. On the eastbound trip to Europe, she could sometimes make the flight in less than 48 hours.

Unfortunately, what sticks in our minds is this:

and Herb Morrison’s words, “Oh, the humanity!”, instead of this:

However, as spectacular as the disaster was, caught on the newsreel cameras of the day, the loss of life was comparatively small. Thirteen of thirty-six passengers, twenty-two of the sixty-one crewman, and one of the ground crew died.

In 27 years of commercial flight by the DELAG and its successor, the DZR, those thirty-six deaths were the only deaths that occurred. No airline today can boast of such a record.

For lovers of the airship and the Hindenburg in particular, Dan Grossman, Cheryl Ganz, and Patrick Russell have done us the supreme favor of writing the definitive book on the greatest of all airships. Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129 tells the story of this great ship and captures the mood of the world when for the first time in history one could fly anywhere in the world on the DZR and its partner airlines.

The world was filled with optimism in 1936 because technology was shrinking the globe. And for those with money, the world truly was their oyster. In the midst of the Depression, there was hope that better days were indeed here again.

Zeppelin Hindenburg tells the story of LZ-129 through words and pictures. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book. The text is informative and gives us a picture into what life was like in those heady days of hope. Unlike like many books recounting history, this one isn’t as dry as week old toast.

We learn all about the Hindenburg and what it took to fly her. We learn all about her role as a flying post office. We learn what life aboard her was like for passengers and crew. (For the crew it was work, work, work.) We get a detailed look into the building of the great ship. Everything is here that any zeppelin aficionado could even hope for.

And we learn the details, the known facts, of the disaster. Grossman, et. al., also debunk several popular myths regarding the cause of one of the most spectacular aircraft tragedies ever caught on film.

Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of the LZ-129 is a must have for aviation enthusiasts, airship aficionados, and anyone interested in the optimism created by advancing technology.

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: In Those Days, Giants

The Graf Zeppelin Over Rio

On the Graf Zeppelin 

Hugo Eckener (translated from the German by Douglas Robinson)

I have always felt that such effects as were produced by the Zeppelin airship were traceable to a large degree to aesthetic feelings. The mass of the mighty airship hull, which seemed matched by its lightness and grace, and whose beauty of form was modulated in delicate shades of color, never failed to make a strong impression on people’s minds. It was not, as generally described, ‘a silver bird soaring in majestic flight,’ but rather a fabulous silvery fish, floating quietly in the ocean of air and captivating the eye just like a fantastic, exotic fish seen in an aquarium. And this fairy-like apparition, which seemed to melt into the silvery blue background of the sky, when it appeared far away, lighted by the sun, seemed to be coming from another world and to be returned there like a dream…

The mighty hull indeed! The Hindenburg weighed 236 tons, was 13 stories tall, and was nearly as long as 3 football fields. The 7 million plus cubic feet of hydrogen was sufficient to run an ordinary kitchen stove for several hundred years.

The 17 huge gas cells of the R 101 used the intestines of a million cows to provide the leak-proof lining.

However, not only were the ships of behemoth dimensions, so were their hangers. The Goodyear-Zeppelin hanger in Akron, Ohio was so huge clouds sometimes formed and a soft rain would fall.

And as Dr Eckener wrote, those giants of the sky were like something from another world, a dream world. They were exotic silvery fish of immense size and fairy origin.

John R McCormick’s account of seeing the Graf Zeppelin when a young boy fills me with envy. Here it is in part:

Out of the Blue

…I was a little uneasy. Something wasn’t quite right. Suddenly I realized why. We were alone, absolutely alone, and surrounded by a profound silence. That whole land, usually so full of sound and action, was empty and still. Even the animals were quiet. There was no wind, not the slightest breeze.

Into that remarkable silence there came from far away the smallest possible purring, strange and repetitive, gradually approaching, becoming louder — the unmistakable beating of powerful engines. I looked to the west and at first saw nothing. Then it was there, nosing down out of the clouds a half-mile away, a gigantic, wondrous apparition moving slowly through the sky.

“Grandma!” I screamed.

She was out of the kitchen door in an instant. I pointed to the sky. The great dirigible was very low, perhaps because the captain was trying to find some landmark.

There is a wonderful opening scene in the movie Star Wars. A great starship is passing very low and directly overhead so that one sees only the underside. That underside moves deliberately and interminably on and on until at last it is gone. The Graf Zeppelin, moving ever so slowly above us, was like that. We saw every crease and contour from nose to fins. It was so low that we could see, or imagined we could see, people waving at us from the slanted windows of its passenger gondola.

We stood entranced. Slowly, slowly the ship moved over us, beyond us, and at last was gone.

The above accounts and information are taken from one of the books in my library: The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships, edited by Robert Hedin. A fascinating book. Highly recommended!

Comments are always welcome! And until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: My Library

The LZ-114 completed after WW I, turned over to the French, and renamed Dixmude.

Many of you are aware of my love affair with the airship and the rigid airship in particular.

Some of you have made comments on the seeming dearth of information on the airship. Well, Virginia, I’m here to tell you that isn’t necessarily so. There’s quite a bit of material out there. One just needs to know where to look.

To that end, I thought I’d share with you today the portion of my library dedicated to books about airships. Because inquiring minds want to know! The list below is divided into non-fiction and fiction.

If you have any additions, please let me know. Questions and comments are always welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

My Airship Library

Non-Fiction

  1. Airship: The Story of R.34 – Patrick Abbott
  2. Airships: Designed for Greatness – Gregory Alegi, et.al.; concept and artwork by Max Pinucci
  3. USS Los Angeles: The Navy’s Venerable Airship and Aviation Technology – William F. Althoff
  4. Airship on a Shoestring – John Anderson
  5. Hindenburg: An Illustrated History – Rick Archbold (text) & Ken Marschall (illus.)
  6. Dr. Eckener’s Dream Machine: The Great Zeppelin and the Dawn of Air Travel – Douglas Botting
  7. The Giant Airships – Douglas Botting
  8. TransAtlantic Airships: An Illustrated History – John Christopher
  9. The Zeppelin Story – John Christopher
  10. Zeppelins of World War I – Wilbur Cross
  11. Zeppelin Hindenburg – Dan Grossman
  12. Airships in Peace and War – R. P. Hearne
  13. The Zeppelin Reader: Stories, Poems, and Songs from the Age of Airships – Robert Hedin
  14. The Log of H.M.A. R34 Journey to America and Back – E.M. Maitland
  15. Inside the Hindenburg – Mireille Major (text) & Ken Marschall (illus.)
  16. The Hindenburg – Michael M Mooney
  17. Giants in the Sky: A History of the Rigid Airship – Douglas H Robinson
  18. LZ129 Hindenburg – Douglas H. Robinson, with scale drawings by Richard Groh
  19. My Airships – Alberto Santos-Dumont
  20. Schütte-Lanz Airship Design – Prof. Johann Schütte
  21. Slide Rule – Nevil Shute
  22. The Great Dirigibles: Their Triumphs and Disasters – John Toland
  23. Airship Saga: The history of airships seen through the eyes of the men who designed, built, and flew them – Lord Ventry & Eugene M. Koleśnik
  24. Jane’s Pocket Book of Airship, ed. by Lord Ventry & Eugene Kolesnik
  25. Zeppelin: The Story of a Great Achievement – Henry Vissering
  26. Airship Aerodynamics Technical Manual – War Department
  27. “Zeppelin’s New Age of Air Travel” in Popular Mechanics, July 1994
  28. “Blimps: Billboards in the Sky” in Smithsonian, June 1998

Fiction

  1. Airship Nine – Thomas H. Block
  2. With Airship and Submarine – Harry Collingwood
  3. Seize the Wind – John Gordon Davis
  4. Lester Dent’s Zeppelin Tales – Lester Dent
  5. Death on the Empress – Stuart Harper
  6. Goliath – Richard Turner
  7. Beyond the Rails – Jack Tyler
  8. Wings of Fury – R.N. Vick

My Own Novels

  1. The Moscow Affair (From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond, Bk 1)
  2. The Golden Fleece Affair (From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond, Bk 2)
  3. Take to the Sky (The Rocheport Saga, Bk 7 – forthcoming)
  4. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch
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Zeppelin Mania: Day 5-R 34 Arrives Home

R34 over RNAS Pulham 1919 copy

The R 34 over the Royal Naval Air Service station at Pulham, Norfolk in 1919.

Throughout the morning of July 13, messages of congratulations poured into the airship’s wireless room. King George, the chief of the Air Service, the Board of Admiralty, the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, among many others.

From General Maitland’s log:

6.20 am—Over Pulham. Quite a number of people on the landing ground despite the early hour. Scott makes two circles of the ground, and puts the ship gently down into the hands of the landing party. Time of landing, 6.57 am. Total time of return journey from Long Island, New York, to Pulham, Norfolk, is therefore 75 hours and 3 minutes; or 3 days, 3 hours, and 3 minutes.

Seventeen years later, the faster Hindenburg’s average time from Frankfurt to Lakehurst, New Jersey was 66 hours and 37 minutes; and from Lakehurst to Frankfurt, 51 hours and 23 minutes. Certainly slower than a jet, but far and away much more luxurious. On par with a cruise ship of today.

The R 34 was a military ship. A copy of a 1916 German war zeppelin that had been captured, largely intact. A mere two years later the Germans were building even larger zeppelins, with greater range. A range they felt would enable them to bomb New York City. One of these “X” Class zeppelins, the LZ-114, was given to the French as war reparations. Renamed Dixmude, in 1923 she made a 4400 mile flight and was in the air for well over 118 hours without any problems. Her maximum range was calculated to be over 7400 miles. The specially rebuilt L 59, the Africa Ship, had a range of 10,000 miles and a payload over 104,000 pounds. She could have flown to America, bombed New York, and flown back to Germany without refueling.

At the time and for decades to come no airplane was capable of doing what the L 59, the R 34, or the Dixmude did. The airship in 1919 and in the following two decades was clearly seen as the wave of the future. Land-based passenger aircraft would not be able to cross the Atlantic non-stop until after World War II. The most famous of the 1930s flying boats, the Boeing 314 Clipper, introduced in 1939, could carry 74 passengers during the day or 36 at night, had a mere 10,000 pound payload capacity, and had a range of  3,685 miles. Certainly a plane to rival the Hindenburg, but only in speed. The airship still laid claim to greater range, payload capacity, comfort, and quiet.

So what happened? In part, the airship herself was to blame. Expensive to build, operate, and maintain, no private company was willing to expend the capital. The rigid airships that were in existence were mostly military vessels and as a weapon of war, the zepp’s days had come and gone.

The R 34 is a prime example of government neglect. The British press hailed the event and the Air Ministry ignored it and its potential for future military application. In fact, the Air Ministry went to great lengths to scrap their rigid airship program—completely ignoring the role the rigid airship could have played as a transport ship in supplying far-flung and isolated military installations with speed and efficiency. Much as the L 59 had tried to do in 1917, in her attempt to resupply the army in German East Africa.

Then, as now, the rigid airship, while not the fastest aircraft, had the ability to carry tons of cargo vast distances to anywhere in the world. The airship needs no airfield or expensive airports. The problem of huge landing crews was solved by the US Navy. A dozen men and a motorized mooring mast handled the 785 foot long (239 m) USS Akron and USS Macon.

More than anything, our desire for speed killed the airship—in spite of its practicality.

Yet, in the early days of aviation, it was Count Zeppelin’s dream that conquered the skies. The crew of the R 34 deserve high praise for their brave accomplishment. Doing what no one had done before.

Today let’s take a moment to celebrate their great achievement.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this touch of Zeppelin Mania. As always, comments are welcome. Until next time, happy reading!

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 4

routemap-R34

The Route Map of the R-34’s Historic Double Trans-Atlantic Crossing in 1919.
The Orange Line is the Crossing from Scotland to New York and the Blue Line is the crossing from New York to Pulham.

Saturday, July 12, 1919 began beautifully. The weather began clearing and the sea was visible at 2500 feet.

At 5 am, General Maitland recorded: “Magnificent sunrise; the sun slowly appears above the cloud bank ahead of us in a blaze of golden light, and we head straight into it.”

An hour later, the ship is running on three engines only as the after engine is being repaired. The airspeed is 32 knots. Major Scott takes the ship down to 900 feet to sight the water. Ground speed is only 15 knots at that altitude, so he returns to 2800 feet where the ship’s ground speed is 36 knots, or 41 mph (67 kph). The R-34 is approximately 760 miles from her base — and home.

General Maitland wrote, “Breakfast this morning is a festive meal, as we reckon it should be our last breakfast on board, and we are rather lavish in our issues.”

Wives, families, and sweethearts are gathering at East Fortune in Scotland awaiting the ship’s homecoming. But at 10 am, the Air Ministry instructs the R-34 to land at Pulham in Norfolk, England instead. The message is not understood as the weather is better for landing at East Fortune then it is at Pulham.

By noon, the weather has turned very cold and once again the R-34 is fighting a headwind. Everyone realizes they will be breakfasting on board ship tomorrow morning and feel disappointed.

In the evening, the ship runs into two sudden squalls. Maitland notes the ship is very steady. Then at 7:25 pm land is in sight off the starboard bow and at 8 pm the R-34 crosses the coastline a little to the north of Clifden, County Mayo, Ireland. From the coast of Long Island to the coast of Ireland, flight time was 61 hours and 43 minutes.

Above the Hills and Lakes of Ireland-R34

Above the Hills and Lakes of Ireland

The euphoria is dampened however, when at 11:30 pm the Air Ministry repeats the message to land at Pulham. Major Scott increases altitude to 5000 feet and sets course for Pulham.

No explanation has ever come to light as to why the R-34 was redirected to land at Pulham instead of East Fortune. Especially when the weather, critical for airship safety in landing, was better at the Scottish base.

Patrick Abbott, in his book Airship: The Story Of R-34, gives the following possible explanation:

Those who supported only an aeroplane programme may have contrived the altered destination in order to avoid the publicity of the great welcome that was being planned at East Fortune. Pulham, by contrast, was comparatively isolated… so ensuring the minimum fuss and excitement. If this theory is true—and it accords with later policy development and the shabby treatment soon meted out to everyone on board—then the manoeuvre was an unworthy affront to servicemen who could neither disobey nor complain.

I think Mr Abbot makes a valid point. Given the subsequent history of the British government’s bureaucratic antipathy towards building and maintaining an airship fleet, it seems only logical the R-34 and her crew ended up as victims of bureaucratic politics and cost-cutting excuses.

Britain was in an admirable position to seize the day and exploit the commercial possibilities of the airship. However, as with their American cousins, the British largely saw the airship as a military craft. However World War I had clearly shown the future of the giants was not as a weapon of war, but as a tool of peace. Only Doctor Hugo Eckener of the Zeppelin company realized this and was intent on pursuing the true future of the rigid airship. If he’d had the capital and didn’t have the animosity of the Allies and their wreaking of vengeance on the German people, he would have succeeded.

Stay tuned! Tomorrow the epic voyage comes to an end. Prepare to give the memory of those brave men the recognition they truly deserve. A recognition denied them in their day due to petty politics.

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 3

Control Car R34

Control Car
Flight-Sergt. Watson steering. Flight-Sergt. Mayers at the elevator wheel. Altimeter (large dial) needle shows the ship is at about 1,200 feet above the sea.

Friday, July 11, 1919 started out with clear weather and a moderate sea. A planned flyover of London had to be abandoned when one of the two engines in the rear car broke down and could not be repaired. Later in the day, the forward engine had to be shut down to replace broken valve springs.

Otherwise the day was uneventful. The airship made good and rapid progress towards home base in Scotland.

Below are extracts from General Maitland’s log to give a first-hand flavor to the idyllic world of airship travel, even in a military ship.

10.30 pm—Beautiful cloudscapes on port beam. Cloud formations, in so far as they indicate whether, are like an open book profusely illustrated, and with a story that changes almost completely every few hours.

12.30 pm—Lunch. Meal-times are always most welcome, as they give the more responsible members of the crew a much-needed interval.

The new gramophone [given by Edison, himself] is going strong after lunch and, as I was descending the ladder into the forward car, I caught a glimpse of Luck and Harris doing quite a nice one-step together!

3.30 pm—Still at 3000 feet; in and out of the clouds. We have not seen the sea since 8:30 am.

4.30 pm—Scott brings his ship down for a glimpse of the sea, and so get an idea of our speed; but at 900 feet [the clouds are] still quite thick and he abandons the attempt.

Coming down from the 3800-foot level to the 900-foot level, we pass through no less than five distinct and separate layers of cloud, of which every two layers contain a world in themselves, with separate sky above and cloud horizon beneath. A most fascinating spectacle, and one which impresses me more, perhaps, then anything I have yet seen on either journey.

4.45 pm—We emerge above the clouds for a few blissful moments, and see a beautiful cloud panorama—range upon range of alternate white and slate colored mountains with wide deep valleys, and an occasional glimpse of bright blue sky immediately above.

The glare is almost blinding, and we can only look at them for a moment moment or two at a time.

7.05 pm—Passing through wet rain cloud—it has been raining very heavily since five o’clock.

Scott tries the 5000-foot level in the hopes of getting out of it, but with no success, so returns to the 3000-foot level. Very cold and dark, and all doors and windows shut.

8pm—Supper, and a very good one too. We are well equipped with little luxuries, having learnt from experience on the outward journey exactly what is necessary and what isn’t.

Delicious fresh honey, also “candies”, and chocolates… The gloom does not affect our appetites in the very slightest.

Crew Space Inside R34 Hull

Crew Space Inside Hull
One of the crew peeling potatoes for dinner. Lieut. Shotter and Sergt. Gent in background.

11.25 pm—On long journeys like these, it is the engineers upon whom the heaviest strain falls and, on the outward journey, some of them had difficulty in sleeping when off watch. On this return journey we issue them a “tot” of rum before turning in, with very beneficial effect. [Note: an engineer on an airship is a mechanic and had responsibility to keep the engines running smoothly at all times, as well as perform any other mechanical repairs that were needed.]

12 midnight—Still pouring with rain… the whistling of the wind completely deadens the distant hum of our engines. It is indeed a “dirty” night at sea. For some reason or other I cannot get off to sleep, and lie awake in my hammock with a feeling of complete confidence and security…

I think the General summed up flying by airship quite wonderfully: “a feeling of complete confidence and security”. Especially in 1919, when a one- or two-seater open cockpit airplane, flying in “a ‘dirty’ night at sea”, would have been an experience worthy of a new level in Dante’s Inferno.

Stay tuned! The R 34’s voyage continues tomorrow!

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 2

Cloud Shadows on the Atlantic

Cloud Shadows Thrown Upon the Atlantic.
Photo by Major Pritchard taken from the R 34.

The R34 is up and away, having taken off a little before midnight on the 9th of July. Promising the people of New York City a flyover, the zeppelin heads west and is soon over the city. General Maitland recorded the event:

New York at night looks wonderful from a height of 1000 feet — miles and miles of tiny bright twinkling lights. We wonder if it is necessary to go higher to avoid bumping into the “skyscrapers”, so Scott puts her up to 1500 feet to be quite sure! The searchlights at first make some very unsuccessful attempts to find us, and their beams are “feeling” through the sky in every direction. Finally they get us fair and square over Fifth Avenue.

The Times Square, Broadway, is a remarkable sight—we see thousands of upturned faces in spite of the early hour (1 am), and the whole scene is lit up by the gigantic electrical sky signs.

The air over New York feels very disturbed, partly owing to the approaching cyclone from the Great Lakes, of which we have already had warning, and partly also to the heat rising upwards from the city itself; in spite of this the ship is very steady.

Flyover completed, the R34 turns east and begins her 3000 mile journey home. With a strong tail wind to start her voyage, the ship is making nearly 80 miles an hour ground speed. The weather is good and the day is quiet and routine.

Lunch, served at noon, is cold bologna sausage and pickles, stewed pineapple, and a ration of rum. Maitland notes the rum “is much appreciated, as the weather has turned much colder.”

By 4.50 pm, the R34, with the help of the wind, had covered a third of the distance home, when the General noted the wind had finally dropped and the sea below them was a deep blue.

At 6.15 pm a five-masted schooner is sighted about 5 miles away and Maitland is quick to observe “What an interesting contrast between the old and the new — the sailing ship and the airship!”

Supper was served at 8 pm and consisted of “fresh boiled eggs and cocoa, preceded by a cocktail mixed by Scott. Apparently some Thermos flasks full of cocktail ingredients had been handed in by some anonymous well-wisher, and we try them as an experiment. Decide they are just as good in the air as on the ground!”

Not mentioned in any secondary source I have on the voyage is the gramophone that was on board. The officers and crew of the R34 indulged in some high-flying jazz!

Maitland also noted the very favorable impression everyone had of the Americans they’d met and that “Quite a number of charming ladies declared their intention of making the return trip as ‘stowaways’, and the ship was carefully searched before starting.”

With cocktails, jazz, and fond remembrances, the men of the R34 motor on into the night.

Stay tuned! There’s more to come on this epic voyage!

Interior of R34

Interior of R 34 showing Walking Way and Petrol Tanks.
Taken on board during flight by Major Pritchard.

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 1

R34 flying just above a depression copy

R 34 Flying Just Above Dense Clouds On The Outskirts of a Depression.
This illustration shows a typical cloud horizon.
(From General Maitland’s published logbook.)

All good things must come to an end, so it is said. For 3 days the crew of the R34 have partied hearty. However, bad weather was on the horizon and Major Scott makes the decision to take off and head for home before the forecast storm hits.

From General Maitland’s log:

Time 11.30 p.m. (New York summer time)—It is very dark, and the wind is gusting up to thirty miles per hour on the ground.

Our final preparations are made in the ghostly light of powerful searchlights.

We have made hosts of friends during our three wonderful days in America, and they are all here on the ground to see us off.

11.40 p.m.—Last farewells. Crew are all aboard and Scott releases ballast to ensure the ship being light when starting. At the last moment another bag of mails and a case of rum are thrown in through the open window of the forward car.

11.54 p.m. (July 9th, New York summer time, or 3.54 a.m., July 10th, Greenwich mean time).—Away.

A great cheer comes up to us as we rise into the sky and steer straight for New York…

Again that strange feeling of loneliness—as sudden as it is transient.

And the R34 is away! Motoring into the night sky on her way from Long Island to the heart of the Big Apple.

[Note:—While in the midst of last minute research, I made the most wonderful discovery: The Log of H.M.A. R34: Journey to America and Back by Air-Commodore E.M. Maitland.

What an exciting find! The book is available online and in ebook form at https://archive.org/details/logofhmajourney00maitrich

General Maitland, with wit, humor, and an eye to the poetic, gives us a most extraordinary travelogue. This book is his actual log that he kept almost minute by minute on the R34’s voyage to America and back. The publishing of he log in 1920 is made all the more important by the fact General Maitland died in the R38 tragedy the following year. His death was a huge blow to the British rigid airship program.

For me, having relied on a host of secondary sources for my accounting of the voyage, the discovery of his log emphasized the importance of primary sources in research. For according to General Maitland, the rough journey depicted in the secondary sources of the flight to America simply wasn’t the case. There were only a couple episodes of violent movement, according to Maitland. At all other times the ship’s movements were slow and deliberate. Nothing like a storm-tossed ship on the sea. He makes numerous comments of never feeling “seasick” or more appropriately, as he noted, “airsick”.

However, not being able to find the source of the “rough” journey stories, I must consider the political aspects. General Maitland was a dyed in the wool airshipman. He wrote numerous times of the future airliners and what the R34’s flight demonstrated was needed in them. His job was to make an assessment of the feasibility of long-distance airship travel. Could it be the General “softened” his account of the actual conditions? Possible. After all, he needed to convince the Air Ministry bureaucrats that airliners were not only possible but desirable.

So where did my secondary sources get their “rough” journey information? Perhaps newspaper accounts drawn from the crew members, who may have exaggerated the dangers to make themselves look even more heroic and to please the journalists looking for a hot story.

Whatever the case, and hopefully I can find out by the time of the R34’s centenary in 2019, do read the log. It is an exciting and extraordinary travelogue. An adventure back in time as well as to a fantasy land that exists above the clouds.]

There is more to come as the R34 makes her way home to Britain. So stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure!

R34 moored out at Mineola copy

R 34 moored out at Mineola. Viewed by searchlight.
(From the published logbook of General Maitland.)

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Zeppelin Mania: R-34’s Crew Feted in America

New York wined and dined the crew of the R-34. Stowaway William Ballantyne was treated as a celebrity and followed by news-hungry journalists trying to milk his story to the full. Major Scott, the airship’s captain, was mobbed and pieces of his clothing torn off for souvenirs.

A rigid airship had never been in America before and New Yorkers welcomed their British cousins as heroes. When General Maitland had a tooth repaired, the dentist requested his signature in lieu of payment.

But not all Americans viewed the R-34’s crossing as a good thing. An article in The New York Times contained in this statement: “John Bull is hard-headed and business-like. He is set on being master of the air. What is Uncle Sam going to do about it?”

And there were those who weren’t very impressed with the airship itself. Aircraft designer Grover Loening wrote: “My first impression was how ‘unrigid’ it really was… Close up one was astounded to see how the frame squeaked, bent and shivered with the cloth covering almost flapping in wind gusts… I was shocked at its flimsiness… frantically the crew and many others tugged and pulled on ropes and handrails to restrain the monster…”

Concerning Loening’s last statement, we must bear in mind there were no proper landing facilities for a giant airship in America. No shed. No mooring mast. The R-34 was literally a giant balloon over two football fields long that was staked to the ground!

In addition, Loening’s statement could equally be applied to the airplanes of his day. Back then anyone who took to the air was brave and daring.

In spite of the few party poopers, the R-34’s arrival in New York fueled America’s zeppelin fever. We wanted one ourselves! And we got one four years later. The ZR-1 Shenandoah.

Tomorrow, the R-34 takes off for England and the completion of its historic flight. Stay tuned!

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Zeppelin Mania: R-34 Day 5

LandingOfBritishDirigibleR-341919-1

The Landing of the R-34 in America

 

Before dawn on Sunday, with the fuel situation desperate, Major Scott, the R-34’s captain, radioed the US Navy: “Will land Montauk.”

Shortly after 4 AM, the crew of the airship spotted the distinctive outline of Cape Cod and at long last the rough weather began to abate and a following wind increased the ship’s ground speed.

Chief Engineer, Second Lieutenant J D Shotter, organized a foraging party to drain every last drop of fuel from the ship’s 80 fuel tanks. Armed with pots and pans and jars, the party drained the tanks until they were bone dry and poured the fuel directly into the gravity-fed tanks above the engines.

At 7:20 in the morning, the airship appeared over Montauk. With only 90 miles to go, Scott decided to press on to Roosevelt Field in Mineola — the R-34’s original destination. And make it, she did. Thanks to Lieutenant Schotter’s foraging party. In fact, enough fuel had been collected to enable the giant airship to fly for another two hours at full speed.

When the R-34 appeared over Roosevelt Field, on the ground was a huge crowd of spectators and 500 military police to control them and 1000 men from the US Navy’s Air Service. However, a rigid airship had never been to America before and there was no experienced officer to direct the landing. The British team that was supposed to be on hand had gone to Boston when it was thought the airship would make a fuel stop in Massachusetts.

The decision was made for Major J E M Prichard to parachute to the ground and direct the landing operation. He landed heavily and in doing so became the first person to arrive in America by air. He was instantly mobbed by reporters, one of whom asked, “Can you tell us what your first impressions of America are, sir?” Prichard responded, “Hard.” He then rode off on a motorbike to direct the landing of the airship.

When the R-34 finally came down at 9:54 AM that Sunday morning, the 6th of July 1919, she’d been in the air 108 hours and 12 minutes — setting a new endurance record. General Maitland recorded, “We couldn’t have cut it much finer.”

R34 Mineola

The R-34 in Mineola, NY

 

The R-34 was the first aircraft to make the difficult east-west crossing of the Atlantic. Just a few weeks earlier, Alcock and Brown, in a Vickers Vimy, had made the west-east flight. But clearly in 1919 the way of the future was the airship. Alcock and Brown flew in an open cockpit, at times upside down, had flown a shorter distance, and ended up nose first in an Irish bog.

The R-34 carried 31 men in relative comfort, flown through weather no airplane could, and had arrived at their destination intact. And at the time had made the crossing no airplane could — flying from Europe to America. It wasn’t until 1938 that a specially modified version of the Focke-Wulf Condor made the first non-stop flight from Berlin to New York City. Airships had been making regular non-stop flights for years by then.

In my research, I came across this wonderful site — Vanderbilt Cup Races — which has loads of pictures and video of the R-34. Do take a look. It’s fabulous.

The second video is labeled an unknown field; however, I’d guess it was the R-34’s homecoming since the ground crew was walking her into her shed.

Today, when air travel is taken for granted, it’s difficult to imagine the euphoria created by the flight of the R-34. True, it was an airplane that made the first non-stop flight across the Atlantic — but that flight did nothing to inspire dreams of air travel, the air travel we all now take for granted. It was the flight of the R-34 that fueled the dream of the possible that eventually became reality.

Stay tuned! There’s more to come! After all, the R-34 has to now fly home. Until next time, keep your eyes to the sky! The zeppelins are coming!

R-34 mural

Peppino Mangravite mural of R-34’s landing.
Located in the US Post Office in Hempstead, NY.

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