My Notable Reads of 2016

We are three days into the new year. There are 355 days until Christmas. Just in case anyone was curious. Most of us aren’t quite yet looking in that direction. We’re still making the adjustment from 2016 to 2017, still writing 2016 half the time on whatever we need to date. So I’m going to take one more look back at 2016 before I shove off on my 2017 adventure.

For me, 2016 was a good year. Especially in the reading department. I read some really great books and stories. There are a lot of good writers out there. I mentioned a few in a previous post. Classics, new releases, traditionally published, and self-published. In fact, I was very impressed with most of the self-published books I read.

At the end of this post, I give you my list of 2016 reading material in case you want to check out some of the great reads I came across; links are included where available.

Today, I want to highlight for you what I thought were the best of the lot, the cream on the milk.

Non-Fiction

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2016. Most of it was in the form of online articles as part of my research for my books. I did, however, read two non-fiction books out of general interest in the subject matter.

The more enjoyable of the two was E.M. Maitland’s The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back. This book is a day by day and sometimes hourly by hourly chronicle of the historic 1919 round trip flight of the rigid airship R34. The R34 was the first aircraft to make the difficult east to west flight across the Atlantic from Europe to America and was the first to make a complete round trip. Her flight demonstrated that trans-Atlantic commercial flight was possible.

Commodore Maitland’s style is at once informative, lively, witty, and entertaining. Making it an excellent travelogue.

The book is available for free and every airship enthusiast and armchair traveler should have a copy.

Short Stories

I love short stories. Perhaps more than novels. Even in a good novel, my interest at time lags. Especially when the author hits a dull patch of road, which inevitably happens. Sometimes even with the best of writers. Rarely does that happen, in my experience, with a short story. Even a mediocre one.

All of the short stories I read this past year were good. The ones of exceptional merit (aside from generally recognized classics) were

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

SoulWave” by RR Willica

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

The Room that Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Of those five excellent tales, I do want to single out “Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn. It is an exquisitely lyrical story of terror that is replete with haunting atmosphere, incipient dread, and unrelenting suspense. It is by far one of the most well-crafted stories I’ve read in a long time.

But do check out the other 4 on the above list. They are all well-written, imaginative (especially “SoulWave”), and prove that indies can give us a story as good as any publisher or magazine editor can.

Short Story Anthologies

Anthologies are at best uneven. Even if the stories are by a single author. No one is consistently at his or her best. And that goes without saying for the 4 anthologies I read.

On the whole, they were good and are worth getting. The one I enjoyed the most was The Spike Collection by Martin Skate. Mr Skate’s hilarious slice of life vignettes are highly entertaining. A collection not to be missed.

Novels

The two dozen novels I read were a mix of speculative fiction, mysteries, humor, horror, and historical fiction.

There were two clunkers in the lot: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne, and The Time Machine by HG Wells.

The Verne novel was my third reading. The first time, when a kid, I love it. The other two reads were as an adult. The old translation was ponderous and boring. The modern translation was better, conveying some of Verne’s humor, but the story remained dull and boring.

The Wells story was my second time through. Dry as two day old toast. Endless description, little action, and the only character I cared about, Weena, the author did not. Thoroughly and hopelessly dated. The movie was better.

On the Beach by Nevil Shute was at times slow and almost dull. And then Shute uncorks the most emotionally moving conclusion I think I’ve ever read. It literally had me sobbing. Powerful is wholly inadequate to describe it.

John Wyndham’s cozy catastrophe, The Day of the Triffids, was at once a testament to the dangers inherent in our monkeying around with Mother Nature and to our penchant for creating weapons of self-destruction — as well as to our unrelenting will to survive and better our lot. A classic and deservedly so.

There were, however, a few books that were on the top of the pile. Books that were thoroughly entertaining or thought-provoking. Well crafted tales that prove the Big 5 publishers do not have a corner on giving us good books.

These indie authored gems were

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Bargdill’s two books are dark and gritty mainstream novels that give us plenty of food for thought. At the same time there is humor and hope. Well crafted. The Big 5 are missing out here.

Willoughby’s ghost tale is suspenseful and has a happier ending than many such tales. For those who like their terror not so dark, Daddy’s Girl fits the bill perfectly. Willoughby’s style is lean. Not excessive. He gives us just the right amount to produce the desired effects. I’m looking forward to reading more from this guy.

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom has one of the best titles I’ve come across in a long time. But the goodness doesn’t stop there. We get a hilarious, at times thought-provoking, good old-fashioned whodunit and a memorable protagonist in Kadence MacBride. Croom is a very good writer and I’m looking forward to reading more of Kadence’s adventures.

Don’t miss any of these novels. Really. Don’t miss out.

Hopefully I’ve sown a few seeds for your 2017 reading. Let me know what you’ve read. I’m always looking for a good book.

The Bibliography

Non-Fiction

The Log of HMA R34: Journey to America and Back by EM Maitland

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen

The Journal of Submarine Commander von Forstner by Georg-Gunther Forstner

Short Stories

Curse Upon a Star” by Sylvia Heike

Goodbye, Sunshine” by Sylvia Heike

The Red Lady’s Wedding” by Deina Furth

The Otherlife” by Dot Dannenberg

The Adventure of the Fatal Glance” by August Derleth

Wasteland” by R Entwisle

The TNT Punch” by Robert E Howard

The Highway” by Ray Bradbury

Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway

The Garden and the Market” by Richard B Walsh

“Test Piece” by Eric Frank Russell

Bone White” by Sarah Zama

SoulWave” by RR Willica

Confession” by Micah Castle

The Room That Swallows People” by G Jefferies

Ghost Carp” by G Jefferies

Cinder” by Crispian Thurlborn

Short Story Anthologies

Defiant, She Advanced: Legends of Future Resistance, ed. by George Donnelly

Oriental Stories: Five Complete Novelettes by Robert E Howard

The Spike Collection by Martin Skate

Den of Antiquity by Jack Taylor, et al

Novels

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Banana Sandwich by Steve Bargdill

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Wasteland by Steve Bargdill

After London, or Wild England by Richard Jefferies

Daddy’s Girl by Ben Willoughby

The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Time Machine by HG Wells

On the Beach by Nevil Shute

Deluge by S. Fowler Wright

The Killings at Badger’s Drift by Caroline Graham

Death of an Idiot Boss by Janice Croom

Beyond the Rails by Jack Tyler

Perilous Ping by William J Jackson

Killing Floor by Lee Child

Die Trying by Lee Child

China Trade by SJ Rozan

Start Right Here by Martin Skate

Concourse by SJ Rozan

This Doesn’t Happen in the Movies by Renee Pawlish

Reel Estate Rip-Off by Renee Pawlish

Mandarin Plaid by SJ Rozan

Dawn by S. Fowler Wright

Dust and Kisses by Dean Wesley Smith

 

Mincemeat Pie Update

I made my mincemeat pie using Crosse and Blackwell mincemeat. I have to say None Such brand is better. The saving grace was the brandy butter. 🙂 Brandy butter is easy to make: cream together butter, sugar, and brandy. Voila!

Until next time, happy reading!!

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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 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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Zeppelin Mania: R-34 Day 4

R-34 in Flight

All day the giant airship butted strong headwinds. Major Scott, the ship’s captain, ran only three engines in order to economize on fuel and to avoid the worst of the winds, flew at 800 feet.

With great reluctance, Scott radioed for US Navy destroyers to stand by off Cape Cod so the airship could refuel at sea or be taken in tow. He also presented the possibility of refueling at the Naval Air Station at Chatham, Massachusetts or at Montauk, on the eastern tip of Long Island.

During the afternoon, the situation grew more desperate. The compass card began spinning like a top and that meant only one thing: an electrical storm was approaching. And then the squall hit. The winds pushed the ship up and down at alarming angles. The gravity fed engines couldn’t operate properly at the steep inclines and would cut out and then cut in again. Dangerous tongues of flame spurted out of the exhaust pipes.

The girders creaked like the timbers of an old sailing ship. During one violent lurch, the chief engineer was almost thrown through an open hatch into the sea. He saved himself by hooking a foot around a girder.

Violent updrafts and downdrafts tossed the ship up hundreds of feet and then let it drop hundreds more. The tail flexed alarmingly with the strain.

During the night, the crew wore parachutes and kept lifebelts close at hand.

Stay tuned! More to come about this epic voyage!

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Zeppelin Mania: R-34 Day 3

R-34 in Flight

July 4 (a Friday in 1919) brought with it a beautifully wonderful sunrise and a very welcome reprieve from the rough winds of the night’s stormy weather.

The fog still obscured a view of the sea, although the occasional break did occur which revealed bluish-green patches of water and large number of icebergs.

General Maitland remarked that the airship liner of the future will be immune from the risk of hitting one of those floating ice mountains. It must be remembered, a mere seven years earlier, the Titanic had struck one and sunk with a terrible loss of life.

Shortly before 1 PM a celebration broke out in the control car. From the log book:

Land in sight. Hooray! First spotted by Scott on starboard bow. A few small rocky islands visible for a second or two through the clouds and instantly swallowed up by them. Altered course S.W. to try and get a closer look at them. Eventually make them out to be north coastline of Newfoundland. This is quite the most thrilling moment of our voyage — great excitement on board. Whether or not we now succeed in getting through to New York, we have at any rate successfully accomplished the first stage of our adventure, and are the first to bridge the gulf from east to west by way of the air.

However, not all was bliss. Mineola Field on Long Island was still many miles away and the airship’s progress was reduced to a crawl due to strong head winds. And to make matters worse, the R-34 was running out of fuel.

More to come, so stay tuned!

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Zeppelin Mania: R-34 Day 2

R-34 in Flight

July 3rd, Morning. Over halfway to Newfoundland. Beyond wireless range. Southeasterly wind picking up.

Midday. Lunch of cold roast beef and only one cold potato for each crew member. General Maitland lamented, “We are short of potatoes, having eaten too many yesterday!” However, there are plenty of provisions still onboard: bread, butter, cheese, chocolate, and tea. And thank God for the tea!

One of the assessments the General had to make was that of the airship’s potential for future long-distance flights and to suggest improvements. Food is an important relief to the monotony of a long flight, especially when all there is to see are clouds. Future airships will definitely need cooking facilities.

Afternoon. The southeasterly wind has grown stronger. The sea has become very rough. Heavy rain is falling.

Evening. The thick fog is making life on the airship unpleasantly cold. There is an air of anxiety amongst the crew. To make matters worse, fierce squalls are causing the ship to pitch up and down. A log entry reads:

The rain is driving through the roof of the fore car in many places, and there is a thin film of water over the chart table. The wind is roaring to such an extent that we have to shout to make ourselves heard. Time for evening meal, but no one gives it a thought while this entertainment is going on.

What a miserable night for the crew of the R-34; but the ship motors on, heading for America.

More to come! Stay tuned!

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