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Places > Cardington > Airships

R101The R101 airship was built at Cardington and made her first flight in October 1929. At 777ft, she was the largest airship in the world.

There were a number of minor mishaps on her initial flights including sluggishness and lack of lift. In June 1930 she went into a steep dive for over 500ft when returning from the Hendon air show. The crew managed to bring her back under control, only to have to deal with a second and a third dive.

The R101 plainly had significant problems but Lord Thomson, the Secretary of State for Air, insisted that the R101 be ready for a flight to India on the 4th October 1930. Lord Thomson had personal political ambitions in  India and wanted to see a regular airship service from London to Karachi, via Egypt. As a result of this pressure, repairs were hurried and the airship patched with a rubber solution.

On the evening of 4th October the R101 left Cardington. She carried 42 crew, 6 officials and 6 passengers. A crowd of over 3,000 came to watch the departure. The start of the journey was not propitious; ballast had to be dumped to compensate for over loading, strong winds were encountered and the aft engines broke down.

At approximately 2 am the R101 passed over Beauvais, a French city to the north-west of Paris. Already flying at very low altitude she went into a dive and despite all the efforts of the crew she crashed just south of the city. The airship ran along the ground for some distance before being engulfed by flames.

Forty eight people died in the tragedy. National feeling surrounding the disaster was huge; the funeral procession through London was watched by thousands. The bodies were then taken by special train to Bedford to be laid to rest in a communal grave in Cardington cemetery.



R101, by Bedfordshire Libraries, 2005

Page last updated: 23rd January 2014