Tuesday, May 21, 2013
R100 vs R101
When I conceptualized the airship, I looked at the Hindenburg for inspiration. Since I did not want to see the airship end in a fire-ball, I opted for a non-hydrogen lifting gas--steam. The US zeppelin program lasted several years longer, but the highest-profiles zeppelins operated by the US Navy were lost in storms.
Sadly, I gave short shrift to the British airship programs. This is unforgivable when researching a novel featuring a British airship. The Akron and the Macon as well as the Graf Zeppelin and Hindenburg all get prominent mention in the articles I've read, but less so the R100 and R101. It's probably the flashy names.
this chestnut. It seems the R100 and the R101 were built by a company named Vickers and by the British civil service, respectively.
One of my surprises upon visiting the UK was seeing private-owned infrastructure where I didn't expect it. If you wait at a bus stop in my home town of Grand Rapids, the bus which pulls up will be owned by GRATA, an entity of the city government that loses money and is propped up by taxes. If you ride a train in the US, it is owned by AmTrak, an entity of the Federal government that loses money and is propped up by taxes.
The R101 is a good example of what can happen when political rather than economic or engineering considerations drive a project. The government does not want to be embarrassed and it will use whatever means necessary to avoid embarrassment and shift blame away from itself. Conversely, corporations do not want to lose money and it will use whatever means necessary to minimize loss and shift risks away from itself.
The R100 had already successfully flown to Canada and back. To minimize further embarrassment the UK government grounded it and broke it up for scrap.
To be fair, the state of mathematics and computations at the time made strength-of-materials calculations difficult and time consuming. Thus both ships were probably too weak to handle extreme weather and the UK government's decision to fly in deteriorating weather doomed the R101.
Just a few years after this the US Navy's airship USS Akron would be lost in a storm, and a few years after that the USS Macon would be lost in another storm. Given the available materials and the inability of the engineers to accurately gauge loads, the R100 would have probably been lost in a storm--eventually.
Though the Germans-built airships Graf Zeppelin and Graf Zeppelin II were not lost to storms, they could not survive Herman Goring's order that they be dismantled. Perhaps the Germans knew a little bit more about structural engineering or meteorology than the UK and US.