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Sat Jul 6, 2019, 08:22 AM

100 Years Ago Today; British Dirigible R34 completes first east-to-west transatlantic crossing


R34 landing at Mineola on 6 July 1919

R34 made her first flight on 14 March 1919 and was delivered to her service base at East Fortune on 29 May after a 21-hour flight from Inchinnan. R34 had set out the previous evening, but thick fog made navigation difficult, and after spending the night over the North Sea the airship was unable to moor in the morning due to fog. After cruising as far south as Yorkshire R34 returned to East Fortune to dock at about 3 p.m. The airship made her first endurance trip of 56 hours over the Baltic from 17 to 20 June.

It was then decided to attempt the first return Atlantic crossing, under the command of Major George Scott. R34 had never been intended as a passenger carrier and extra accommodation was arranged by slinging hammocks in the keel walkway. A plate was welded to an engine exhaust pipe to allow for the preparation of hot food.

The crew included Brigadier-General Edward Maitland and Zachary Lansdowne as the representative of the US Navy. William Ballantyne, one of the crew members scheduled to stay behind to save weight, stowed away with the crew's mascot, a small tabby kitten called "Wopsie"; they emerged at 2.00 p.m. on the first day, too late to be dropped off.

R34 left Britain on 2 July 1919 and arrived at Mineola, Long Island, United States, on 6 July after a flight of 108 hours with virtually no fuel left. As the landing party had no experience of handling large rigid airships, Major E. M. Pritchard jumped by parachute and so became the first person to reach American soil by air from Europe. This was the first East-West aerial crossing of the Atlantic and was achieved weeks after the first transatlantic aeroplane flight. The return journey to RNAS Pulham took place from 10 to 13 July and took 75 hours. Returned to East Fortune for a refit, R34 then flew to Howden, East Yorkshire, for crew training.

On 27 January 1921 R34 set off on what should have been a routine exercise. Over the North Sea the weather worsened and a recall signal sent by radio was not received. Following a navigational error the craft flew into a hillside on the North Yorkshire Moors during the night, and the ship lost two propellers. She went back out to sea using the two remaining engines and in daylight followed the Humber Estuary back to Howden. Strong winds made it impossible to get her back into the shed, and she was tied down outside for the night. By the morning further damage had occurred and R34 was written off and scrapped.

The wreck of the R34 at Howden in January 1921


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