The crash that ended an era

The R100 and R101 were prototypes of craft intended to provide fast passenger travel to all corners of the British Empire. In a bizarre government test of public versus private enterprise, the R100 was built by Vickers and the R101 by the state-owned Royal Airship Works. The R101’s diesel engines were heavier than expected and […]

The R100 and R101 were prototypes of craft intended to provide fast passenger travel to all corners of the British Empire. In a bizarre government test of public versus private enterprise, the R100 was built by Vickers and the R101 by the state-owned Royal Airship Works.

The R101’s diesel engines were heavier than expected and did not perform to specification, leaving the ship overweight and underpowered. It was cut in two to add an extra section and gasbag to give more lift.

The crafts’ acceptance trials called for a long-distance flight. The petrol-engined R100 flew to Montreal and back. Under pressure to equal this feat, and to fit in with Air Minister Lord Thomson’s schedule, the R101 set off for Karachi, despite having had only minimal trials since being modified. An inspector who refused to grant it an airworthiness certificate was overruled.

It crashed near Beauvais in a storm in the early morning of 30 October 1930, killing all but six of the 56 on board. The R100 never flew again and was broken up for scrap.