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R.33 and R-34

At the end of the war, the British had several rigid airships under construction. The most successful of these, based on a Zeppelin forced down in England in 1916, were the R33 anJ R34. The latter was the first aicraft to cross the Atlantic east to west and the first airship to make the west to east crossing. Both were first flown in 1919. The R34 was damaged in 1921 due to an operational error and never re-entered service. The R33 remained in intermittent use (as government policy toward airships fluctuated) until the end of 1926, making her the longest-lived British rigid.

Germany had been pushing forward Zeppelin design and straining every nerve in the improvement of rigid dirigible construction, until L.33 was evolved; she was generally known as a "super Zeppelin", and on September 24th, 1916, six weeks after her launching, she was damaged by gun-fire in a raid over London, being eventually compelled to come to earth at Little Wigborough in Essex. The crew gave themselves up after having set fire to the ship, and though the fabric was totally destroyed, the structure of the hull remained intact, so that just as Germany was able to evolve the Gotha bomber from the HandleyPage delivered at Lille, British naval constructors were able to evolve the R.33 type of airship from the Zeppelin framework delivered at Little Wigborough.

Two vessels, R.33 and R.34, were laid down for completion; three others were also put down for construction, but, while R.33 and R.34 were built almost entirely from the data gathered from the wrecked L.33, the three later vessels embodied more modern design, including a number of improvements, and more especially greater disposable lift. It has been commented that while the British authorities were building R.33 and R.34, Germany constructed 30 Zeppelins on 4 slips, for which reason it may be reckoned a matter for congratulation that the rigid airship did not decide the fate of the War.

In all its main features the hull structure of R.33 and R.34 followed the design of the wrecked German Zeppelin airship L.33. The hull follows more nearly a true stream-line shape than in the previous ships constructed of duralumin, in which a greater proportion of the greater length was parallel-sided. The Germans adopted this new shape from the Schutte-Lanz design and have not departed from this practice. This consists of a short, parallel body with a long, rounded bow and a long tapering stem culminating in a point. The overall length of the ship is 643 feet with a diameter of 79 feet and an extreme height of 92 feet.

The type of girders in this class has been much altered from those in previous ships. The hull is fitted with an internal triangular keel throughout practically the entire length. This forms the main corridor of the ship, and is fitted with a footway down the centre for its entire length. It contains water ballast and petrol tanks, bomb storage and crew accommodation, and the various control wires, petrol pipes, and electric leads are carried along the lower part.

Throughout this internal corridor ran a bridge girder, from which the petrol and water ballast tanks are supported. These tanks are so arranged that they can be dropped clear of the ship. Amidships is the cabin space with sufficient room for a crew of twentyfive. Hammocks can be swung from the bridge girder.

In accordance with the latest Zeppelin practice, monoplane rudders and elevators were fitted to the horizontal and vertical fins. The ship is supported in the air by nineteen gas bags, which give a total capacity of approximately two million cubic feet of gas. The gross lift works out at approximately tons, of which the total fixed weight is 33 tons, giving a disposable lift of 26 tons.

The arrangement of cars was as follows: At the forward end the control car is slung, which contains all navigating instruments and the various controls. Adjoining this is the wireless cabin, which is also fitted for wireless telephony. Immediately aft of this is the forward power car containing one engine, which gives the appearance that the whole is one large car.

Amidships were two wing cars, each containing a single engine. These are small and just accommodate the engines with sufficient room for mechanics to attend to them. Further aft is another larger car which contains an auxiliary control position and two engines. Five engines were installed in the ship; these are all of the same type and horsepower, namely, 250 horse-power Sunbeam. R.33 was constructed by Messrs Armstrong, Whitworth, Ltd.; while her sister ship R.34 was built by Messrs Beardmore on the Clyde.'

Of the two vessels, R.34 appeared rather more airworthy than her sister ship; the lift of the ship justified the carrying of a greater quantity of fuel than had been provided for, and, as she was considered suitable for making a Transatlantic crossing, extra petrol tanks were fitted in the hull and a new type of outer cover was fitted with a view to her making the Atlantic crossing. She made a 21 hour cruise over the North of England and the South of Scotland at the end of May, 1919, and subsequently went for a longer cruise over Denmark, the Baltic, and the north coast of Germany, remaining in the air for 56 hours in spite of very bad weather conditions.

Finally, July 2nd was selected as the starting date for the cross Atlantic flight; the vessel was commanded by Major G. H. Scott, A.F.C., with Captain G. S. Greenland as first officer, Second-Lieut. H. F. Luck as second officer, and Lieut. J. D. Shotter as engineer officer. There were also on board Brig.-Gen. E. P. Maitland, representing the Air Ministry, Major J. E. M. Pritchard, representing the Admiralty, and Lieut.-Col. W. H. Hemsley of the Army Aviation Department. In addition to eight tons of petrol, R.34 carried a total number of 30 persons from East Fortune to Long Island, N.Y. There being no shed in America capable of accommodating the airship, she had to be moored in the open for refilling with fuel and gas, and to make the return journey almost immediately.

Brig.-Gen. Maitland's account of the flight, in itself a record as interesting as valuable, divides the outward journey into two main stages, the first from East Fortune to Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, a distance of 2,050 sea miles, and the second and more difficult stage to Mineola Field, Long Island, 1,080 sea miles. An easy journey was experienced until Newfoundland was reached, but then storms and electrical disturbances rendered it necessary to alter the course, in consequence of which petrol began to run short. Head winds rendered the shortage still more acute, and on Saturday, July 5th, a wireless signal was sent out asking for destroyers to stand by to tow. However, after an anxious night, R.34 landed safely at Mineola Field at 9.55 a.m. on July 6th, having accomplished the journey in 108 hours 12 minutes.

She remained at Mineola until midnight of July 9th, when, although it had been intended that a start should be made by daylight for the benefit of New York spectators, an approaching storm caused preparations to be advanced for immediate departure. She set out at 5.57 a.m. by British summer time, and flew over New York in the full glare of hundreds of searchlights before heading out over the Atlantic. A following wind assisted the return voyage, and on July 13th, at 7.57 a.m., R.34 anchored at Pulham, Norfolk, having made the return journey in 75 hours 3 minutes, and proved the suitability of the dirigible for Transatlantic commercial work. R.80, launched on July 19th, 1920, afforded further proof, if this were needed.

It is to be noted that nearly all the disasters to airships had been caused by launching and landing - the type is safe enough in the air, under its own power, but its bulk renders it unwieldy for ground handling. The German system of handling Zeppelins in and out of their sheds is, so far, the best devised: this consists of heavy trucks running on rails through the sheds and out at either end; on descending, the trucks are run out, and the airship is securely attached to them outside the shed; the trucks are then run back into the shed, taking the airship with them, and preventing any possibility of the wind driving the envelope against the side of the shed before it is safely housed; the reverse process is adopted in launching, which is thus rendered as simple as it is safe.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2012 19:26:31 ZULU