R101

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The R101 was a British airship constructed in 1929-30as part of an intended programme to link major cities of the British Empire by airship services. The R101 was built at Cardington, in Bedfordshire in eastern England. It was constructed under state auspices by Britain's Socialist government of 1929-32, as part of a plan to demonstrate the superiority of socialism over free enterprise: it was to stand comparison with the airship R100, built by the free enterprise Vickers company at Howden, in East Yorkshire. Unfortunately for the socialists, the R100 proved a technical triumph: it was built on time, under budget, and proved successful in operation. The R101 by contrast was finished late, massively over-budget, and handled very poorly. Its 'lift' was so poor that the ship had to be sliced in half and an extra section, holding more gas bags, inserted in the middle. Also, its construction was subject to state interference. The Air Minister, Lord Thompson, a member of the socialist Labour government, wished for reasons of personal vanity to travel to India in the R101 in October 1930, and pressised the builders to have the ship ready by that time. They complied, even though the airship was still not working satisfactorily. On preparing to depart, Thompson also brought more than a ton of luggage on board, although weight-saving was essential and crew members were restricted to 20 lbs each. The R101 finally took off from Cardington on its maiden voyage on Saturday 4 October 1930. In strong winds early the next morning it crashed into low hills near Beauvais in northern France and burst into flame. 48 on board died in or as a result of the crash; just seven survived. The vainglorious Thompson was one of the dead. [1]


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