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R38 maiden flight
R38 emerges from hangar

On this day 23 August 1921

Published: 23 Aug 2014

On this day 23 August 1921 R38 crashes in River Humber

The R38 was the designed in response to an Admiralty requirement of June 1918 for an airship capable of six days of patrol, at ranges of up to 300 miles from home base, and at altitudes of up to 22,000 ft. Four ships were planned, but the end of the war meant three were cancelled. R38 was going to be cancelled too but the Americans bought it. The R38 made its first flight on 23 June 1921 flying from Cardington to RNAS Howden where a full conversion to American livery was to be made, she had already being painted with an American star.

On 23 August in the early morning R38 took off for her fourth flight to RNAS Pulham, Norfolk where she could be moored to a mast, a facility lacking at Howden. In the event mooring proved impossible because of low cloud and so the airship turned out to sea with the intention of running some high speed tests and then returning to Howden. The speed runs proved successful and as there was still daylight left it was decided to try some low altitude rudder tests to simulate the effects of the rough weather that could be expected on the Atlantic crossing. At 17:37, fifteen degrees of rudder was applied over the city of Hull. Eye witnesses reported seeing creases down the envelope and then both ends drooped. This was followed by a fire in the bow and then a large explosion which broke windows over a large area. The airship had failed structurally and fell into the shallow waters of the Humber estuary. Sixteen of the 17 Americans and 28 of the 32 Britons in the crew were killed. The five who survived were in the tail section. This disaster resulted in more deaths than the more famous Hindenburg Disaster that killed 35. The American dead were repatriated to America by HMS Dauntless.


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