Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Imperial Airship Scheme

The R100 in Bedfordshire, England, just before leaving for Canada

In 1928, Germany launched the world's greatest airship, the Graf Zeppelin. For the next decade, it would make hundreds of flights all over the world: from Germany to the U.S., Brazil, Japan, even the north pole. It was enough to make the British very nervous.

Their answer was the Imperial Airship Scheme. It was a contest between a private military contractor and the British government to build the best blimp. The first to be finished was the "Capitalist ship", the R100. It was the fastest airship in the world, with a top speed of 130 km/h. And its first big test was a trip to Canada. For three days in the summer of 1930, it cruised across the Atlantic before finally reaching Quebec. A couple of weeks later, it was flying around the skyscrapers of downtown Toronto.

The whole trip was a rousing success. So much so, in fact, that once it returned home, the team working on the "Socialist ship", the R101, decided to push ahead with their voyage to India, which they'd thought they might postpone due to safety concerns. Their blimp made it all the way from England to France before plummeting to the ground and bursting into flame. The disaster killed 48 people, more than the Hindenberg. The Imperial Airship Scheme was abandoned, the R100 was grounded and then sold for scrap.

But not before she provided Toronto with some of the most elegant photos you'll ever find of the city. I'll post another below, as she flies by the Bank of Commerce Building (the tallest skyscraper in the British Empire, which I wrote about not too long ago). And there are more here (of people gathered on rooftops) and here (north-east of downtown, I think) and here (passing the not-yet-completed Canada Life building) and here (passing Queen's Park).

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