Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

Registered UK Charity (No. 115342)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,152 pages of information and 245,599 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

R32

From Graces Guide

The R31 class of British rigid airships was constructed in the closing months of World War I and comprised two aircraft, R31 and R32.

They were designed by the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors – with assistance from a Herr Müller who had defected to Britain and previously worked for the Schütte-Lanz airship company – and built by Short Brothers at the Cardington airship sheds. The airship frame was made from spruce plywood laminated into girder sections, weatherproofed with varnish, and also fireproofed. These enclosed 21 gas bags. R31 was the largest British airship to fly before the end of the war, and the class remains the largest mobile wooden structures ever built.

As the airships were intended for fleet protection operations, they were to be fitted with defensive machine guns on top of the envelope, at the stern and in the gondolas. A 12-pounder gun was to be fitted in a special position centrally below the airship for use against U-boats. In the event, this armament was only fitted to R31, as R32 was only completed after the armistice with Germany.

It had also been intended to fit a bomb load of two 520 lb bombs and four 230 lb bombs. but with the end of hostilities these were never installed on either airship.

After being formally accepted by the Royal Navy, R32 made her first trial flight on 3 September 1919 and then on 6 September went to RNAS Pulham, Norfolk.

On 10 September in formation with the R33 she made a flight over the Netherlands, Belgium and Northern France and back to Pulham.

In October 1919 the R32 with the rest of the airship fleet was formally handed over to the Royal Air Force. There then followed a period when the airship was used by the National Physical Laboratory for structural testing.

On 20 March 1920 she was flown to the base at Howden, East Yorkshire, to be refurbished and used for crew training by the American party who had come to accept the R38 (ZR-2). When the metal-framed R80 became available, the use of the by now obsolete wooden-framed R32 stopped and, to save money, she was decommissioned and used to assess the effect of a gas-bag bursting. Once the covering had been removed and the engines taken away, cell No.18 was overpressurised until the expansion caused the bracing and structure to fail. The frame was subsequently dismantled.

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