The author of His Majesty’s Airship tells us about the era of the rigid airship and the fatal crash of the British airship R101. In the news, pilot medical condition reporting, the Boom Supersonic XB-1 demonstrator, two fatal military aircraft crashes, and the need for more air traffic controllers
Sam C. Gwynne has authored a new book titled His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine.
In 1930, Britain’s airship R101 was destined to transform air travel, link the far-flung outposts of the British Empire, and advance the career of ambitious Britain’s Secretary of State for Air, Lord Christopher Birdwood Thomson. The R101 would travel people in grand luxury with two floors of heated sleeping berths, bathrooms, cooking and dining facilities, and a smoking room.
Unfortunately, there were numerous complications, and their maiden voyage from England to British India’s Karachi and back took a fatal turn. While the May 1937 crash of the Hindenburg is infamous in U.S. lore, the fatal voyage of R101 is less well known, despite being one of the world’s great tales of aviation.
In our conversation, Sam places the R101 in the context of the rigid airships in the early 1900s. That includes issues of nationalism, competition with airplanes, and the British Imperial Airship Scheme of the 1920s that launched with the R100 and R101 sister airships. Sam says, “The history of airships is a history of a bad idea” and we explore the flawed technology that led to so many rigid airship disasters. As for the R101, Sam argues that the airship was an experimental prototype, which is dangerous by definition, but it was not treated that way.
Sam is the author of Hymns of the Republic and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor.
About 4,800 pilots are being investigated for falsifying medical records. They are military veterans who are receiving disability benefits for conditions that could make them unfit to fly. These include mental health disorders and other serious conditions. Veterans Affairs investigators discovered reporting inconsistencies when they cross-checked federal databases.
The Boom Supersonic XB-1 technology demonstrator received an FAA experimental airworthiness certificate. With that, Boom can begin flight testing at Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The XB-1 is 71 feet long and is powered by three small afterburning General Electric J85-15 engines. High-speed taxi tests have been conducted, with a run up to 60 kt. achieved on Aug. 23, 2023
A two-seat F/A-18D Hornet crashed just before midnight at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in the northern part of San Diego, California. The single pilot (Marine Maj. Andrew Mettler) aboard the F/A-18D was killed in the crash at MCAS Miramar. The Hornet belonged to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, based at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina,
Twenty-three Marines were on board the MV-22B Osprey aircraft. Three died and others were seriously wounded. The Marines were flying in support of Exercise Predators Run.
The FAA reached its goal of hiring 1,500 air traffic controllers this year and wants funding for 1,800 in 2024. About 2,600 controllers are currently in training. There were more than 12,000 applicants this year.
9th Annual Girls in Aviation Day, September 23, 2023.
Hosts this Episode
Max Flight, Max Trescott, David Vanderhoof, and our Main(e) Man Micah.