Skip to main content

H M Airship R101

The above photograph shows the lying-in-state of the 48 victims of the fire that destroyed H M airship R101 in 1930. This section of Living Heritage explores the story of the commissioning, building, flying and eventual destruction of R101.

The Building of R100 and R101

In the 1920s, the answer to long-distance air travel was seen to be the rigid airship rather than the aeroplane as, at that time, the latter could only carry a few passengers over relatively short distances in daylight.

In 1924, the British Government launched the Imperial Airship Scheme and commissioned two prototype airships to carry out trial flights to Canada and India as the precursor to the establishment of regular airship services across the British Empire.

The R100 was built by a subsidiary of Vickers Ltd at Howden, in Yorkshire, and was designed by Dr (later Sir) Barnes Wallis.  The R101 was designed and built at the state-owned Royal Airship Works at Cardington, Bedfordshire. The R100 first flew on 16th December 1929 when it transferred to Cardington. The R101 had flown two months earlier on 14th October 1929.

Passenger accommodation was provided inside the hull of the R101 with two-berth cabins, a lounge, dining room, smoking room and promenade decks.  However, neither airship could achieve the original requirement to carry 100 passengers and this was soon reduced to 50.  Both airships were inflated with hydrogen, as helium was not then available in Britain.

Picture: Parliamentary Archives, HL/PO/RO/1/181

Also in this section

Find out more about the important moments in the history of Westminster Hall.

Find out more

Airships Online

The Airship Heritage Trust aims to foster and promote the study of the history of airships and present this to the public. You can find out further information about the Trust and the R101 through their website.

Find out more

Related information

Learn about the lying-in-state ceremony