R38 (airship)

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The first test drive

The R38 was a rigid airship that was built in Great Britain in 1921 for the US Navy . The American designation ZR-2 was already attached to the fuselage during the test drives over Great Britain.

Development and construction

ZR-2's base in America was to become Lakehurst . For this purpose, the airship should be transferred across the Atlantic after the test drives have been completed. Due to delays in the construction of the ZR-1 USS Shenandoah , the R38 / ZR-2 became the first of the five US rigid airships built to date (2009). It was already running almost a year before construction of the ZR-1 began. The construction of the British R37 at Short Brothers had previously been abandoned after 93% of the construction cost had already been spent with 325,000 pounds and only the shell and the gas cells were missing.

In its first test run, which took place at the Royal Airship Works in Cardington on June 23, 1921 , the R38 / ZR-2 was about 213 m long and 85,000 cubic meters (other source 77,000 m³) lifting gas volume ( hydrogen ) the world's largest airship built up to that point . It was to keep this title until 1928, when LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was built .

The construction was based on a German design for a light, ramping up war airship, which was designed less for high speeds or good maneuverability, but more for high altitude to avoid enemy aircraft. For example, the ring spacing was 15 m.

In the following weeks, three more test drives were undertaken to test the ship and to brief the delegation of the future crew who had come from the USA.

The end

The wreck of R38 on the Humber

The fourth test run began on August 23, 1921. After a night over the sea, full load and maneuvering attempts were made the next day . The skeleton of the airship broke in the air. The hydrogen gas ignited in the front part; this part fell into the River Humber near the town of Hull . All the crew members who were in it perished except for Captain Wann. The rear part fell on a sandbar, in which four crew members survived. Overall, only five of the 49 English and American crew members survived the crash on August 24, including one American. 16 members of the US Navy, and thus almost all experienced US rigid airmen, died. R38 / ZR-2 was equipped with parachutes for all crew members who were at different stations, but most of the users of these parachutes landed in burning kerosene .

This disaster meant the end of British military airship travel and interrupted British airship construction for about 10 years. It was only continued with R100 and R101 . In 1922, the US Navy in Germany ordered the Zeppelin LZ 126 to replace the lost ship, which, under the name ZR-3 "USS Los Angeles", was to become America's most successful rigid airship.


  • Drive: six Sunbeam Cossack motors with a total of 1550 kW
  • Frame: 17-sided with 14 gas cells
  • Payload: 46 t
  • Maximum speed determined: 113 km / h

See also

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e Peter Kleinheins (Ed.): The large zeppelins 3rd edition. Springer, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-540-21170-5 in Chapter 10 “Achievements and fate of the large airships from 1908–1924” on pages 152 and 153
  2. Book: Hindenburg ISBN 3-8094-1871-4 p. 65
  3. a b u. A. in the captions to the photos on the pages of the US Naval Historical Center ( memento of October 13, 2014 in the Internet Archive )