Airship’s trans-Atlantic flight

Ian Brown, Assistant Curator of Aviation at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian with a  camera used on the R.34 airship's record-breaking transatlantic flight from East Fortune to Mineola, Long Island in July 1919.
Ian Brown, Assistant Curator of Aviation at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian with a camera used on the R.34 airship's record-breaking transatlantic flight from East Fortune to Mineola, Long Island in July 1919.

The centenary year of the record-breaking 6,000-mile double-Atlantic crossing of the giant R.34 airship, which set off from East Lothian, is being celebrated at the National Museum of Flight.

Visitors to the museum at East Fortune can learn about the epic journey - the first ever return flight across the Atlantic and the first east-west crossing by air.

The voyage began on July 2, 1919, a few weeks after Alcock and Brown’s record-breaking west-east Atlantic flight, and involved the world’s first human and feline trans-Atlantic aerial stowaways, Newcastle man, William Ballantyne and Wopsie the cat.

The 634 ft R.34, nick-named Tiny, was stationed at East Fortune, now home to the National Museum of Flight, formerly a Royal Naval Air Station.

She came under the command of the Navy as her primary duties were convoy protection and anti-submarine activities.

She had one operational voyage over the Baltic Sea as part of a show of strength ahead of the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles but her claim to fame came when she and her crew of 30 set off on the first direct flight between Britain and the USA.

The destination was Mineola in Long Island, USA, and she arrived there on July 6, 1919, 108 hours and 12 minutes after departing East Fortune, following a journey hampered by dwindling fuel supplies, violent squalls and a leak that was repaired with the crew’s entire supply of chewing gum.

The story of the R.34’s record-breaking journey forms part of the National Museum of Flight’s Fortunes of War permanent display. It features the bowplate from the R.34, the airship’s altimeter dial, binoculars and a camera used on the flight as well as a bottle of brandy taken on board for medicinal reasons.

Visitors can also see a memorial to the flight and an R.34 flight simulator lets families recreate the flying experience of the record-breaking giant.

Ian Brown, assistant curator of aviation at the National Museum of Flight, said: “The story of the R.34 is packed with insights into the technologies and social history of the time. It was a huge undertaking that was front-page news both in the UK and the USA.

“We’re very proud that our East Fortune home has such close links to this historic adventure and hope that as many people as possible will visit during this centenary year to learn more about it.”

To mark the centenary, the National Museum of Flight is also launching a search for images of memorabilia plus recollections from descendants of the R.34’s crew members which it hopes to develop into a digital gallery to help tell the airship’s story. The crew was the toast of the town on arrival in the USA and was welcomed by President Woodrow Wilson at New York Town Hall. The R.34 then flew over the sky scrapers of New York as it set off for home.

Anyone wishing to share stories or images for the National Museum of Flight’s R.34 Digital Gallery should email info@nms.ac.uk, call 0131 247 4238 or post to National Museum of Flight, East Fortune Airfield, East Lothian, EH39 5LF.

Visit www.nms.ac.uk/flight for details and further information.