East Fortune museum marks trans-Atlantic airship trip 100 years on

The airship.
The airship.
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The centenary of a record-breaking airship journey is being marked by Scotland’s National Museum of Flight.

The giant R34 airship made the first return flight across the Atlantic and the first east-west crossing by air in 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. Pic: Phil Wilkinson

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. Pic: Phil Wilkinson

Bosses at the East Lothian museum, a base which has a close connection to the airship’s history, hope visitors will use the anniversary as a reason to visit and learn about the epic 6,000-mile double-Atlantic crossing.

The 634ft R34, nicknamed Tiny, was stationed at East Fortune – now home to the museum, which started out as a Royal Naval Air Station.

The primary duty of airships was to protect convoys and carry out anti-submarine activities.

HMA R34 arrived at East Fortune in May 1919, having been constructed at the Wm Beardmore factory at Inchinnan near Glasgow but completed too late for active service in the First World War.

The Museum hopes that visitors will use the centenary as a reason to visit and learn about the epic journey.'''Pic: Phil Wilkinson

The Museum hopes that visitors will use the centenary as a reason to visit and learn about the epic journey.'''Pic: Phil Wilkinson

The airship’s main claim to fame came in July 1919 when it and a crew of 30 set off on the first direct flight between Britain and the US – complete with a stowaway cat aboard.

Its journey began on July 2, just a few weeks after Alcock and Brown’s record-breaking west-east Atlantic flight.

The R34 reached Mineola in Long Island at 9.45am on July 6, 108 hours and 12 minutes after departing from Scotland.

The journey was hampered by dwindling fuel supplies, violent squalls and a leak that was repaired with the crew’s supply of chewing gum.

Its story is told as part of the National Museum of Flight’s Fortunes of War permanent display.

It features objects such as the large bowplate from the R34, 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.

The museum is also launching a search for images of memorabilia plus recollections from descendants of the R34’s crew members, which it hopes to develop into a digital gallery to help tell the airship’s 
story.

Ian Brown, assistant curator of aviation, said: “The story of the R34 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, and it’s fascinating to know that the crew really were convinced that large, rigid airships like the R34 were the future of long-distance travel.

“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.”

Memorabilia from the first flight is to be auctioned in Cheshire on Thursday. It includes a letter written by Captain Reverend George Davys Jones, who was stationed at RAF East Fortune. It was posted back to Capt. Jones’ sister Donie in Bournemouth, Dorset – who complained that she had to pay 3d extra duty for the letter being sent from America.

The National Museum of Flight begins seven-day opening for the new season on Saturday.