Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

Dropped airship letter goes on display at National Museum of Flight

Letter Image copyright Paul Dodds
Image caption Curator Ian Brown holds up the letter

A letter dropped over Nova Scotia from an airship during a record-breaking transatlantic crossing is to go on display in East Lothian.

The R34 made the first ever return flight across the Atlantic in 1919.

On board was a letter written by Rev George Davys Jones who asked the crew to post it to his sister in Bournemouth once they reached the USA.

When it was dropped over Nova Scotia, it was discovered and sent to its destination in England.

Rev Jones wrote the letter while he was the chaplain at RAF East Fortune, East Lothian, where the 634ft airship was based when it made the historic journey.

Now the letter is set to return to the base, which is now the National Museum of Flight.

Image copyright National Museums Scotland
Image caption Crowds gathered to see the R34 above East Fortune
Image copyright National Museums Scotland
Image caption This image shows most of the crew of the R34, including their mascot Wopsie the cat

It will be part of the museum's Fortunes of War gallery, which explains the history of the RAF base.

Assistant curator of aviation Ian Brown said the letter gives a first-hand account of the excitement felt on the ground at East Fortune about the flight.

It explained that the whole station was required to guide the airship out its shed ahead of take off.

"The R34's aerial adventure was front-page news both in the UK and the USA and demonstrated new technology that many believed would be the future of long-distance travel," Mr Brown said.

"We hope that as many people as possible will visit during this centenary year to learn more about her record-breaking journey."

Image copyright National Museums Scotland
Image caption The forward control car of R34 taken during the transatlantic flight

Airships were built for the Royal Navy and their primary duties were convoy protection and anti-submarine activities.

The R34 was constructed at Wm Beardmore factory at Inchinnan, near Glasgow, but it was completed too late to see active service in World War One.

Nicknamed "Tiny", the airship's hydrogen-filled gas bags required the intestines of 600,000 oxen to make them.

Image copyright Phil Wilkinson
Image caption Curator Ian Brown with a camera used on the R34’s record-breaking transatlantic flight

It arrived at East Fortune in May 1919 and two months later it set off, with a crew of 30, on the direct flight between Britain and the USA.

After an eventful journey lasting 108 hours and 12 minutes, during which a leak was repaired with the crew's entire supply of chewing gum, the airship arrived at Mineola in Long Island on 6 July.

The crew was the toast of the town on arrival in the USA and was wined and dined in New York and showered with gifts including a rare case of prohibited rum.

The R34 then flew over the sky scrapers of New York as it set off for home, landing at Pulham in England 75 hours later.

Image copyright Phil Wilkinson
Image caption The bowplate of the R34 airship has been prepared for display

It was scrapped two years later, following an accident in high winds.

The Rev Jones' letter will be on display until 31 October, alongside the R34's large bowplate and altimeter dial, binoculars and a camera used on the flight.

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