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Fatal Flight: The True Story of Britain's Last Great Airship Hardcover – June 1, 2017
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"A fascinating story, not nearly well enough known on the American side of the Atlantic, artfully and engagingly told." G.J. Meyer New York Times bestselling author of A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918 & The World Remade: America in World War I
"Why does brilliant vehicle design sometimes end in tragedy? The crash of the intended flagship of the British Empire, the magnificent dirigible R.101, is not only an absorbing human and technical story as told by Bill Hammack. It is also a vital lesson in the risks of even apparently small compromises and unforeseen hazards to big projects when confronted by the forces of nature. Impressively documented, Fatal Flight should be required reading for engineers and political leaders alike." Edward Tenner Author of international bestseller Why Things Bite Back & Our Own Devices
"A well-researched and gripping look at Britain's greatest airship disaster from a new perspective: through the eyes of a man who built, flew, and died with the ship." Dan Grossman, Airship Historian author of airships.net and coauthor of Zeppelin Hindenburg: An Illustrated History of LZ-129
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Bill Hammack seems like a great guy and his take on technology is always interesting.
To commercialize the technology, England embarked on building two of the largest airships of the time: R100 and R101. R100 was built by private industry, and is only mentioned in passing in this book. The book focuses on R101, built by the government’s airship works to ferry passengers back and forth to India. This was a trip that typically took weeks - the airship promised to make it in mere days.
Hammack re-creates in detail the time from the ship’s initial roll-out to it’s disastrous attempt at flying to India. A slow accumulation of problems, from design errors, to mismanagement and outright mistakes slowly seal R101’s fate. Ultimately, it was “go fever” (the same syndrome the Challenger space shuttle suffered in 1986) that delivered the final blow to R101. Scheduling a trip to India in time to meet a deadline imposed by an imperial conference rushed the airship and most of its crew on a journey they never returned from. Along the way, Hammack provides a lively discussion of the problem solving and innovation required to make building such airships in the early 20th century possible.
Hammack is well known for his “Engineer Guy” videos, explaining the subtle engineering magic in everything from coffeemakers to aluminum soda cans. If you like his videos you’ll like the book. Also recommended is Nevil Shute’s “Slide Rule”, which details the R100’s story. Unlike R101, R100 successfully completed its maiden voyage to Canada.