For many years after 1930, there was a steel tower 200 feet high at St. Hubert’s airfield, which was the airport for Montreal until Dorval was opened. It was a mooring mast for the R-100, a British airship that crossed the Atlantic arrived at Montreal on August 1, 1930. It was pioneering a plan to offer an airship service throughout the British Commonwealth.
Eight non-stop flights had been made over the Atlantic by British and German airships when the R-100 made its flight to Canada in 1930. The trip was carefully prepared, with work on the mooring mast at St. Hubert starting in November 1927. The venture was financed jointly by Britain and Canada, with Lieutenant-Commander A. B. Pressy of the Royal Canadian Navy in charge of the mooring mast.
The flight of the R-100 across the Atlantic was one of the marvels of the time. It left Cardington, England, on July 29 at 3:30 a.m. and arrived over Montreal on the night of July 31; it had to cruise around until dawn until it could connect with the mooring tower. The flight took 78 hours and 52 minutes (to give you an idea of what that means, modern aircraft fly from London to Montreal in less than 7 hours).
The “dirigible,” as airships were called, had been damaged by a storm while coming up the St. Lawrence, but was repaired quickly so that it could go on a demonstration flight. What excitement there was when it flew over Ottawa after dark, and was illuminated by searchlights from the Parliament Buildings! It appeared over Niagara Falls at 6 a.m. and then flew over Hamilton and Toronto while people were going to work.
It looked as though airships were going to be the mode of travel for the future, but they were too vulnerable to the elements. Two months after the R-100 to Canada, the R-100 crashed on a flight to India, killing forty-six people, including every British authority on airship operation. In April 1933, the U.S. Akron crashed into the Atlantic off the coast of New Jersey with seventy-three lives lost. The U. S. Macon was another casualty.
The experiments with airships ended in 1937 when the giant Von Hindenburg exploded and burned while landing at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Meanwhile, conventional aircraft were beginning to span the Atlantic.
For more information of the R-100, I suggest visiting Flickr.com – User: ajor_DundeeFlickr.com – User: ajor_Dundee. Virtual Museum.ca has made a complete page about it – you must visit, and watch the video too. Another great site to visit is The Torontoist.com. All great places to start!
- 75 Years Since the Hindenburg Disaster: Amazing collection of photos: Building, first transatlantic flight, cause of explosion (dancingczars.wordpress.com)
- Hindenburg Disaster (randomtc12.wordpress.com)
- Airship Dreams, Part 1 (darkroastedblend.com)
- Airship Dreams, Part 2: Even Bigger! (darkroastedblend.com)
- USS Macon ZRS-5 (joeccombs2nd.com)
- History of Holes series: Holes in Airships (1919 and 1937) (longstreet.typepad.com)
- Improved designs and technologies welcome a ‘new era of airships’ (nbcnews.com)
- Latest Goodyear airship construction reaches milestone (ohio.com)