§ The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Ramsay MacDonald)
I think the Committee expects that a statement should be made to-day by the Government regarding the future of airship policy. It was perfectly obvious, after the deplorable accident to R 101 last October that the whole of the policy and programme that had been in course of being carried out by the Government ought to be reviewed. We turned with a good deal of expectation to the report compiled after an extraordinarily patient and most powerful and penetrating examination by the Court, over which the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) presided, thereby earning further gratitude for his public services. The position which we find ourselves in at the moment is this, and I think the whole Committee will be with me when I state it, that airships up to date have neither proved a failure nor achieved an assured success, and that the report, most illuminating as regards what appears to have happened to R 101 in the last stage of its fatal journey, leaves that statement as I have made it.
The Committee will remember that the Air Ministry was working on what has been known as the 1924 programme, modified by certain decisions come to during the Imperial Conference of 1926. That programme consisted of three sections, first of all, the construction of two large new airships; secondly the equipment of Cardington for the purpose of manufacture and care, also the provision of masts 1392 and the necessary concomitant equipment at Ismailia, Karachi and Montreal, and, thirdly, and this was of really great importance, the carrying out of a meteorological investigation of the Indian route, so that the whole of that route should be charted for future commercial use. The cost of that programme amounted to £2,350,000. That was the position on that Sunday morning in October last. The position to-day is that there is one airship—R 100—which has got very much out of condition by lack of use. There are the captain and the crew of that ship and there is the nucleus of a technical staff and of course there are the masts and the bases to which I have referred at those three different places. Most unfortunately nearly all the leading airship experts in our employ perished with R 101. The men who had the spirit and the men who had the skill, the men who had the adventure, and the men who had the experience—practically all perished. That is the position to-day.
If we turn to the conditions of airship building and experiment in other countries, I need only mention four. France and Italy have temporarily abandoned airship development, but France retained the nucleus of an airship organisation. The United States is pursuing an airship policy to all intents and purposes on similar lines to that which we had been pursuing. Germany is doing the same, and a very famous German, Dr. Eckener, is conducting experiments of the most interesting and far-reaching character. The United States programme means a capital expenditure, not including maintenance at all, of £2,500,000 on airships such as ours, the newest one designed for a capacity, I think, of 6,500,000 cubic feet. Owing to certain facilities which the United States have, I understand that helium and not hydrogen is to be used in that airship. That is the situation abroad. The question is, what are we going to do? We can do one of three things. We can set up the 1924–1930 programme, and continue to build new ships, and go on. I think there will be no division of opinion in the Committee that that is not the policy which we ought to pursue at the moment. Then, we can scrap everything. We can decide that the experiments and our experience have been so discouraging that we will let the matter 1393 rest. There is a middle course—that we should reduce our airship equipment to proportions, and to an organisation and an activity which, strictly speaking, would, for the time being, be more in the nature of a scientific investigation than of anything beyond that.
If the first alternative were adopted, we should destroy, or dispose of in some way or other, the airship R 100, which is now in our possession. We should sell, or turn to other uses, which are not easy to find I may say, or, at any rate, we should change completely the character and the utility of the Cardington Royal Airship Works. We should have to make arrangements for terminating our responsibility for our bases in Egypt and elsewhere. In a word, we should have to give up all interest in airship development, except in so far as we might have a secretariat, a recording department with files of information acquired from foreign experience. We might have information, but we should have no initiative. We should be in the position of being able to give information to this Committee or this House about what somebody else is doing, but we should be taking no part ourselves in the pioneering work of discovering whether airships have a future or not. The cost of that has been estimated at something like £20,000 a year, the greater part consisting of docketed information and books of facts. In answer to a recent question in the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air said that we had referred the question on its financial side to the Economy Committee, and that we would not express any opinion ourselves until we had the advice of the Economy Committee. I want to tell this Committee that the view of the Economy Committee is that that step should be taken from a purely financial point of view.
There is the other alternative which I have described as the maintenance of a scientific experimental interest in airship developments and in airship problems. I have described the first one. The second is this: Let me state a negative, first of all. If that be accepted and pursued, there will be no new construction, no placing of large ships on order at all. Cardington will be kept as a nucleus. The oversea bases for which we are responsible 1394 will be maintained so that they do not fall into disrepair and disuse. The Canadian Government has been asked its views about Montreal, where the mast is, and I am sorry to say we have not had a reply which I can communicate to the Committee. We have had as yet no reply at all, in fact. We hope that Karachi, if the scheme is adopted with the consent and the co-operation of the Indian Government, will be kept, and we hope to keep the masts and adjuncts at Ismailia,
§ The PRIME MINISTER
The Committee knows perfectly well that my knowledge of this is a very general one, but I take a tremendous interest in it, personally. If there is any technical point, my hon. Friend is going to speak later, and I am going to confine myself to a general outline of policy. As regards the hon. and gallant Member's question, I am just coming to that. So far—no new building, the retention of Cardington, and the care and maintenance of bases and masts. The really big, central point upon which we have to make up our minds is what, under such a scheme, would happen to R 100? Again, let me begin by being negative. Assuming R 100 is maintained, there would be no idea of long-distance spectacular flights. There would be no change in the construction of R 100. Various suggestions have been made that a new bay should be put in. As the Committee, or at any rate those hon. Members opposite who have taken such great interest in this matter know, the question of its capacity to lift has been queried, and proposals have been pressed upon us by certain experts that a new bay should be put in.
Under this scheme, which I am doing my best to explain, R 100 would not be reconstructed in that way. No change would take place in the rigid fabric of the ship. R 100 would just be put back to flyable condition. I believe, for instance, that its outer skin is in a very bad condition. But R 100 would then become—in words, again, which are roughly accurate—a sort of experimental ship. For instance, the Aeronautical Research Committee has, we understand, very keen interest in carrying on the 1395 experiments which it has begun, and which were carried to a very considerable and most interesting point. Those experiments are carried on by models, but however large the model is, and however well made, experience shows that model experiment does require to be tested by something on a much larger scale and representing the actual conditions of flight. Assuming we are going back to that, therefore, it will be used for testing the experiments on models. That is only one thing. I give that only as an illustration—by no means the only one—but the greater part of the subjects for which R 100 could be used could quite easily be prescribed for us in the next six months by the Aeronautical Research Committee. That is one section of usefulness. There is a whole field of unsolved problems that might be investigated.
There is, for instance, the question of the rigidity of ships, the plans, the engineering ideas and so on. These can only be tested practically by a ship of something like the size of R 100; if you were going to build a new ship specifically for that purpose, it might be smaller; but, as we have got R 100, I think it is most economical and wisest to use it. But there is another and a very important thing which we must keep in mind. Suppose airships are not going to be complete failures, and suppose, owing to experiments and to experience gained, say, during the next three or four years, we feel we must go back to some active and practical interest in airships, it will be a tremendous mistake if, in the meantime, we have been training no men with the skill and capacity required specially for airship construction. That is true whether the future airship is to be built by private commercial companies or by the Government themselves. For instance, on one point of riveting, the expert will well know how extraordinarily important that is in the construction of the framework. The riveting of airships requires a very special skill. You cannot take a riveter, say, from a shipyard straight away and put him on this work. You have to keep a nucleus which is experienced in flying, which is experienced in the behaviour of ships, and which is experienced in the handling of ships, because if that is allowed to go, 1396 and you have to come back to some construction, then you have got to create the whole thing from the beginning, and not only is time wasted, but a great deal of money is squandered as well.
Therefore, on those three grounds, utility, testing model results, investigating on its own account, and training, keeping a nucleus in existence, R 100, reconditioned, would be most useful. At the moment, as I have said, we have an experienced crew and its officers. They have been kept in being until the decision has been taken by this House. We have men highly skilled in the craftsmanship of airships, both construction and navigation—very small, I admit, only a nucleus, but still they are there. Therefore, an essential part of the second alternative will be to keep this nucleus and recondition R 100. That is going to cost, as far as can be estimated, £120,000 the first year, £130,000 the second year, and the peak figure £140,000. This programme that I have outlined can be carried out at a maximum cost of £140,000 a year.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
So I am informed. I asked for that. When the figures were supplied me, I asked if it included the cost of the whole scheme, and I was informed, "Yes."
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
I can quite understand that it may not be within the right hon. Gentleman's own knowledge, but I was rather under the impression that the mast in Canada had been put up at the expense of the Canadian Government, and the mast in India, I thought, by the Indian Government. Is it part of the plan that they will be maintained by our own Treasury? Please do not let me press that if it is not convenient.
§ The PRIME MINISTER
I am much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. It is quite true that the Canadian mast, indeed both of those masts, were put up completely at the expense of the Governments concerned. I was hoping that I could give the House information as to the Canadian Government's view of maintenance, but, as I have said, I cannot. The idea is that, with the co-operation of the Canadian Government on the same scale as it gave us in the construction of the mast, the 1397 mast will be kept whilst this scheme is in operation, and the same is true of Karachi; and also the mast at Ismailia will be kept. One of the features of the scheme is that it must, of course, be revised and reviewed thoroughly, say, at the end of three years or, at the very outside, four years. But suppose in the meantime something happens which proves definitely that there is no future for airships, or, on the other hand, some wonderful flight, some new type, or something or another which convinces us that there is a very great future in airships and that this country cannot be indifferent to that future, then this scheme, on the one hand, can be stopped or, on the other, it can be developed and expanded. It is purely a nucleus, and the Committee would not commit itself of necessity to a four years' programme or even to a three years' programme; it will only, if the Committee prefers the second scheme to the first, maintain a nucleus while the Air Ministry and the responsible Minister and ultimately this House itself consider that the nucleus ought to be maintained in the public interest.
I have only one other point that I wish to make, and it is this: There is a labour aspect of it. When the disaster occurred to R 101, there were 860 employés at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington. We have reduced that number to 380 at the present moment, maintaining the nucleus. If scheme one, the first alternative, is carried out, those people must be very quickly dispersed, or there may be a few left; but, to all intents and purposes, we may say that the 380 will have to find new occupations. If the second alternative is kept, there will be 450 people employed between now and Midsummer, 1932, and then there will be a slight reduction in the staff required, and the permanent minimum employed, as far as we can see, will be 380. The saving, say, next year with £120,000 for scheme 2, and £20,000 for scheme 1, is £100,000, but then you will have to pay some unemployment pay, which is estimated to be something like £12,000, so that the net gain, or rather saving—the word "gain" slipped out of my mouth by inadvertence—will be between £80,000 and £90,000.
The view of the Government is this: It thinks that in this case, and it would advise the Committee accordingly, the second scheme should be adopted. It is perfectly true that in these days of financial 1398 stringency what can be saved must be saved, but sometimes saving is a form of very short-sighted extravagance. We are prepared to face the Supplementary Estimate that will be necessary later on; we will do our best to get it from other things, but I am not going to hold out any hope to the Committee. We will be prepared to face the Supplementary Estimate, which may be in the region of £60,000 or perhaps £70,000 for this year. £50,000 are in Votes already, and the necessary supplementary can be presented, so that the advice which we give to the Committee is that it should support the second scheme and allow it to be put into operation without delay.
§ Sir SAMUEL HOARE
I have just been reading the moving account which the Prime Minister gives of the events of last October in the introduction that he has written to one of the late Lord Thomson's books. As I listened to his speech this afternoon, I felt that here was a Minister who took more than an official interest in the question that we are discussing, here was one who had time after time shown his personal interest in aviation, and here was one also to whom the foundering of a great experiment had meant also the loss of a great personal friend. To-day we must leave behind the personal memories, sad as they are to many of us, and we must follow the line which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested to us this afternoon and consider what should be our policy in the future.
When a disaster of this kind takes place, there are two classes in the world who make their voices heard. There are, first of all, the people—and many of us sympathise with them—who are put upon their mettle and who say, "Let us not submit to this setback, let us go on as if nothing had happened, and let us show that we can conquer the difficulties that seemed so formidable in the past." Then again there is the other class—and with them also we have some measure of sympathy—who say, "The tragedy, the disaster entailed has been so great, the losses have been so poignant, the future is so uncertain, that we had better shut down the experiment altogether." I am inclined to think that I agree with the implication of the Prime Minister's argument that the right course for this Committee to take this afternoon is neither 1399 of these two courses, but a course midway between, and I am inclined to think that that is the course that is really supported by the report of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon).
If I have read that report aright, it leaves upon my mind, at any rate, two broad impressions—first of all, the impression that our knowledge of airships and of the conditions in which airships should be operated is still inadequate, and, secondly, that even though our knowledge in these two directions is inadequate, yet there is no obstable inherent in the development of airships as such. Over and above those two impressions, I have the further impression—and I am sure that it is the mind of every hon. Member in the Committee this afternoon—that no investigation could have been carried out more conscientiously, or indeed more brilliantly, than the investigation carried out by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. It is enough, and it is very high praise, for us to say of that investigation that it is fully up to the Simon standard. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is one of those enviable people who might have excelled in almost any profession that he had adopted. If he had not been a distinguished Member of this House, he might have been an equally distinguished Judge, and judging from this report, if he had not been a Judge, he might have been an equally distinguished engineer.
We are all grateful to the right hon. and learned Member for having enabled us this afternoon to have so clear and so carefully considered an account of the disaster at our disposal when we are considering the question of future policy. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has proceeded by a process of elimination and has come to the conclusion that heaviness, due to an escape of gas, was the primary cause of the disaster. The right hon. Gentleman's argument is most impressive. It is built up on evidence and a whole series of investigations, but I suppose that he would be the first to admit that no verdict,' even though it is arrived at with the ability and the fullness with which he carried out this inquiry, can be wholly conclusive. In any disaster there is, for instance, the 1400 imponderable human factor. The right hon. Gentleman was no doubt quite right in this case to ignore it; it would have been altogether unfair to have brought in considerations of this kind when most of the people concerned were dead and could not give evidence in their own favour.
Again, there is in this case the almost equally imponderable factor of instrumental failure. As I read the evidence and the report, there is really nothing definite to indicate whether the instruments that ensure control or show the height of the airship were working accurately or not. There is nothing to show us definitely whether, to take a concrete instance, the officers and crew realised the fact that, although the length of the airship was 750 feet, the airship at the time of the disaster was flying at only 1,500 feet, namely, twice its own length above the ground. I mention these one or two examples to show that however impressive the report is—and no one has greater respect for it than I have—there are still these imponderable factors in the incidence of the disaster which cannot be taken into account in this or any other report.
The important fact, to which I have already alluded, is that the report does not show that there is anything wrong with airships as such. It points out the difficulties and the various causes of this disaster, but the various causes of the disaster are, should we wish to make experiments, susceptible of being overcome. The report shows again, if I read it aright, that there is nothing inherently wrong either with the material of the airship—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"]—by that I mean the metal work in particular—or with the design. I know that criticism has been made against the design, that while the original estimate showed that the carrying capacity was to be something in the nature of 60 tons, when the airship actually came to fly that capacity had been reduced to something like 35 tons. That was a very great discrepancy, but it did not come about unexpectedly, because time after time—and here I speak from personal experience—in order to make the safety factor higher, alterations were made in the design that we knew all the time would make the carrying capacity of the airship less; and I believe 1401 that if this disaster had not taken place, and if it had been possible to have had a year's trial of R, 101, it would have been practicable to reduce some of the almost excessive safety factors on which we had insisted, and to have got the weight considerably lower than it was at the time of the disaster.
Then again, with regard to the almost equally important side of the problem, the weather reporting and the meteorological side, it looks to a superficial observer as if the weather reporting was altogether inadequate. Only an hour before the disaster the weather report was that the velocity of the air was 20 to 30 miles, whereas in a short time the velocity was 40 to 50 miles. I agree that that is a serious discrepancy, but we must remember that during the five or six years of the experiment very great advances had been made in the field of meteorological research. I go so far as to say that we as a nation put ourselves in the very forefront of meteorological advance, and those same people who may have made a mistake in the weather reporting in connection with the disaster are the people who made the remarkable success of the weather reporting in the case of the R 100's flight to Canada. In that case, which presented many more difficulties in various ways, I am told that the accuracy of the weather reports were almost phenomenal, and that the R 100 in its flight to Canada was able to make use time after time of the various currents of wind in the course of its trip.
I mention these facts because I feel that they should be mentioned in justice to the distinguished men who were connected with the experiments on R 101. I mention them also to emphasise the fact that none of the difficulties with which we were confronted need necessarily be insurmountable if we are prepared to go on with the experiment.
There is another aspect of the question to which I would like to make allusion. It is an aspect which I suggest that hon. Members should take very carefully into account. The history of this experiment—I had more than five years' direct contact with it—shows the very great difficulty that confronts any Government Department in undertaking a new and difficult experiment of this kind. To-day I least of anyone am going into the 1402 question raised more than once incidentally in the Report of the Commission of Inquiry as to how much personal pressure had to do with the actual flight of R 101 on the particular date when it started for India. I will only say this, that I expect that if I had been in the position of my successor at the Air Ministry—looking back over my own experience of five or six years—I should probably have done very much what he did.
Let hon. Members however turn aside from this personal aspect of the question and look at the objective side. I will give them a further consideration, and sketch in a sentence or two the difficulties with which we were faced in the conduct of this great experiment. I went to the Air Ministry at a time when our former airship programmes had been completely scrapped. There was scarcely a remnant left of the airship programmes that had been developed towards the end of the War. The staffs had been dissipated, the material had been scattered, and the airship stations, with the exception of Cardington, had been thrown on to the scrap heap. Then came a demand that we should resume airship operations, a demand from the public and a demand from all sides of this House. We had many technical inquiries into the question, and, after a whole series of such inquiries, we came to the conclusion that, looking to the advantages that the British Empire might gain by the success of an airship programme, we must resume airship research and operation.
Accordingly, just before we went out of office in 1923, we accepted in principle a scheme that, in return for subsidies based upon actual results, a commercial company should undertake the development of airships. I was attracted by this scheme for this reason. I always felt that airship operations were in the nature of an uncharted adventure, and I saw great difficulties in the way of a Government Department embarking upon an enterprise of this kind. The scheme we approved in principle may have had objections to it in certain ways, but upon the whole I thought then, and I still think, that it is wiser to push the risk and to push the pioneer work outside a Government Department. We went out of office, and the right hon. Gentleman's Government came into office. They 1403 thought otherwise, and I am not to-day going to criticise them in detail for the action that they then took. They adopted a programme under which the Air Ministry should build one ship and a private company should build another. I went back to the Air Ministry and found this alternative programme actually begun. On the whole, it seemed to me, although I should have much preferred the first programme, that it would have been a great mistake to uproot the programme already started and once again to have thrown the question of airship advance into the melting pot. Accordingly, I accepted the programme of the right hon. Gentleman, and for the next five years we tried to develop it as best we could.
During those five years—and the Committee will see the application of what I am saying to the questions that we are discussing—I was determined, so far as I could, to leave a free field to the research and experimental work that was so urgently needed, but the trouble was—and I am not blaming this or that party, but mentioning this to show the difficulty of the Government undertaking an experiment of this kind—almost every Member of this House and almost every member of the public was constantly demanding quick results.
§ Sir S. HOARE
Questions every day, as the right hon. Gentleman says; and not only questions, but criticism on the occasion of every Estimates Debate. Year after year I had to stand here, when I was responsible for the programme, defending the line that I am sure was the wise one, namely, that it was essential to give a free hand to the experts, the technicians, and the scientists, and not to tempt them into producing quick and spectacular results before they were ready. The Committee will see that these things have an important bearing upon future experiments of the same kind. If democracy wishes to get the best out of scientific research and scientific experiment, it must forgo its undoubted right of constantly criticising what is going on and demanding quick results. The Committee will forgive me for having laid stress upon this particular 1404 aspect of the question. It is of very general importance, and of singular importance when we come to consider the alternatives which the Prime Minister has put before us this afternoon. I say at once that I am in favour of the second alternative discussed in the Prime Minister's speech. In view of the great advantages that airships may mean to the British Empire in the future, I do not see how we can scrap all the research and experimental work, the value of which I cannot overrate, which has gone on during the last five years. We cannot pull to pieces R 100 after she has made only one or two flights and allow America and Germany to proceed with a really ambitious airship programme. We should lose our technical skill, we should lose, what is almost equally important, our operating experience.
One of the great advantages in developing airships that Germany has had since the War has been due to the fact that airship development has never had a break in Germany, that they have been able to go on with men experienced in airship work. If we brought this work to a close, then if ever we wished to resume it again in the future, supposing that the German and American experiments are successful, we should start with a heavy handicap against us in having no experienced technical personnel on whom we could depend. My advice to the House, therefore, would be to proceed upon a programme of scientific and technical research, and for that programme it is quite essential that we should keep R 100 in commission, for the purpose of trial flights of various kinds. I am sorry that it means an increase in expenditure, but, difficult as it is to find savings at the present time, and anxious as we are to back up the National Economy Committee in every possible way, I still say that it would not be true economy, after this expenditure of money, after this accumulation of technical knowledge, to scrap this great experiment for the sake of £100,000 for three years. My advice can be concentrated in a single sentence: Go on with a research programme, watch most carefully the very interesting experiments proceeding in Germany and the United States, and keep R 100 in commission, not for long-distance spectacular flights, but for purely experimental and technical flights.
§ Sir J. SIMON
In common with every Member of the Committee who was here when the Debate opened, I listened with the most intense interest to the statement made by the Prime Minister. I must tender to him and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) my warm thanks for their kind references to the report of the inquiry which I was asked to conduct; but I must point out, what I am sure both of them had in mind, though they did not happen to mention it, that the inquiry was not the work of myself alone, but that I had the advantage of having on either side of me a most skilled comrade. In one case it was a former Member of this House, who at one time sat on the Treasury Bench, the first Englishman who ever learned to fly, and who has throughout preserved the closest touch with the Service, and with this intensely interesting collection of problems involved in flight through the air. The other, a very distinguished man of science, a professor in the University of Cambridge, came to the inquiry, I think, without any special or peculiar connection with airships previously, and he illustrated the enormous gain the country may secure by getting the perfectly unprejudiced service of a really skilled intelligence in dealing with a particular problem. It would be a very grave injustice to those two comrades of mine if I did not make it clear that anything that may be of value on the technical side of the report is far more due to them than to me.
The question which the Committee are considering to-day, the question of what is to be done now, was not one that was referred to the committee of inquiry. We were required to conduct an investigation into a particular accident, a terrible tragedy, and to do our best to collate the evidence and to try to ascertain the cause and the circumstances of it. If I may make one quotation, the only one which I shall make from the report itself, I would remind hon. Members that in the last paragraph, paragraph 110, we wrote:Airship travel is still in its experimental stage. It is for others to determine whether the experiment should be further pursued. Our task has been limited to ascertaining, as far as is possible, the course and cause of a specific event.In that sense I come to the Committee quite uncommitted, perhaps I ought not to say quite unprejudiced, but certainly intensely 1406 interested in the most important question before us. While it was not the immediate duty of the inquiry to consider the future of airship construction in this country, it was inevitable that from a very early stage I should have devoted my mind, as well as I could, to considering this aspect of the matter. I wish to point out that if we adopt the proposal which the Prime Minister has made, and which the right hon. Member for Chelsea has confirmed, we shall not really be adopting a new policy of expenditure at all. There is a passage, which happens to be included in this volume, from the statement that was made by the right hon. Member for Chelsea, when he was Secretary of State for Air, to the Imperial Conference in 1926. In 1926, which, of course, was after the 1924 programme of two big ships had been adopted, the then Secretary of State for Air said this, and I think the Prime Minister will see this exactly carries his point, by implication. He described to the assembled Premiers the programme, which included the two ships, the R 101 to be built by the Air Ministry, and the R 100 to be built by private enterprise, and went on:This ensures competition in design, and provides that a purely accidental failure of one ship should not terminate the whole programme.One ship has failed, in circumstances of the greatest tragedy and distress, but we ought to remember that if we adopt the proposals the Prime Minister has put before us we are not really launching out on any new experiment, but merely maintaining our ground within these limits, at the same time declining altogether to go in for more ambitious projects at the present time. If I may acquaint the Committee with the view which I have formed, and I may say with truth that I had formed that view before I heard it stated from the Treasury Bench to-day, after very much consideration I do take the view, from such little experience I have in the matter, that the course which the Prime Minister recommends is the right course. It has first of all to be remembered that while we have suffered a terrible disappointment, as well as a great shock, and the loss of many gallant lives, much of it is due to the fact, the inevitable fact, perhaps, that at one time much too sanguine and confident a tone was adopted about airships. I read documents 1407 in the course of my recent inquiry, which greatly surprised me, stating with the greatest assurance what weights would be carried, what mountains would be crossed, and all the rest of it. Of course, that is partly due, no doubt, to this disease of modern life which always wants something sensational, and partly due to what the right hon. Gentleman for Chelsea said just now, I thought most wisely and justly, the craving, natural in the circumstances, to get results. If any one of us is disposed to make a reflection upon Lord Thomson or anybody else, we ought to ask ourselves whether any of us had anything to do with asking for these quick results.
To my way of thinking, Lord Thomson was in a position of great difficulty. He was a very gallant man, most deeply devoted to the Service of which he was the head, and he gave to it, by his own personal championship, a degree of encouragement which no other man could give; and I have never shut my eyes to the fact that the opportunity which was open to him to take part in this great adventure, which ended in tragedy, was one which in itself gave the greatest encouragement and support to those brave men and good officials who devoted their lives to the enterprise. But my study, such as it is, does not make me countersign any very sanguine view. The ground on which I support the proposal of the Prime Minister is not that I think it by any means proved that travel by airship has an assured future, but, as the Prime Minister said perfectly clearly, that the recent disaster did not disprove the case for airships. That is, I think, the true way to look at it.
If I may detain the Committee for a short time, I would like to point out two or three considerations which may be regarded as not particularly technical or even scientific, but as simple in themselves and which are in substance correct, all of which make for great obstacles which will have to be overcome, if they can be overcome, before airship travel has an assured future. They are considerations to which I do not think the public, even a large part of the studious and instructed public, are always fully alive. I have no claim to deliver a lecture, because I am a mere student in 1408 the matter, but naturally one has come upon these things rather closely in the course of the inquiry. The, first difficulty which it seems to me faces the conception of airship travel is the difficulty of getting out of your airship a sufficient useful lift. As I see it, that appears to be almost inherent in the nature of things. Let me put it in a very simple form. Compare, although the comparison is not in all respects one that can be readily adopted in discussing this subject, the seagoing ship with the airship. Sea-water is about 800 times heavier than air. It follows, therefore, that if you want to build a vessel of a large size which is going to float in the air you must make it 800 times lighter than a vessel of the same size which is going to float, like a submarine, in the sea. That is one of the reasons why the problem of lift in the case of an airship is so extremely serious.
Mention has been made of the figures in regard to R 101, and they are most striking. There we were engaged in constructing at the public expense an airship to which the most wonderful skill was devoted. I do not believe that so much real scientific planning and plotting has been applied to any structure in the history of the world as was applied to the construction of R 101. We were engaged in constructing an airship which was about as big as the "Mauretania." If all had gone well according to the original calculations, what would it have been able to carry as a matter of useful lift? Sixty tons. The contrast is very striking. Of course, the reason is manifest, but it is worth working out. You must, first of all, have in every airship a certain weight which represents what you may call fixed weights—the actual rigid structure, the engines and so forth. In the case of R 101 it was hoped that the fixed weights would be 90 tons. If you have not got a bigger gross lift than that, the vessel will not rise at all. It is only the excess above that which gives it any propulsion upwards into the air. It was hoped in the case of R 101 that the gross lift when the gas-bags had been filled would be 150 tons. If that calculation had turned out to be right, the difference between 150 tons and the 90 tons would have given 60 tons of useful lift.
1409 What happened? As always is the case in working out a very elaborate construction, certain changes had to be made. The engines were much heavier than had been hoped, although the engines were not the principal cause of the increased weight. When they came to fill up the gas-bags and see what the actual weights were, instead of the fixed weights being 90 tons they were 113 tons, and instead of the gross lift being 150 tons it was only 148 tons, with the result, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that they had a tiling that would give only a useful lift of 35 tons. A thing as big as a great Atlantic liner could only give a lift of 35 tons. Out of that 35 tons, or in it, just as one prefers to use the term, you have to get your fuel oil, your water, not merely drinking water, but water for ballast, your spares, your crew, your cargo and everything else. For the purpose of the R 101 going to India, and taking the first stage to Egypt, she had to take on board 25 tons of fuel oil.
Therefore, it was manifest that when the vessel was first constructed she had not enough useful lift to undertake the Indian journey. That was the real explanation why, partly by enlarging the gas-bags, partly by taking out various unnecessary weights, substituting a lighter form of window for the heavy glass windows, and so on, but mainly by cutting her in two and putting in an extra bay, the vessel had to be altered.
I do not think there would be any advantage in this Debate in going through all the details, but my point is a general one, and that is that I think the first big obstacle which has to be surmounted or circumvented if airship travel is to become a practical proposition for commercial or other purposes is due to the fact that it is so difficult in an airship to get a sufficient useful lift. The same thing is true of an aeroplane, but an aeroplane is a small thing and does not cost so much and many of the circumstances are rather different. That is the first large scientific consideration which has struck my mind.
The second consideration is—and this is where the analogy between seagoing ships and airships is a little dangerous—the difficulty which an airship has in overcoming adverse wind currents. A 1410 great many people imagine that because the wind is blowing hard the airship is under exceptional strain. That is not so. She is no more conscious where the wind is blowing than a chip on the surface of the tide. It is not that the airship is strained by the wind, apart from gusts or certain vertical currents; it is not that the current of air strains the airship, but it is that the currents of the air are so considerable in velocity that they may neutralise and even reverse the progress of the vessel. Observe the contrast. The tides of the sea or the currents of the sea—for this purpose I do not think it very much matters which—the movements of the sea are comparatively limited in velocity. At any rate, they are where big ships go, and the engine power of a steamship is so considerable as compared with any tide or current that it can always surmount it. The modern liner does not make any special provision to overcome tides or things of that sort, because a five-knot tide, or whatever it may be, is so easily surmounted by machinery which can propel the ship along the surface of the sea, at, it may be, five times that speed.
Look at the position of an airship. The latest airship, so far as I know, did not get a greater velocity than 70 knots. R 101 and R 100 were, supposed to have a cruising speed of 63 knots, whereas in the air, especially in the higher reaches, the wind may be blowing as fast as that and even faster. When the R 34 was carried away from her moorings, some years ago and travelled out to the North Sea, for eight consecutive hours her engines were driving her forward, but she was in fact going backward, owing to the wind. Therefore, the second difficulty which seems inherent in the subject matter is due to the circumstance that the tides of the air are very much greater in comparison with the power and pace of an airship than the tides of the sea are compared with the power and pace of a steamship. I have been told by some who have talked to me during the last few months that it is the view of some very distinguished men who are studying this subject that, unless you can get an airship which can command so far as engine power is concerned a speed of something like 100 or 120 miles an hour, so that the airship can overcome 1411 any wind, you are faced with the difficulty which I have described, which is quite different from the difficulty at sea.
There is a further point, which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) would be the first to indicate, and that is that so far as the sailor is concerned everybody knows in advance, within reason, what the tide is going to be. You can buy a tide table, which is published and calculated for a year ahead. Therefore, if you are proposing to go out on any particular date or at any particular hour of the tide to any part of the world in a ship, you have every opportunity of discovering what the tide is going to be; but, although we have gone a long way in meteorological science in recent years, no one can buy a tide table for the tides of the air. Therefore, when you launch into the empyrean, no doubt helped by the most skilled meteorologists—certainly great advance has been made on this subject in connection with air travel in the last few years—you have no assurance as to what is going to happen to you as regards wind in the next 48 hours.
It is true, most unhappily and most unfortunately, that on the night that R 101 left Cardington, at six o'clock in the evening of 4th October, the best calculations that human skill could make indicated that when she was over Northern France, in the small hours of the night, she might expect a wind of 20 or 30 knots. When she got there she found a wind which must have been 50 knots, or even more. That was the fault of nobody. On the contrary, the greatest possible skill had been exercised to make the calculations, but the circumstances were such that on that particular occasion, by sheer bad luck, there was a miscalculation as to what would happen. That is the second large consideration which makes it difficult to determine with what degree of enthusiasm we should go in for an expenditure, however desirable, upon airships.
What is the third difficulty? There is, as everybody must have noticed about airships, a very significant tendency as every new ship comes to be planned to ask for a bigger ship. It is not like the gradual way in which steamships have 1412 grown longer. It has a much more logical and scientific basis. There is a real reason why the airship should be big. Of course, the skilled people who are designing it know this perfectly well. Perhaps I may be permitted to say what I understand is the reason, and I will put it in the simplest possible form. If you were to double the diameter of a golf ball, and wanted to paint your bigger golf ball you would want four times as much paint because the surface of a sphere varies as the square of the diameter. On the other hand, if you wanted to weigh your golf ball, or find out what its capacity was to contain something if it were empty, you would find the bigger one was eight times the smaller one, because the contents of the sphere varies with the cube of the diameter. The real difficulty being to get enough lift, it is a great scientific advantage to increase the size of your airship, because the rate of lift is increasing faster than the lineal dimensions, and you will be making your airship bigger and bigger to get a proportionately larger lift. It is true that you could make an airship big enough to lift a tremendous weight, whereas the tiny airship would not lift anything at all, and that is the reason why there was a tendency to go in for bigger ships before the R 100 was launched, and the experts had come to the conclusion that what was wanted was a bigger ship, and they had been considering whether a bigger airship should not be undertaken, bigger than the R 100 or the R 101.
But, although there are very great scientific advantages in increasing the size of airships, certain other problems present themselves which are most inconvenient. One is how are you going to moor the airship? At the present time you require at the airship station a mooring mast, and you require a mooring mast at the place where the ship is going to stop. Of course, it was intended that the airship should fly between one point and another. Not only is that true, but if you want to moor your airship, you must have reasonably clear weather to do it and no violent gale, and you also have all sorts of complications in regard to the housing of airships and so on. I mention these things not because I differ from the Prime Minister's proposal—on the contrary, I tender to him 1413 my warmest support—but because I think it is very important that the public, after a disaster of this sort, should not either fall into the morbid depressed condition of saying, "Oh these things are no good, scrap them," or, on the other hand, saying, "This was just a misfortune that might have happened with the best regulated airships, and we shall soon secure all the magnificent results which the sensational writers predict."
Neither of those conclusions is right, and the reason why I would like us to adopt the plan of the Prime Minister is this: I do not suppose that there has been any modern enterprise which has been so much interrupted, and so much the subject of chops and changes, as the airship policy. There was a change made in 1920, when everything was shut down altogether. Then the airship policy was started again, and we had the programme of the first Labour Government, which evolved the idea of these two airships. I most warmly applaud the decision of the Government which followed to hold on to their policy. We have now to make up our minds whether, in the face of a terrible disaster, we are again going to change the course which we have been following. It seems to me that that would be a very unwise thing to do. I have already pointed out that it was always intended, in regard to these two great airships, that if unfortunately one went wrong, we should try to do something with the other.
Anyone who goes down to Cardington will find his whole impulse is in favour of seeing whether anything can be made of R 100. People who have not seen that airship have no conception of the dimensional size of the arrangements made for it. The shed of the R 100 is one of the most enormous structures in the world. I saw it on my way to Cambridge and I noticed it was almost the same size as King's College Chapel. I would ask anyone who wants to realise the size of these arrangements to remember that there were 17 gas-bags in the R101 arranged like 17 peas in a pod, and those bags when inflated would extend from the floor of Westminster Hall well above the roof. The whole row of those gasbags could not be accommodated within the extreme length of Westminster Abbey. You see the sister ship now at 1414 Cardington, and the question is whether she can be reconditioned and put into the service. In the mess room there you see certain officers and men who are the surviving comrades of those who met their doom in the R101, and it would go to my heart to think that those men, who devoted themselves with so much disinterested energy to making the best of a great and gallant venture, should have brought on those who are left the feeling that they are now thrown out of employment and have to fend for themselves. If the Government could agree to a modified continuance of the policy, I am sure that on every ground we ought to take that course.
I would like to make an observation of a somewhat critical kind. If we are going to follow this course, the Air Ministry really ought to consider whether any reorganisation is needed upon the administrative side. Nothing struck me more in studying this matter than the way in which airships tended to be a sort of side issue. I do not think that there is any member of the Air Council who is there because of his special knowledge of airships, and it is very difficult for that to be so. Of course, the aeroplane was by far the more important instrument, and as most of the officers who have gone up the scale and reached the head of the service got their experience in connection with aeroplanes, it is natural that so far as the service members of the Air Council are concerned, they should be men of the highest possible experience in regard to aeroplanes. The real result of this policy has been that we have not had anybody outside Cardington who could claim to be an expert in the airship service. The result was that when some design had been reached involving the putting of a proposal before a higher authority, it came to the Air Ministry and was dealt with and received the greatest attention, but, inevitably, it did not really come before men specially trained in the use of airships. I agree that some of the problems are the same. For instance, the atmosphere is the same, and so are the wind and other considerations, but so far as the cover, the gas-bags, the wires, and the valves are concerned, these are things in which a man skilled in the use of aeroplanes has no more reason to be considered an expert than anybody else.
1415 I think it is a matter for very grave consideration whether in connection with this policy we should not require that the Air Council should include, for a time at any rate, a man whose principal qualification is very high scientific attainment in the branches of science specially concerned with airships. Let the Committee understand that the airship construction business is one of the most complicated and truly scientific problems of this age. You build your merchant ship or even your man-of-war along lines which have been developed by tradition, experiment and variation, and, except in regard to subsidiary matters, there is an immense tradition behind it. In the case of airships, you are dealing with a thing which is brand new, and in some respects you are flying in the face of the experience of nature. There is no example of anything very big that flies. Small birds and insects will fly, and the biggest thing that flies is the giant vulture. We are told that the ostrich flew once. Consequently we are endeavouring to make immense big instruments that will fly in the air.
I apologise to the Committee for speaking at such length, but I want to say, in conclusion, that there is a reason, over and above all the reasons which have been mentioned, which, I think, will justify the policy proposed. It is a reason which will particularly appeal to the Prime Minister. I think that we ought to regard airship transport and development as an international problem—not as an opportunity merely for developing a national service in rivalry with or at the expense of other people, but as an attempt by civilised mankind to do something more to make use of the brains and courage of men and of the character of the world in which we live. To a very large extent that has been so in the past, and I think it would be very suitable if I were permitted to say how gratified we are that Dr. Eckener, the head of the Zeppelin Company, took the trouble to come over here and devote several days of his time solely to the purpose of assisting us in this inquiry. I believe it to be true at present that in respect of airships there has been a very considerable exchange of information. I got a very gratifying message about the R 101 report from the American Service the other day. 1416 Let us keep that up. But, if we want to do it, we must pay our way. We cannot expect America and Germany and other countries to afford us the full advantage of their progress and development if we do not do something ourselves.
Therefore, I think that on that ground it would be very proper that we should recondition the R 100 and should conduct some further experimental work; and may I point out, in conclusion, that the sort of experimental work that is needed cannot be done except with the assistance of a big ship? We had, in connection with this inquiry, most invaluable help from the National Physical Laboratory, and the most ingenious experiments were made with models; but I was warned, both from the laboratory and from the professor who was my colleague, that you have to be careful in drawing conclusions from experiments with models, because, when you get the full-sized thing actually in the air, various considerations arise, some of which I could state, some of which I could not, but none of which I will mention, which rather qualify the results.
What you want, therefore, is to fit this reconditioned ship so that you can send her up and really observe, by measurements of pressure and things of that sort, how she behaves under certain conditions. I do not myself in the least believe that she ought to be sent on what are called spectacular flights, but I believe that we can accumulate a great deal of additional information, which we shall add to the information already obtained, and that in these circumstances we shall be making a very prudent use of the opportunity. If that is, as I believe it is, a good, practical, economical course, what a satisfaction that we should be able to adopt it! The dying thought of these men who were destroyed in France was, I am sure, that they were giving their lives to a great adventure. It is not the way of the people of this country to give up a great adventure because of a calamity, and, as long as we act with prudence and skill and good sense, I cannot help thinking that we shall be making the best monument to the memory of those brave men if we adopt the course which the Prime Minister has recommended.
§ Major CHURCH
In taking up the parable where it has been left by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and in supporting 1417 the three or four suggestions which he has made, I may, perhaps, be permitted to mention that a very dear friend of mine in the scientific world, and one whose presence occasionally charmed me and whose casual friendship, at least, I enjoyed, was one of those who perished in France.
Before I proceed further, I should like, if I may, to add, to the testimony which has just been given by the right hon. and learned Gentleman regarding the difficulty of charting the air, my own personal experience when I was in France some time in 1916. At that time I was in command of an observation balloon. I remember going up one morning in a perfectly still atmosphere, rising vertically above the winch for about 1,500 feet, and during the whole of that distance of 1,500 feet there was not a breath to disturb the balloon. It was in the days of balloons fitted with parachute kites. We just stopped at 1,500 feet, and then, as was the custom, let out again; and within a few seconds we got into a new area, where the whole of the parachute kites were ripped from the balloon by the force of the gale, and the swing of the Basket in which were the other observer and myself was so violent that his parachute blew out of its case, and he was in danger of being dragged out by it, and I had to cut him away from his parachute. As I did that, the basket made another violent turn, and my parachute fell out of its case and he had to cut me away. It took about 20 minutes, and the engines were boiling on the winch, to pull us out of that stratum of the atmosphere; and when we got out of it we were once again in perfect stillness, it being one of those perfect days when there was not a cloud in the sky, nor the slightest indication that there was any change of conditions between ground level and a height of several thousand feet.
The difficulties of charting a tide of that kind are almost insurmountable. It is not difficult to chart at a particular moment; there is no difficulty in sending up a few gas-filled balloons and discovering this amazing difference between the conditions at one level and another; but, when you have to predict events of that kind over a very large area, and when they may be purely local—as they may have been in the case I have mentioned, 1418 because it was not very far from the scene of the disaster that my own experience occurred—it will be realised that, in spite of the advances which have been made in meteorological science, and those advances have been very considerable in the last few years and are still continuing with satisfactory rapidity, it is quite possible to make an inaccurate prediction which might easily result, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said, in the loss of an airship the engines of which were unable, probably, to carry her one inch ahead, and which, possibly, was being pushed back by the air currents or air tides at that particular spot.
There is another thing that I think the right hon. and learned Gentleman might also have stressed in regard to the actual disaster, upon which I do not want to dwell very much longer. That was the real necessity for the airship itself remaining low down. The one essential was that she should have remained flying low over the whole of that area, until she had got within reasonable distance of her destination. The reason for that is largely that, if you go up, you are bound to lose that most valuable asset, your gas, and you cannot afford to lose gas. Anyone who has been up, even in a small ship of 100,000 cubic feet, knows how essential it is to keep as low as possible if you do not want to waste your precious gas. Again and again Colonel Richmond and Major Scott told me that their one hope would be that they would have exceptionally fine weather in going across France, so that they might be able to remain comparatively near the ground, because they did not want to lose too much gas on the way, knowing what they had to confront in the latter part of their journey.
I will now leave the subject of the disaster, and come to the very practical points which were raised by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. I agree with him cordially that it is time that the Air Council was reorganised. I would go so far as to say that it is imperative that there should be at headquarters, at the Air Ministry, a scientific authority on airships as well as technical experts, and I lay stress upon, shall I say, the scientific authority as well as the man who is in charge of 1419 technical development. I would also urge with all the force at my command something which I have urged upon, I will not say successive Secretaries of State for Air, but something which at least I urged upon the Secretary of State for Air as long ago as 1920, namely, that one of the members of his Air Council should be a distinguished scientist, who would be able to regard problems of the air from the point of view of science. I feel that, if there had been on the Air Council, before the R 101 6et out on its spectacular flight to prove its commercial possibilities, one man whose authority as a man of science was of recognised weight, he would probably have set his face against pandering to public opinion, pandering even to Members of the House of Commons, pandering to the national patriotism which an adventure of this kind arouses—against pandering to any of those good or bad desires—and would have said quite definitely, "We will not go until we have made a sufficient number of experimental trips round the shores of this country"; and, before any attempt to fly as far as Ismailia was made, he would at any rate have insisted that midway on the route, perhaps at Malta, there should be an additional mooring mast, to which the air ship might have gone at a time of emergency. I think that if in past years the policy had been adopted of having such a man on the Air Council, a man of weight and authority whose judgment they could trust, an adventure of this kind would not have been allowed without the fullest regard for all factors of safety.
But that policy has never been followed in the case of the Air Council, or of other councils, with the exception of the Admiralty. At the Board of Admiralty you have a group of Sea Lords chosen, presumably, for the varying qualities of their specific knowledge of naval matters and design, but there is no such person on the Air Council. There is an Air Member for Supply and Research, and under him are the Directors of the two technical development departments, the Director of Research and the Director of Technical Development; and it was only quite recently that these two departments were separated. 1420 If this country is prepared to go forward, even in the restricted way which has been suggested by the Prime Minister and those who have followed him—a policy with which I cordially agree, and which I think will be applauded by all scientific and technical experts who are dealing with this problem—we should, as the Prime Minister proposes, keep the R 100 in commission and regard her as an experimental ship, in order that we may make experiments and be able to try out various ideas on the full-size scale, to back up any wind tunnel and other small-scale experiments. I remember what was said by Professor Southwell in 1925, when this matter was being started, and a certain section of the Press was criticising this vast expenditure upon something which it regarded as completely useless, but which should have been regarded, as has been said before, as a great technical venture, and not as a commercial venture. Professor Southwell, in 1925, speaking before the British Association, said:Having embarked in this country on a definite programme of two large ships, surely common sense would suggest that we ought for the next two years to leave the design staffs in peace to do their best. I wish the public could be induced to see airship construction as a great technical adventure.That is precisely how the public is now apparently prepared to regard it, if it is prepared to regard it as anything at all. I believe the better-informed section of the public would be sorry to see so magnificent an experiment abandoned. I believe there is a large section of the public who will applaud the decision of the Government to go forward with this technical adventure, and who will not expect results of a spectacular kind within the next few years. America is not producing absolutely new designs. She has been able to take every advantage of the experience that has been gained by the designers of the R 100 and R 101.
The designer of the Graf Zeppelin was at the Bristol meeting of the association only last year. All the members of the experimental and technical development staffs of airships were present when Colonel Richmond, the designer of the R 101 gave a paper on its design and construction. He predicted a growing future for airships. Everyone of those present, representing different countries, said the 1421 R 101 was so far the best designed airship that had been produced in the world. That was the definite opinion of the designer of the Graf Zeppelin. In other words, we had produced something under conditions where criticism was rife throughout the whole time and where, if the scientific and technical men had not been men of fairly strong mind, they might have been rattled on more than one occasion, and possibly were rattled in the end. They were all convinced that we had done something better than they had done. They did not say it was the last word in airship design. How could one say you could have the last word in something which is a comparative baby among methods of transport?
But we had carried out a magnificent experiment with interruptions. We stopped all research after the calamitous disaster that befell the R 38 in 1921. The men engaged on it were lost. They found other jobs. They went into other branches of science and were no longer parties in aeroplane and airship research. I believe Professor Bairstow, who was once in the aero-dynamic section, did go on. He probably went on as a kind of a lone hand dealing with airships in a very lone way. Other people, doubtless, were interested in the scientific results, but there was no definite corps of scientific research men dealing with the enormous number of problems which must arise in dealing with something that has got to be an accomplished fact in getting and holding our position in the air. You dissipated your staffs of all kinds and let them go. After four years you tried to get them back again. You got a good many back, and no one will say you did not get some of the best brains in the world to apply themselves to the problem, but you had lost their skill for that period, and they themselves had to pick up in many ways the work they had been doing some years before, and go over it again.
Now you have had another period. After all, the disaster to the R 101 took place some months ago. I am not saying that there has been no research since, because there has been a good deal of active research in connection with the R 101 inquiry, but there has been a slackening off, and the crews and personnel are wondering, and have been wondering for some considerable time, 1422 what their fate is going to be. It is not the kind of atmosphere which induces enthusiasm among men who, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) said, have gone almost with a religious faith into a great ordeal. These are the men who you are inclined to cold-shoulder the moment there has been a disaster to an experiment of a kind that ought never to have been tried, in the opinion of very many people. I should not like it to be suggested that there was only political pressure or only the pressure of public opinion outside brought to bear upon Colonel Richmond and others at the last moment. I had the opportunity of seeing Colonel Richmond and Major Scott frequently, and on no occasion when I met them did they express the slightest doubt about the results of a journey to India. They were full of confidence. They were, shall I say, frantically keen to get over that particular part of the experiment. Their eyes were always looking toward India, and their thoughts were always upon the day when they could set out on a flight which they thought would, at any rate, settle the fate of airships in this country in the best possible way. They needed very little encouragement. I should say they needed no pressure at all to make that journey when they did. It is only due to their memory to say that they were wildly keen. They were probably rather over-confident. It may be that they were unduly influenced by the constant attacks that were made in the Press on the progress of their work to make that bold attack on their objective without having previously made the requisite number of trial flights on a shorter basis.
The Government have decided to give this chance for Great Britain to cooperate with Germany and the United States in the attempt to produce really great airships capable of cruising at a speed of about 120 knots. It is a question of co-operation, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley said. There is no doubt about the pooling of brains in this adventure. The countries that are concerned with it are equally keen on taking advantage of everything that is being done and giving of their best to any other countries, and giving anything 1423 that is going to further the success of this still experimental effort to master the air. I hope the Government will, while going forward with this policy, pay particular heed to the suggestion thrown out by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley and reorganise the Air Council and, for the first time in its history, put on it, even if it is an additional member instead of a substitute, a man who is regarded by the scientific world with complete confidence. Such men can be found—men who can not only interpret the results of experiments of this kind, but who can be approached by their scientific colleagues inside and outside the service when need arises. It seems to me that that is one of the conditions for the success of any future experimentation.
The Prime Minister suggests that there are going to be no structural alterations to the design of the R 100. I deprecate that entirely. What is the good of having an experimental ship if you are not going to have experiments? What is the good of saying we are not going to do this or that? What is the object of having a ship for experiments unless you are going to carry out the fullest experiments on it? I am all in favour of leaving a thing of this kind to the good sense and the ripe judgment of the men who, it is suggested, are now to be entrusted with the carrying out of a series of experiments which are going forward without the kind of captious, uninformed, ill-informed criticism that one gets on any experiment of this kind. I hope they will be given the fullest freedom to develop their own ideas and to do what they like with the R 100.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Sir W. BRASS
I agree with a considerable portion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's speech, and I agree with a great many of the things that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has said, but I am afraid I have not come to the same conclusion as anyone who has spoken so far. I should like to give one or two reasons why I think the suggestion that has been made by the Prime Minister is not altogether a very satisfactory one. I have had a little experience in lighter-than-air craft. I have had had the opportunity of going up in the 1424 R 101 on a flight of some three or four hours, and I have also had a little experience in aeroplanes and balloons. Consequently, I want to look at this question much more from a technical point of view than from the point of view that has been taken up in this Debate. I do not want to go into the question of the reasons for the disaster to the R 101, because it seems quite obvious from the report which has been presented that the disaster was due to the loss of gas in the fore-part of the ship. First of all, I think, we should examine the question of the use to which an airship can be put. If we look back over the history of airships—the report goes back to 1910—we are able to see what progress the airship has made from 1910 to 1931, and what progress the heavier-than-air craft has made during that time. The airship has advanced very little indeed as a useful means of carrying people from one part of the world to the other. We might say that we wanted the airship for war purposes. I think that the experience of the Germans with their Zeppelins during the War shows how extraordinarily vulnerable those big airships were to heavier-than-air craft, and I think that we must necessarily come to the conclusion that, as far as war is concerned, the airship should be counted out altogether. If we are going to experiment with airships, we must experiment with them for one purpose alone, and that is, to try to make them useful for carrying people from one part of the world to another.
I want to look at the whole question from that point of view. There have been, as we all know, previous flights of airships. The R 34 flew to the United States of America. The R 33 had a very unfortunate experience. She was anchored at her mast, and during a gale was blown away from the mast. It was owing to the great skill of her crew that she was able to get back to land and was saved from disaster. There was the R 38. She was a very unfortunate ship. It will be remembered that she broke in halves over the Humber, and that that very gallant officer, General Maitland, was killed on that occasion. Then there was the R 100, which succeeded in going as far as Montreal and back. That was, indeed, a very wonderful flight. But she nearly came to disaster over the St. Lawrence River, as everybody well 1425 remembers. Then there is the Zeppelin, a much smaller ship, which has been able actually to go round the world. I think that we can come to some conclusions as a result of what has happened to all these airships. We can come to the conclusion that an airship can be made strong enough to withstand practically any storm it is likely to meet, providing it is up in the air and not anchored to a mast. I think that we can come to that definite conclusion. But it does not mean, that because an airship of a certain size and with a certain crew in it can do that, that the airship is going to be a useful thing. It has to do very much more than that. An airship, if it is to be successful, has not only to be able to weather those storms, but to weather them with sufficient passengers in her to make her flights a more or less paying proposition. Although an airship can ride out a bad storm fairly safely, I do not think that an airship can take, or ever has taken, any considerable load of passengers from one part of the world to the other. Certainly, an airship has not done it for any really long distance with any sort of regularity.
I want to give my experience of what happened in the R 101 when I had the privilege of being invited as a member of the Civil Aviation Committee to go up in her. We went into the ship, and just as we were going to leave the mast—we had actually been unhooked from the mast—the airship immediately took a pronounced angle with the bow straight up. Some of the passengers were having lunch at the time, though I was not, and all the crockery in the ship immediately fell on to the deck and was smashed. I inquired afterwards what had happened, and was told that she had got too big a lift on the bow. I believe she had two ton's weight on the bow instead of half a ton which was considered necessary to lift her gently off the mooring mast. The result was that we had to drop a lot of ballast from the stern part of the ship in order to bring her level again. I have stated that fact, first of all because I wanted to explain that the airship was not particularly comfortable to start with, and also more particularly because she lost, as the result of this proceeding, quite a considerable amount of ballast which would have made a very great difference to her had she been going a long journey. I will quote one passage 1426 from the report of the Inquiry which bears on this point. In page 69 the following is written about the start of the fatal journey of the R 101:In preparing to start, the R 101 took on board 9¼ tons of water ballast, but four tons of this were got rid of before, or at the moment of, leaving, to compensate for the weight of passengers, crew, etc., and to help in the initial rise. It is worth noting that the dropping of so much water ballast at the start meant that if during flight more water ballast had to be dropped forward of the control car, this could only be done by sending a man forward to perform the operation.What was the result of dropping four tons of water ballast at the very beginning of the journey, when the flight only started with nine and a-quarter tons? It was equivalent to throwing overboard 50 passengers of an average weight of 12 stone each at the commencement of the journey. Another experience which I had on the R 101—and I again say this in order to illustrate some of the difficulties of airships—was that when we arrived back at the mooring mast—it was a calm day, and that may have made a certain difference—it took an hour from the time we got the cable from the airship to the ground before the airship was moored to the mast. I point out that fact to show one of the difficulties. If there had been a gale, I think it would have been even more difficult.
We have been told that the R 101 was too heavy. I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley said upon that point. She was oversafe, if one might use such a term. As far as construction was concerned, the factor of safety was possibly greater than the original design intended that it should be. But that was all to the good, Her engines were about five tons heavier than the engines of R 100, but that fact was counterbalanced up to a point by the difference in the weight of the fuel that was necessary for the heavier oil engine and the weight of the fuel for the lighter engine. The heavier oil engine required only 17 tons of fuel, while the petrol engine required 23 tons, according to the report. I will quote another passage from the report as having a bearing upon what the Prime Minister said. In page 46 the experience of two witnesses is narrated concerning what happened during an experimental flight of the R 101: 1427Wing Commander Cave-Browne-Cave, who was on the short flight which took place on June 26th, spoke of the dropping of the contents of two separate one-ton tanks of fuel-oil from about 1,000 feet as the ship came into the mooring tower on that occasion. The oil was dropped"—and this is the important point—in order to lighten the R 101. The necessity for dropping this fuel oil was largely brought about by atmospheric conditions. When the R 101 left Cardington at 4 p.m. on June 26th, it was a hot sunny afternoon and the gas in the gas-bags was considerably super-heated (that is, the gas was at a very much higher temperature than the surrounding air) and thus gave an increased lift; in the evening, when the ship landed at 9 p.m. the gas had cooled to approximately the same temperature as the surrounding air, thus causing a great loss of lifting power, It was in consequence of this loss of lift that the Captain considered it advisable to discharge two tons of oil from emergency tanks.If R 101 between 4 o'clock in the afternoon and 9 o'clock in the evening, in this country, with a very moderate difference in temperature, has to sacrifice, not water ballast, because apparently they had lost most of that, but two tons of fuel, as a result of going out in the morning in the summer and coming back in the evening, what is going to happen to an airship of these dimensions when it goes from this part of the world to the Tropics? It would have to drop a great deal more than two tons of fuel oil. The temperature of the sun on these lighter-than-air ships makes a great deal of difference to the lift. This has much to do with what the Prime Minister has suggested this afternoon. In his speech the right hon. Gentleman said that the airship we retain is not going to take any long-distance flights, and that there is to be no change in construction. If it is not to take long-distance flights, and if there is to be no alteration in construction, it means that the R 100 is going to be used in exactly the same way as the It 33, which was used as an experimental ship and was sent for short cruises. The experiments in E 33 resulted in the building of R 100 and R 101.
I cannot see that a great deal of valuable experience can be gained by an airship of these dimensions just floating around this country, going up every now and then, and being careful not to spend more than £120,000. She would 1428 not be able to be filled up with gas very often. If the airship is going to be used the experienced officers ought to be allowed to take her into places which would enable them to get the experience which is necessary if you are ever going to make an airship of any real value. There is one great advantage which an airship has over an heavier-than-air machine, and that is that it can cruise about at night. It can cruise much longer than an aeroplane at night; an aeroplane can do only a certain distance.
But what are the disadvantages of an airship as compared with an aeroplane? First of all, there is the speed. The speed at which R 101 travelled was 63 miles an hour—that was the cruising speed—with a maximum of 70 miles an hour; and I would point out that on one occasion R 33 was flying for a considerable time, 30 hours, and actually made no progress at all, because the wind was so strong that she was not able to hold her own. The speed of an airship is against it if we compare it with the speed of an aeroplane. Another point, which has not been mentioned so far, is the height at which an airship can fly. If an airship has to go on a long distance flight it may have to fly over mountain ranges. One of the great difficulties of an airship is that it a ways tries to fly at a fairly low altitude because if it flies at any great altitude the gas expands, and the higher it goes the more the gas expands. Consequently, if it goes to any great height it loses gas and thus loses lift.
Let me give one example. If a balloon or airship started on the ground full, went up to an altitude of 15,000 feet and came down again, there would be exactly half the amount of gas in the balloon or airship when it came down as there was when it started, because atmospheric pressure at 15,000 feet is roughly half what it is on the ground. That is the reason why an airship flies low and does not rise to big altitudes. If an airship went up to 5,000 feet or 6,000 feet—assuming that she started full af gas—she would immediately begin to lose gas, and if she went up to an altitude of 15,000 feet she would lose half her gas. If she has a lift of 160 tons she would lose 80 tons of lift. Therefore, she would not want to go to that altitude. I mention that to show the difficulty of an 1429 airship flying at any great altitude. There is also another difficulty, and that is the difficulty of keeping her on an even keel. When we arrived back at the mooring mast in R 101, just as we were going to anchor the airship to the mast, the nose dropped down and we had to drop a ton of water on those who were below. That was because the airship dropped down as she was going to the mast and it had to be stopped. Directly that ballast was dropped the crew, or part of the crew, were taken from the fore part of the airship to the aft part so as to be able to balance her, and to bring the aft part down and let the fore part go up. I am telling the Committee this in order to show that it is difficult to keep an even keel in one of these big airships.
There are, of course, many other difficulties. There is the danger of fire. When I was in that airship I was not particularly comfortable. I was inside the ship, and I felt all the time that if anybody had lighted a match it would not have been very easy for me to get out of the middle of an airship like R 101. I admit that I felt far from comfortable. I consider that an airship is something which cannot be depended upon to do a regular service from one part of the world to another because it is open to far greater difficulties than an aeroplane. You must have a much more accurate meteorological report for the airship than for the aeroplane. You must also have landing stages and big mooring masts. The Prime Minister wants to continue the policy. I think it is a mistake. Indeed, I think the whole principle of the airship is inherently wrong. There is nothing that flies in the air, except an airship, which does not fly like a bird; on the principle of bird flight. An airship depends on its ability to displace a certain amount of atmosphere with something which is lighter than the air it displaces, and it is difficult to take 5,500,000 cubic feet of gas and push that 5,500,000 cubic feet of gas through the atmosphere at any great speed.
I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley as to airships not being affected by wind. I agree that an airship is not affected by a constant wind, because it is in the air and moves with it, but it is most certainly affected by heavy gusts, and badly affected when it is moored to a mast. 1430 Taking all these things into consideration I feel that the Government are not doing the right thing in carrying on with the airship. I should like to see the personnel absorbed into the Flying Corps if that be possible, and that the meteorological side should continue to make experiments. But as far as the actual airship is concerned, I think it would be far safer to sell it to the United States, where they have helium, whereas in this country we have to fly an airship with hydrogen, which is very dangerous. If we sold the airship to the United States of America they could make valuable experiments with it—
§ Sir W. BRASS
We can sell it to Canada if the hon. and gallant Member prefers. I thought helium was found in America. My suggestion is that it should be sold to a country where it could be filled with helium instead of being filled with hydrogen. I hope the Under-Secretary of State for Air will take some of these suggestions into consideration when he replies.
§ Lieut. - Commander KENWORTHY
The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe (Sir W. Brass) has made a very interesting speech, and it has been the first one in opposition to the opinion expressed in all parts of the Committee. He has my sympathy in that matter, because, whatever my views may be, when I find the three Front Benches in agreement I become a little suspicious. Hon. Members will agree that the Air League have been very helpful in making this country air-minded, and that they have taken a great deal of trouble in studying this important question. They have made a special inquiry since the report of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was issued, and have been able to draw on the services of many distinguished airmen who have had experience in both heavier-than-air machines and lighter-than-air machines. Let me read the crucial paragraph of their report. They are anxious only to help aviation in every way. They are neither "heavier-than-air" nor "lighter-than-air" enthusiasts; they an; merely aviation enthusiasts. This is the paragraph: 1431The Air League, after careful deliberation, is convinced that the correct scientific course to pursue is to use R 100 forthwith and to make such further experiments, of a research and technical rather than of an operational kind, as will give us the knowledge we need before any final decision as to future policy can be made.That is, I suppose, the opinion held by the Cabinet, and I do not propose to traverse it. But I would put one or two questions to the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe referred to a matter which I have in my notes—the question of helium. I do not believe that public opinion in this country will support further long-distance flights on hydrogen. There was a proposal for supplies of helium to be given to us at a reasonable price, or for nothing, by the United States, in exchange for certain technical knowledge. It was part of that great international booming of experience and data that was referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley. What has happened to that proposal? What are the arrangements for getting helium? Obviously that is one of the most vital things with which to experiment. What prospects are there if an adequate supply at a reasonable rate?
Another question is with regard to the staff at Howden, which is close to my constituency. A great many of my constituents who are engineers and skilled craftsmen are concerned. R 100 was practically built by engineers and workmen from Hull, and the great shed is at Howden. There is no mast, but the great shed is there and a nucleus of people. Have they been considered and are they going to be looked after? I would draw attention to a passage in the Prime Minister's speech. My right hon. Friend referred to the condition of R 100, and used a sentence that was pregnant. He said that R 100 is very much out of condition. A little later he said that its outer skin was in very bad condition through lack of use. R 100 is the most modern airship in the world. There you have one of the great difficulties with airships—the fragile nature of the outer skin and its liability to deteriorate. Indeed, from my reading of the report, that was the real cause of the terrible mishap to R 101. R 100 has had one flight across the Atlantic and back. If that is the condition of its outer cover, surely to goodness 1432 we must go into this question scientifically and enlist the finest experience and knowledge that we have in order to get something more durable if we are to go on with this experiment. We want something that will stand up to the pressure that the hon. and gallant Member for Clitheroe mentioned. It appears to be the intention of the Air Ministry to carry out only purely scientific experimental flights over these islands.
I believe I am right in saying that there is no experience of the behaviour of airships in the tropics. The nearest case I know of, and one of the most interesting flights ever undertaken, was the flight of the German airships that went to East Africa during the War to carry rifle ammunition to the German force there. I remember a message coming down to us to this effect: "Can any of you bright people give us a reason why there should be a Zeppelin reported over Central Africa? What is she doing?" I had heard a few days before that one of these monsters had bombed the conservatories of a cousin of mine who has a lonely house in the wilds of Aberdeenshire. This cousin wrote in great indignation to ask what the Navy and the Army and the Air Force were doing that he should have to undergo such an experience. The explanation was that the Germans thought they were bombing the munition factories at Gretna. The only explanation I could give of the Zeppelin being in the middle of Africa was that she had lost her way. She had successfully taken rifle ammunition to the commander of the German forces and had got away. That flight was, perhaps, the most successful War operation that a Zeppelin ever did. It had an effect on the War. But there is practically no tropical experience of airships.
I wonder how many hon. Members have seen from the air a dust storm in the semi-tropical desert of Arabia? It is a most terrifying thing. I am told that the sand goes up to a height of 10,000 feet. There is nothing to be done except to lie on your face in the sand and wish for the storm to pass. I have seen such a storm from the air, but luckily in my case we were near the coast and were able to go out to sea to avoid it. It is a terrifying and magnificent sight. You cannot foretell such storms very accurately. I started in beautiful 1433 weather from Jask for Baghdad, but we had to go back to Basrah and remain there for two days and nights. It was a storm of which we had had no warning within 24 hours of its arrival. That is the country which airships will have to traverse on the route to India. Practical experience is what we need. I wonder what the plans are for gaining that tropical experience?
There is another question, and it is one with which the Prime Ministers speech is not dealing. It relates to the mast and the very large shed at Karachi. Is the Government of India to maintain that shed and mast? If an answer has not yet been received from the Indian Government the Under-Secretary will, of course, not be able to reply. So far the Indian Government has not been too helpful to British aviation, certainly not during the last year or two. How far is it now co-operating? I am not one of those who have been cast down by the disaster to R 101, nor do I say that because of that disaster we have to win through in face of difficulties and overcome all the problems. I am exactly as I was before the disaster occurred. If then I was agnostic on the question of airships, I am afraid I am so still. I would ask the Committee to consider the history of airships. It shows the tremendous need of scientific research in a purely scientific spirit. In 1919 the British airship N.S.11 was struck by lightning and fell blazing into the sea and her whole crew perished.
§ Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY
I am coming to the rigids. I know my hon. and gallant Friend's interest in that-subject, and I would like here to pay tribute to his great experience and to the courage that he showed during the War. I am not going to refer to the war disasters to French or German airships, but I shall deal with post-War experience. R 24 and R 29 after only a few flights were scrapped; R 25 was scrapped after 10 months only. R 31, one of the large rigids, made two flights and was scrapped. After the experience of R 31, R 32 was scrapped, and I do not think she ever flew at all. Those were the days just after the War, when there was plenty of money and everyone was prepared to spend millions on anything 1434 that seemed promising. Then R 33 was launched. She cost £350,000. She bad to be altered at a cost of an extra £30,000. That is the airship to which the right hon. Member for Spen Valley referred. In 1925 she broke from her mast. That was the occasion when she found herself sailing backwards, and was making so much leeway that she was not making any headway. It cost £40,000 to repair her after that experience. She had 800 hours in the air and was scrapped. She was our most successful airship.
R 34, launched at the same time, cost the same. She was the one that crossed the Atlantic in 1919 and was wrecked in 1921. Thereupon the contract for R 35 was cancelled after £75,000 had been spent on her. In 1921 R 36 was completed at a cost of another £350,000 and scrapped after only 97 hours in the air. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) complained that when he went to the Air Ministry he found that the Treasury had come down and stopped all this work. These are the reasons. The cost was too much even in the spacious days of 1921. R 37 cost £325,000 and was scrapped after very little flying. R 38 cost £500,000 and was completed in 1921. She collapsed in the air over the Humber and 44 gallant men went to their deaths. Very well merited tributes have been paid to the gallant pioneers in R 101, but these victims of R 38 died for their country in the same way and are as worthy of tribute. R 39 was scrapped after £90,000 had been spent on her. R 80 cost £275,000 and was scrapped without having flown at all. Then there was the R 101 which, from first to last, cost about £1,000,000. There was the French "Dixmude" in 1923—again post-War experience—which was dashed to pieces with the whole of her crew of 53. Then there was the United States "Shenandoah" which broke her back in 1925, in fine weather, killing 14 of her crew. Then in 1927 there was the Italian "Roma" which crashed in flames, killing 34. Her sister ship the "Italia" it will be remembered met- her fate in the Arctic. German airship history is one long tale of disaster.
That is the tragic and heroic tale of the development of the airship. Compared with that story, of millions of pounds spent, of hundreds of lives lost, the plan 1435 which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recommends to the Committee, is modest. It proposes to spend £120,000 in one year, £130,000 in the next year, and £140,000 in the year following. That is not a very large sum of money but my right hon. Friend spoke of savings in other directions. May I seriously ask the Under-Secretary to let us know whether those savings are to be made at the expense of the less spectacular ordinary civil aviation? Are there going to be savings on experiments on the faster air-mail aeroplanes which are badly needed? Are there going to be savings on scientific research into heavier-than-air machines, and useful night air mail machines, and the auto-gyro system, which may or may not have a great future, but is at any rate worth experiment? My hon. Friend told me in answer to a question recently that it was not intended to experiment by purchasing a large passenger-carrying auto-gyro aeroplane. I believe that he would be the last to wish to stint the development of research in regard to heavier-than-air machines, and I hope that there are going to be no savings at the expense of the Air Ministry's work in this respect. I hope that whatever is spent upon this modest and careful programme of the Government, which I do not oppose, will be quite distinct from expenditure on the ordinary development of the well-tried and rapidly improving heavier-than-air craft.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley, when he dealt with the question of "useful lift" the strain on the structure, and the effect of currents of air, made out an extraordinarily devastating case, theoretically, against the airship, but he omitted another factor, namely the helplessness of an airship if, through some miscalculation as to weather, or some accident, such as an engine breakdown, she finds herself caught in a gale, or in adverse weather conditions of any kind, far away from her shed and far away from a mast. She cannot anchor like a ship; she cannot come down into a wide open space like an aeroplane; she cannot land on the surface of the sea like a flying-boat or a seaplane. She must ride out the storm or run the gauntlet, and she may find herself with her ballast exhausted and her fuel exhausted miles from her mast.
1436 Let us try to visualise the position of an airship in the future setting out to carry delegates to an Imperial conference in Sydney. When she leaves Carding-ton she has to make Ismailia, and having left Ismailia the next available stopping place would be Karachi. I suppose there would be a mast somewhere about Singapore and another one in Northern Australia. That is what we are working up to now if we can get over these difficulties. But if, between stopping places, such a ship were to get into a hurricane, she would be helpless and far worse off than a ship at sea. For these reasons I am glad that the Government are not spending more than will be absolutely necessary in order to carry out purely scientific experiments. There is a great untilled field of investigation to be cultivated, and I am glad that the future spirit of investigation will be purely scientific. I hope that the lesson which we have learned will show Governments, of whatever complexion they may be, that they must be deaf to popular clamour, and must not seek to provide the people with circuses rather than with bread.
§ Sir PHILIP SASSOON
The Debate to-day must provide the answer to the question which is implicit in the Simon Report. The report states that airship travel is still in its experimental stage, and it is for us to determine whether the experiment should be further pursued or not. There is one conclusion which we may fairly draw from the report, without any criticism of the decision to attempt the flight to India at the time when that gallant but ill-fated attempt was made, and that conclusion is that the essential and, to-day, obvious fact, that airship travel is still in its experimental stage, was overlooked or at least thrust aside. The disaster which overtook the R 101 and caused the death of 48 devoted men out of a complement of 54 has brought home to us the experimental nature of airship travel. It was not so obvious then, but the Simon Report to-day establishes, with a clarity and sureness of reasoning which commands the admiration and gratitude of all who have read it, the story of that tragedy. The thing which surprises one is the very scanty nature of the trials undertaken with the R 101 before it embarked on its final journey. When one thinks of the tremendous length of time devoted now-adays 1437 to the trials of any new type of motor-car, it is surely remarkable how short were the trials allowed before this great new adventure. To-day we are compelled to realise that before airships can fulfil the hopes which many have centred upon them, a long period of costly experiment is necessary and, even then, we are not sure that the experiment will eventually realise success.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) mentioned two dangers which arise out of a disaster like that of the R 101. There is the natural reaction to defeat, that is to say the determination not to accept defeat but to try again and to take up the challenge which the forces of nature have thrown down to us. There is the other danger which is to assume that the last word has been said and that the instant and total destruction of the product of so many months of work and so much skill courage and forethought means necessarily that airships can never be a commercial success. I do not wish to subscribe to either of those views. As far as the second is concerned, I do not think that it is a fair conclusion to draw from the report. The report shows that the crashing of the R 101 was not due to any constructional failure, or any lack of judgment on the part of any of the crew. It leaves entirely open the question as to whether it may not be possible, in the future, to design and create an airship which will be able to encounter similar or worse conditions and surmount them successfully. But, it by no means follows from a belief that there is a future for airships, that it would, to-day, be the correct policy for this country to embark at once on a new experimental ship. We know from experience that the building of another ship on the scale of R 101 must be a very costly proceeding and before we can embark upon such an undertaking we have to consider whether in the present state of the national finances we can afford to do so. We ought to consider also whether any money which we can afford to spend—beyond what is necessary to maintain R 100 and prevent any waste of the time and money which has been sunk in her—cannot possibly be used in other and better ways.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) mentioned several lessons which 1438 are to be learned from a consideration of the Committee's report and I would like to mention one or two others. First and foremost, I think, is the fact that the installation of heavy oil engines is certainly no safeguard against fire. The destruction of the R 101 could not have been more rapid or more complete if there had been petrol engines on board. It is clear that airship travel cannot be considered safe, whatever the type of fuel, carried so long as the lifting agency is hydrogen. Helium, combined with heavy oil engines, would be a safeguard against fire but it has two great disadvantages. The lifting power of helium is very much less than that of hydrogen and it is very difficult to obtain and very costly. The first obstacle which will have to be overcome, if airships are to be undertaken with any hope of success, is to find some new and readily available source of cheap helium gas. There seems to be no prospect of that at present. There are natural supplies in some quantity, I believe, in Canada and the United States, but the natural gas there is too far away from us and too restricted in output for helium to be employed in commercial airships in this country on a commercial scale. The resources of modern science however are boundless, and I am sufficiently ignorant to believe that it may be possible, one day, to discover an artificial form of helium gas at a reasonable cost, but, until that is done, I think we should be wise to leave large-scale experiment to those countries which can command a natural supply of helium at a not prohibitive cost.
Even if cheap helium were available, its lesser lifting power would make it essential to use petrol engines, if a paying commercial load is to be carried. Therefore the second obstacle to be overcome is the production of an engine using heavy oil yet capable of realising a ratio of power to weight comparable with the petrol engine. That has not yet been done but I think there is a certain amount of hope in that direction. Such an engine is badly wanted for aeroplanes and the experiments which are now being made in heavy oil engines for air use are due to the realisation of the immense field which a less weighty engine, using heavy oil, would be able to exploit 1439 among the commercial air lines of the world operating heavier than air machines.
The other two definite needs are, first, au outer fabric less liable to rip than that now in use and second, a cheaper and more efficient material than goldbeater skin for the gas-bags. We know that the evidence in the Report pointing to a failure of the outer skin of the R 101 as a contributory cause to the disaster is very strong. We also know that the fabric tore very badly in some of the trial flights, and that trouble of the same kind was met with in the R 100. Until a better material is found, the outer fabric of an airship will always be a source of anxiety and risk. Experiments are now being carried on in the United States with what the newspapers call a metal-clad airship. Perhaps there is a hope of success on those lines. If so, it will do no harm for us to wait to see the result of this American experiment. What hope there is of finding a cheap substitute for goldbeater skin I do not know but certainly the material now employed is costly both in money and time, and very unfit for any stress or any long journeys. I imagine that the mistake of allowing the gas-bags to be placed too close to the structure of the ship under conditions which make for holing the fabric by chafing will not occur again. Even so, it is essential that a material which can be more readily and more cheaply produced and which does not hole so easily should be found, if the airship is to become a reliable means of communication.
The four obstacles which I have mentioned do not in any way exhaust the list. They are, I submit, proof that the design and construction of airships have still a long way to go before the commercial, vessel becomes a working possibility. The question is, can we afford at the present time to set aside the considerable sums of money which will be required to solve those problems, if indeed they can be solved? Are we justified in diverting that money from other forms of air communication which might, perhaps, offer better prospects of success? I submit that we cannot. In my view, we ought to adopt the proposal which 1440 the Prime Minister has put before the Committee this afternoon, which is to maintain the R 100 and to make cautious experiments with her, undertaking no long or spectacular flights, but conducting short flights in this country and endeavouring in that way to collect a great deal of data, which, when times are more favourable, would enable us to go in for experiments on a larger scale, with a great deal more knowledge to back us, and therefore greater hopes of success.
The Report has not condemned airships. That being so, we are not justified in scrapping a vessel which has cost us over £1,000,000, not to speak of the sheds and mooring masts which have cost us many thousands more. We should not be justified in wasting the experience we have already gained or the trained personnel we now possess. I, therefore, very warmly support the proposal, which the Prime Minister has made to the Committee today, that the R 100 should be maintained on a research basis. There are many ways in which we can gain experience out of it without a large annual expenditure. As the right hon. Member for Chelsea has mentioned, we want greater knowledge and experience, especially in meteorology, which in this particular case was so very disappointing. We must come regretfully to the conclusion that the proper course for this country is to postpone, for the time being at any rate, the hopes that many of us had entertained of airships as a means of inter-imperial communication. In the R 100 and R 101, and in many of the earlier airships, we have already done a great deal to carry the problems of airship travel to a conclusion. The lives so gallantly given have not been thrown away, and it is certainly not because we are unmindful of the sacrifices that have been made that some of us would suggest that large-scale experiments should be left for the moment to other countries.
I believe that the necessarily limited funds at our disposal would be far better employed in pushing on the development of Empire communications in other ways, by means of aeroplanes and flying-boats, and more particulary by flying-boats. In this direction we have immediate prospects of practical success, and we have the great advantage that our money can be spread over several flying units, and 1441 not locked up in a single experiment. I do not know how many long distance multi-engined flying-boats we could not purchase for the cost of one new airship. Whether or not the flying-boat will do everything that the ideal airship would do or not, it is quite certain that there is far more immediate prospect of realising the ideal flying-boat than there is of realising the ideal airship. Relatively we have already progressed much further with flying-boats than with airships. Further improvement would not be a matter of conjecture, dependent on the solution of problems of which we are not certain, we can find a solution, but of certainty. The flying-boat has already made great advances, and further advances can be made on the lines already laid down. An efficient heavy oil engine, which is one of many essentials in the airship, is the only essential problem which the flying-boat has still to overcome.
One had looked to the airship to help to solve the difficulty of crossing the great oceans like the Atlantic, but we now see that the Atlantic has been crossed with great practicability in stages by heavier-than-air machines. A gallant band of pioneers is working even now on preliminary observations for opening up the Northern route. I earnestly urge that we should continue the necessary experiments with the R 100 by carrying out the proposals which the Prime Minister has made to the Committee to-day, and that we should devote ourselves to opening up the possibilities already known to us. I am convinced that by concentrating upon flying-boats, and leaving large-scale experiments of airships to other countries for the time being, we shall obtain a far more certain and more speedy return for whatever money we can afford to spend on the development of Empire air communications.
§ Mr. MANDER
As one who has always taken a very great interest in the development of aviation, I am glad to be able to intervene in this Debate. The right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) has already referred to a very important passage on page 12 of the report, when he pointed out that the very conditions which were envisaged at the time the original policy was drawn up have now arisen and that, one of the airships having been 1442 destroyed by accident, the other is available and, in accordance with plan, ought to be made use of. I should like to call attention to another sentence, which says:It was, therefore, decided to develop the programme in a spirit of scientific caution, holding considerations of prudence and safety to be of paramount importance.The only comment one can make on that is that it was a very great pity that that policy was not carried out. The circumstances are such that one does not want to refer to that any further, but it is perfectly clear that the airship has not failed in any way. The R 101 was not to blame for what took place, and we ought, therefore, to look at the problem on a wider scale, quite unmoved by the tragic accident that took place six months ago. I was rather sorry to hear the Prime Minister suggest that the trials, which are going to be made with R 100, will be somewhat limited in scope. I quite agree that, to begin with, it may be desirable to limit them to experimental flights from one part of this country to another, but I hope, as time goes on, it may be possible in a year or so to make a long distance flight to America, or possibly, if it is practicable, even to India. I hope that possibility will not be lost sight of altogether, because, if we are to get any really valuable experience, we want to make our experiments on a somewhat bigger scale than what is contemplated only as a temporary measure for the moment.
We have got to get rid of two things in the airship if we are to make for safety and security in the future. We have got to get rid of hydrogen and of petrol. On the use of helium, I should like to ask the Under-Secretary if he can give us some information about that. It is said that there is helium available in Canada, Ceylon and Trinidad. It may be in other places in the British Empire, and I should be glad if he would indicate how far matters have gone and how far we can make use of the helium available there. Can he also say if the embargo placed on the export of helium from the United States has been removed? I understand that after the disaster there was a suggestion that it would be removed. If he has any information on that, it would be a very useful contribution to 1443 this Debate. There is another reason why we should go in for long distance flights in due course, if possible. Canada, after all, has spent a great deal of money on erecting a mast at Montreal, while on the way to India the large sum of £105,000 has been spent in erecting masts at Ismailia and Karachi. It would be a waste of capital assets if in due course steps were not taken to derive some benefit from them. With regard to the question of getting rid of petrol and helium, it is a difficult thing to get rid of both, but the result of experiments with the R 101 go to show quite clearly that we are, at any rate, approaching a stage when it will be possible to make use of an engine of about four pounds per brake horse-power which can use heavy oil. That is coming very near the weight of a petrol engine. I hope it will be possible, as was considered in the R 101, to eliminate the use of petrol for starting as well. As long as petrol is used in any form, however slight the extent, on board an airship, there will always be a source of danger.
Another reason why it is important for us not to abandon our airship policy, but to proceed on the lines which the Prime Minister has sketched out, and even more boldly, is that, whatever we do, other countries are not going to be held back, and they will make advances into territories where we have been accustomed to be pioneers and lead the world. It would be a great pity if, in a moment of depression, we were to hand over the lead to the United States, Germany and other countries, and not to play our part in the air as gallantly and successfully as we have on the sea and in other directions. It is perfectly clear that Germany is going to take up this matter with great enthusiasm and energy. They have got plans for running regular services both to North and South America. They have ideas of running from Spain to South America regular mail services. The delivery of mails at the present time takes something like 17 days, and one can appreciate the enormous caving in the delivery of mail matter that could be made if a regular system of airship delivery were found practicable. One cannot help congratulating the Germans on the great success they have achieved through the Graf Zeppelin and its flight to the United States and round the world.
1444 I well remember a very picturesque incident that occurred at the Assembly of the League of Nations last year, when an animated debate in the Sixth Committee was proceeding on the subject of minorities. Just when the French Foreign Minister was making an impassioned speech, we suddenly heard the droning of the engines of an airship. It drew nearer and nearer the Palais des Nations, and in due course came right above and completely drowned the enchanting words of M. Briand, who was obliged to sit down and for the time being to terminate his speech. I could not help thinking that, while that was going on, the German representatives there must have had an inward feeling of satisfaction that they were able to produce a craft capable of giving that picturesque little incident of their ascendancy in the air. Their leadership must not be accepted by us.
We must assume our accustomed role of leadership in this as in other matters. The United States are actively taking up this question and have formed a great international Corporation, the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation, in association with the Goodyear Tyre Company, which has set up a factory in this country very near my own constituency, and they are intending not only to develop experimental airships for military and naval purposes in America, but to run services to different parts of the world. Then there is the airship that was referred to by the late Under-Secretary of State for Air just now, known, I believe, by the letters ZMC2, an all-metal airship which is being experimented with for the purposes of the United States Army, and I believe that in Japan and in Russia, too, airship programmes are being developed. That shows that, whatever we may do, other countries are not going to lag behind, and we must take our proper place.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Ken-worthy) pointed out that one of the great difficulties with airships is that they cannot land or communicate with the earth except at masts. That is true up to the present, but the suggestion has been made that in due course a solution may be found for that difficulty, particularly over the sea, by driving the airship downwards towards the water and, when it reaches the water, the airship skimming just along the top with floats. These 1445 floats would take in water, much in the same way as an express train takes in water when travelling; and when sufficient water had been taken in, the airship would come to a standstill and would be secure, resting on the water. When it was desired to rise again, having been driven down under force, it would simply have to release the water and would be able to ascend. I mention that to show that there are various possibilities of a solution of this problem, though it may be a long way off yet.
I submit that it is possible with airships to obtain advantages that you cannot get by any present means of transport. You can get the comfort of sea ships, but you can go very much faster; you can get the speed of an express train, but you are not affected by the limitations of a railway line; and on certain routes, and only on certain routes, I believe, you can get a safer and more economical system than you can obtain by aeroplane. This matter is extraordinarily important to us, situated as we are in the British Empire. It is vital that we should be able to devise means of quicker transport, so that we can understand each other better. At the present time, by the fastest known steamship route, you can get from England to Sydney in 30 days; by a reasonable airship service you could get there in 12 days, which is a saving of 18 days. To go from England to Canada, now takes six days, and you could reasonably expect to get there by airship in 2½ days, a saving of 3½ days; and in the case of a voyage to South Africa, at present it takes 20 days, but with an airship it would take 6½ days, a saving of 13½ days. I do not think it is taking too optimistic a view to visualise a future, I hope not dim and distant, when there will be airships sailing at 80 knots at least, 1,000 feet in length, carrying 700 passengers, and with a radius of something like 3,000 miles.
Finally, I suggest that we should do our utmost to play our accustomed role in any great development of aircraft that is going on in the world. We should make the fullest use of the R 100, which is available for the very purpose that was foreseen by the Labour Government in 1024, and carried on by the late Government. We should test it thoroughly out, beginning gradually, and then going as far as we think 1446 possible, I hope by means of extended flights. A point that appeals to one about airship development is that there has been a suggestion in the past that it is only in the circumstances that arise in war that you get the great heroic qualities of courage called out in men, but I think that you have possibilities here of evoking the same courage for the great benefit of the world, and I hope that nothing will be done to impede progress, but that the nations of the world will in future rival each other, not on the field of war, but in pursuit of great feats of achievement such as you get in airship and aeroplane development.
§ Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE
I think the Government have chosen the moderate and possibly the correct course to pursue at this stage. It is always a very difficult question to decide how much effort to put into the development of a new science. The history of engineering and scientific progress in this country, particularly in the last 100 years, which have seen the major part of engineering and scientific development, has been a history of rooted hostility to every form of development, and, in particular, to any form of development which has been concerned with transport. Opposition was raised when the sailing ship gave way to the paddle steamer, and when the paddle steamer gave way to the screw steamer. Opposition was raised to the introduction of steam locomotives, and I believe that a Bill was introduced into this. House to limit the speed at which locomotives and steam trains should be allowed to proceed. Similarly, the introduction of the motor-car was the occasion of ribaldry and mirth in every picture paper, and those of us who were concerned with the introduction of the aeroplane were looked upon as lunatics.
Therefore, it is very difficult to decide, on an occasion like this, how much effort to put into the development of an entirely new craft. But, looking at the opposition that has always been launched in the past against any new development, and looking at the success which has been achieved by those developments, one is always inclined, especially if one is at all scientifically minded, to come down on the side of giving as much latitude and assistance as possible to the furtherance of those experiments. In the case of airships, we have very many 1447 other considerations, which are not technical and not scientific, to consider, and I think, taking all those considerations into account, that the Government have taken the right course.
I should like, if I may, to add my humble tribute to the work which was done by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) in conducting the R 101 inquiry. Having been privileged to attend the sittings of the court whenever I was able, and to listen to the manner in which it was conducted, I think it was a magnificent exhibition of judgment and attention to detail. But I think that, not only from the point of view of benefit to airship development, it is extremely valuable to science to have these judicial inquiries, and the scientific world, quite apart from the aeronautical world, ought to be grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for the example which he has given in the conduct of that inquiry. You have sometimes to tie experts down to the earth, you have to eliminate guesswork, and the more you can get a judicial, careful weighing of points on these great problems, whether in the Air Service or in any other, the more certain you are to get rapid, efficient, and good development.
I think that more documents might have been published in the report. There were a great many documents. It may be that they are confidential, but there are many, such as the various minutes put forward by Wing Commander Col-more and others to the Air Ministry, especially during the last six months, which ought to have been published and should be very enlightening to those who are concerned with this very grave problem. There is one fundamental mistake that has been made, and that is that this Committee ought to have examined the question 12 months ago.
The right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) and the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley mentioned that criticism in this House and elsewhere had shown impatience and had urged rapid continuance of these experiments. I do not think that is quite accurate. I am sure we all recollect the humorous but very cogent remarks of our late colleague Mr. Rose, the Member for Aberdeen, and others who took the same 1448 line, but so far as I can remember those criticisms were not impatient, but wholly hostile, and, as an hon. Friend here says, derisive. A letter which I ventured to write to the late Lord Thomson more than 12 months before the sad disaster took place sums up concisely the criticisms which many of us felt towards the development of airships. The letter was dated 27th September, 1929, over 12 months before the disaster took place, and it stated:Dear Thomson,I am writing to put before you certain points relating to the airship position, which I have previously raised in the House of Commons on various occasions.Then I quoted certain passages from the OFFICIAL REPORT, and I went on:I feel that the time is overdue when the whole policy in regard to airships should be reviewed; and we should seriously consider whether or not we should cut our losses now before they assume even greater dimensions.My reasons for contending that the situation demands immediate and grave consideration are as follows:1. Financial.Over £2,500,000 has been spent on the two experimental airships. It is now admitted that neither of these vessels will be suitable for regular commercial work. To provide the minimum number of airships, sheds, mooring masts, etc., necessary for a regular commercial service something nearer £20,000,000 would be required.A fraction of this amount "——and this is borne out by what the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Mander) said—if expended on heavier-than-air craft, would go a long way towards establishing our Imperial air routes all over the world. We know that existing machines can do it. It is not a question of experimenting. There is no technical uncertainty. It is purely a matter of money.The question is whether we can afford to expend a vast 6um on airship services when we know that the job can be done by aeroplanes for a fraction of this sum.This is, of course, assuming that the airships will be successful and will do all that is claimed by their promoters. But the situation is more serious because of technical doubts.I must remind the Committee that more than a year before this expenditure took place, there were put forward in two responsible organs of the engineering world very serious criticisms of the 1449 technical capacity and development of R 101. My letter goes on to say:I therefore give as a second reason for an inquiry into the whole position:2. Technical Uncertainties.The engineering criticisms are summed up very fully and very ably by the publications and statements of Mr. E. F. Spanner. I think that these statements by themselves are a serious indictment. But there are other points which weigh with the man in the street. The airships are years overdue and defects have come to light which are common knowledge to those in touch with what is going on.I venture to suggest that you should take the advice of a competent technical committee and ask them to report on the two present airships and on the more general question as to the future of airships.Closely akin to the technical side of the question is the3. Danger to the Lives of the Crews.In air work we are agreed that lives must be risked to carry out essential experiments. The Schneider Cup Race is an example which would occur to the public. But if either or both of my contentions"—that is to say the financial liability and the technical uncertainties—which I have outlined above are correct, the risk of life on the trials of these airships will be utterly unwarranted.That, I venture to say, was borne out to be only too true.The first Labour Government have the responsibility for the support given to the present airship policy; and although, to their credit, the scheme is not quite so audacious as that originally intended by Sir Dennistoun Burney, they allowed themselves to be influenced by him to the extent of considerable commitments.I suggest, however, that the Labour Government are running a serious risk of disaster if they disregard the warnings which have been given and which I have attempted to summarise above.I want to put that letter on record to show that there was a body of opinion in favour of a judicial inquiry into the airship question many months before the sad disaster occurred. I regret that that inquiry did not take place, because I feel convinced that, had we had a man like the right hon. and learned Gentleman inquiring into the position 12 months ago, this disaster would never have taken place; the course of airship progress would have benefited, because we should have known the situation and scientists would have been brought down to earth. We should have eliminated uncertainties, 1450 and the whole science would have been in a much better position. I agree with the remarks made by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley concerning the airship department of the Air Ministry.
If the report on the disaster does nothing else, it gives a very damaging indictment of the administration of the Air Ministry. There was no one at the Ministry with a technical knowledge of airships, and at the same time in touch with the higher staffs and having a wide eye on the whole field of airships and heavier-than-air craft development. After visiting Cardington, I also felt that there was rather an absence of that esprit de corps which you find in other Service stations. I do not know to what it was due. It may have been due to the fact that the men at Cardington were partly civilians, partly Royal Air Force men, and partly that strange nondescript class that made up the crew of the airship; or it may have been partly lack of supervision by the Air Ministry. The fact is that the station did lack that coordination and that looking to a real leader which you would find at any other properly equipped Service experimental station. I should like to suggest, in view of the other recent accidents which have taken place in the Air Force in recent months, that it might be well for my hon. Friend to go very carefully into the whole administration of the Air Ministry.
In spite of repeated statements to the effect that airships were designed and checked by technical experts, the Report shows that that was not the case, because we find a whole train of mistakes in the last two years. There was, first, the fundamental alterations which necessitated the introduction of a new bay into R 101; then the alteration of the engines, turning them from reverse into direct; and then the difficulties which were experienced in regard to the fabric. It must have been perfectly clear that there could be no confidence in the technical infallibility of those who were responsible, and the trouble really lay in the fact that the experts to whom these questions were referred—the judges—were themselves the men who were the enthusiasts and to a large extent responsible for the design of these ships. That was also 1451 bound up with the fact, which has not really been thoroughly brought out in the Report, that many of those who were concerned in the airships were interested in the patents on which these airships were constructed and designed. That, I am sure, consciously or unconsciously biassed the scientific production of these ships.
I cannot imagine such a thing as this terrible calamity happening if the Admiralty had been responsible. The Admiralty methods of developing submarines, for example, would never have allowed a flight of this sort to take place with such inadequate and sparse trials. I do not know what has happened to Sir Dennistoun Burney. He was in very close touch with the Government when the idea of these airships was conceived. Long before R 101 or R100 were ever launched, he had condemned them; in fact, he had turned King's evidence against them, and in a book which he wrote thoroughly condemning them and proving mathematically that their flight was practically impossible, he suggested that the only possible solution of the airship problem in future was to build, not 5,000,000 cubic feet airships, but 10,000,000 cubic feet airships. If his thesis is correct, it means that any experiment that does not go in for a large 10,000,000 cubic ship is liable to failure. I hope that the nucleus which my hon. Friend is going to maintain at the Air Ministry in order to continue airship work, will go into this question very carefully in consultation with the experts in foreign countries, in order to see what will be the future development of airships.
I do not wish to discuss the technical side to-night. I have made my remarks and read a letter which I wrote to Lord Thomson in order to show one thing, namely, that the men who were called upon to go up as the crew of this ship were called upon to undergo a very great risk indeed—far greater than would have been their risk in the ordinary precarious work of the Royal Air Force. That leads me to the human side of this terrible tragedy. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Wells) for touching on the human side, for he represents more fully the dependants of 1452 those who lost their lives. My concern is with a few of the dependants who are my constituents who have been to see me on this matter, and because they are my constituents I trespass on the ground for which the hon. Gentleman is primarily responsible. It is a terrible tragedy for a disaster of this sort to sweep over a village and to remove, as it did, from the village of Cardington nearly every breadwinner. Only those who have been in a mining disaster in a mining village can realise the something that comes to a village when a tragedy of this sort takes away every breadwinner.
I know there have been other tragedies on the land and sea and in the air, but I would like to make an appeal on this occasion for the dependants of those who lost their lives in this airship, for the men were called upon to undergo a terrific risk, far more even than they anticipated. It is not necessary now to conjecture the real motives which compelled that flight to take place on 5th October, 1930, but everyone is aware what those reasons probably were, and everybody is probably agreed that those reasons were unnecessary and uncalled for. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Treasury, has probably gone to the extreme limit in giving pensions—
The CHAIRMAN (Sir Robert Young)
The hon. Gentleman cannot refer to that matter now. He will have to wait until Vote 11 comes before the Committee.
§ Mr. MALONE
I was hoping that this Debate might again fix attention on those who are in want, because there are many cases of injustice and hardship, and many cases of persons who have suffered through this terrible calamity. It would be invidious to discuss those cases now, but, if my hon. Friend wishes to apply a test to ascertain whether there has been any hardship or injustice—
§ The CHAIRMAN
The hon. Gentleman cannot enter into that subject now; it is outside Vote 10 altogether.
§ Mr. MALONE
I will therefore conclude by saying that I hope that my few remarks will draw attention to that aspect of the tragedy, and that my hon. Friend will bear it in mind. I know he has done what he can, but he is in touch with very 1453 rich persons outside, like Lady Houston, and perhaps he will get some more through this correspondence. I hope that the Debate will lead to the human side being borne in mind, because it is very important. This has been, an extremely interesting Debate, and will, I hope, be a substantial contribution to the aeronautical development of commercial aviation in this country.
§ Mr. WELLS
First, I desire to express on behalf of Bedford and Cardington their deep regret and sorrow at the loss of the gallant officers and men of the R 101. Most of those men had made their homes amongst us, and by their courtesy and comradeship had endeared themselves to all. I rather resent the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) speaking of the crew as a nondescript crew. I am sure he did not intend any reflection on their character.
§ Mr. MALONE
I would say at once that I make no reflection whatever upon them. I had known many of them—some for 15 or more years. I was speaking only from the point of view of their status when I used that phrase.
§ Mr. WELLS
Of course, I accept that explanation. I was quite sure that the hon. Member did not intend to cast any reflection, because he knows, as I know, that many of the men who were lost with that airship had given practically the whole of their lives to airship work. One regrets perhaps more than anything else the death of one man who was also in the terrible disaster which overtook R 38. Coming to the Debate, I would say that it has been a most interesting one—no party policy is involved—and I think it is the first real debate on airships for many years. Also, I wish to express my tribute to the Commission for their courage in the investigation of the disaster. Their report is both comprehensive and lucid, and indicates inexhaustible patience and a courageous determination to bring to light every detail, so as to enable the country to form a fair and accurate judgment on the disaster.
We in Bedford have been deeply interested in airships since the inception of the policy in 1924, and have followed closely their growth and development. We have shared the confidence of those 1454 engaged in the pioneer work to establish an airship service, and we have great reasons even now for believing in a great future for airships. Some of those reasons have been strengthened by the report of the inquiry. There was no defect in the structure. It was the largest and strongest ship that has ever been built. Some of its main features are being copied by the United States of America and also in Germany, and I venture to say that, although there are several causes leading up to the disaster, each of those causes is preventable. I do not propose to deal with the report, because it is so complete in itself, but I cannot help coming to one conclusion, and that is, that if those at Cardington had been quite free agents the R 101 would never have sailed for India when she did. The trials would first have been completed, and then, if the Indian journey had been undertaken, there is no doubt it would have been undertaken under very favourable weather conditions. In those circumstances I believe it would have been a successful journey, though it is quite possible that that ship, or any ship built to-day, would not be suitable for the Indian route.
It is very easy to be wise after the event, it is very easy to criticise now, but we should all remember that the officers and men of that ship had every confidence in it and believed they could carry out their journey successfully. I go farther than that and say that even I had that same confidence, and if I—and it would be the same with many other Members in this House—had had the opportunity of going with the ship, we should have gone, because we believed the journey would be successful. Before R 101 was completed we knew that many large variations had taken place from the original design. New knowledge had been gained. Those connected with her, the pioneers, knew that she was an experimental ship. We know that she weighed far more than was anticipated. The engines weighed approximately six tons more, and the structure also weighed some tons more than had been allowed for. We have been told that the reduction in available lift was from 60 tons to 35 tons, and that was the reason, of course, for the enlargement of the gas-bags and the putting in of a new bay. As originally designed, the gas-bags 1455 should not have touched the structure, and no padding would then have been necessary. I understand that in the German ships the gas-bags do not touch the structure—I may be wrong, but that is what I have heard—whereas for this Indian trip the gas-bags of R 101 were all extended and touched the main structure at thousands of points. The ship could not otherwise have gone to India, because she had to allow for the heat in India and the loss of gas. At one point the report deals with the question of whether the ship was too low, and whether it had room to manoeuvre.
The report rejects that theory that it was too low. I cannot say that I altogether agree with that view because this is the largest ship by far that had ever been built, and I believe preliminary trials might have shown that a ship of this size should never be lower than 2,500 feet above the land. As we know now, the variation of air currents over the ground are far greater than they are over the sea, and we have heard how the R 100, when over the St. Lawrence, was driven up 4,000 feet in a short space of time, and brought down by the head at an angle of 25 degrees, showing what variations may occur over land. We might also compare the airship with a sea going vessel. The captain of a big ship would never take his ship into shallow water in stormy weather, even though he knew there was a sufficient depth of water there in calm weather. Obviously, the rough sea would create a danger.
My last criticism, and I think it is an important criticism, is that longer trials would have given far greater experience in handling the ship. I raised the question of its handling in this House as far back as 1927. I begged the then Minister of Air to recommission the R 33. I pointed out that one thing we should require for the handling of our big ships when they came out would be men who had been thoroughly accustomed to the work. Unfortunately, the R 33 could not be commissioned. There are fewer accidents with aeroplanes to-day than there used to be, in comparison with the hours of flying, and the reason for that is that aeroplanes not only have been perfected, but what is of even more importance that the greatest care has been taken in training the men who have to handle 1456 them. It was an eye-opener to see the Graf Zeppelin land when she came to this country. It was a marvellous piece of work. She landed like a bird in the space of a few minutes, and after remaining on the ground for an hour or two went off without the slightest trouble. I feel quite sure of one thing, that we have not got in this country men with such experience of handling an airship, and it is very unfortunate for us that we have not.
As regards future policy, I quite agree with what the Prime Minister has said. After this terrible disaster it would be an unwise thing to take such a risk again at the present moment; but we have to do something; we cannot stand still; other nations are going on. The United States are building two airships to come out this Autumn, each of them having a capacity of 6,500,000 cubic feet, and they are to be filled with helium gas. The Goodrich Company over there is preparing for an Atlantic service on a commercial basis, and proposes to cross the Atlantic in two and a half days. We must be prepared to do something. Germany is building now an airship with a capacity of 6,500,000 cubic feet and taking helium. That is a change from what the Germans have done previously. I would call the attention of those who criticise airships and say what a failure they have been to the Graf Zeppelin. It has made 160 flights, has flown 2,500 hours, and has covered 150,000 miles. That is equivalent to crossing the Atlantic 50 times. A programme has been arranged for flights this year to a schedule. I believe the fare from Germany to Egypt by the Graf Zeppelin is £85. I also believe that if anyone wants to hire the Graf Zeppelin for three or four days he can do so, and take his friends for a trip. If, as a result of the disaster to the R 101, airships were held to be a failure, the Germans would not have gone or, with their ships. They have built now 120 ships: in fact, they have never stopped building them since they started; and that has given Germany a far greater opportunity with airships than we have ever had in this country.
We have heard that flying-boats or big flying machines will probably be the flying craft of the future, hut I would point out that the flying-boat DoX has not yet started for South America; she 1457 has been held up for a long time. She was designed before the R 101, as far back in fact as 1923, and yet she has not proved successful, though, of course, she may later cross the South Atlantic. I believe that if she does the voyage will be attended with far greater risk than in the case of any airship that has crossed the Atlantic either in the past or will cross it in the future. I am sure that those lost in this terrible disaster were looking forward to the building of another ship far more efficient, using helium and heavy oil. I called the attention of the House to helium both in 1929 and 1930, and raised the question whether it could not be used in this country for airship work. I am aware of the difficulty attending the use of helium—the loss of lift. We know that an airship of 6,000,000 cubic feet capacity filled with helium can only do the work of an airship of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity filled with hydrogen. At the end of the War Canada was producing helium for this country, and why should we not ask the assistance of the Canadian Government in increasing the production of helium? It has often been said by those responsible for airship work at Cardington that, given helium and heavy oil, an airship would be as safe as or safer than a taxi-cab in Piccadilly. I have heard Major Scott say that on many occasions.
The advantages of heavy oil are that it costs £5 per ton against £25 for petrol, is safe from fire, and gives an increased range of 30 per cent. It has been said in the House that heavy oil is not safe in case of fire, because of what happened in this disaster, but I believe, in fact I am perfectly sure, there was petrol on board this airship. [HON. MEMBERS: "For starting the engines."] The design of the future will include heavy oil engines without petrol. The heavy oil engine is already in an advanced state for air work, and no doubt it will be used generally in all countries in the near future. That is one of the reasons why I welcome the Prime Minister's statement that we should go on with experimental work and keep abreast of what is going on elsewhere. I very much agree with what the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) said about the Air Council. I cannot help feeling that those responsible for the airship 1458 regarded it rather as a sideline. To my mind there ought to be a branch to deal separately with airhsips, and those who study and take up this work seriously ought to have every opportunity for advancement. It looks to me rather as if this airship work had been put into a backwater and left to stay there without having that interest taken in it by those at the head of affairs which one might perhaps have expected them to take.
The least that we can do, as the Prime Minister said, is to keep the organisation alive and to keep the designers in this country. If we wait for the results of foreign airships, we may find that by doing so we can move ahead at a very quick rate. At any rate, we shall be in a position to recover very quickly. If we stop now, we shall revert to the position that we occupied in 1924 when we had practically to start from nothing. All knowledge that has been gained will be sacrificed and we shall lose the advantage of all our experimental work. We have prepared India, Canada and Egypt to look forward to an airship service. If we do not do something, we are going to leave other nations to develop an airship service with those countries and take advantage of our work. Already the Graf Zeppelin has been to Egypt—where we have a mast and where we had intended to go—and the Egyptians have been very thrilled by seeing the German ship.
I am very glad that the R 100 is to be re-commissioned and used for home service. I hope that when this has been done some arrangement will be made to provide heavy oil engines for that airship. At the present time she has petrol engines. I hope also that some arrangement will be made for the use of helium. Helium will be very valuable for the future airship service. The development of heavier-than-air machines must go on, and they will increase in size and in power. The air will demand an ever increasing toll, but it is for us to continue to explore the methods of air travel and to obtain the greatest safety we can for future generations.
§ Mr. HARDIE
The hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) was rather unfortunate in the remarks he made about the necessity for tying down the 1459 scientists. The implication in his speech was that the scientist was some sort of peculiar growth. The people who know the scientists best know that the best illustration to give of the effort of the scientist to get beyond the general ignorance is a seed placed under a slag heap. This loose talk about scientists always reminds me that the commercial man regard's the scientist as a sort of cow tied up in a byre, to be milked when the commercial man wants the things that the scientist can give. It is very undesirable that there should be loose talk, especially in regard to a subject such as we are discussing to-day.
The speech of the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was full of warning, and as he continued with his warnings it recalled to my mind, and I hope that it also recalled to the mind of the late Secretary of State for Air, the right hon. Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), the views of the late Frank Rose. Mr. Rose was a serious Member of this House, but I can remember the right hon. Member for Chelsea laughing at him. If the right hon. Gentleman would make himself familiar with what is contained in the volumes of the OFFICIAL REPORT regarding the views of the late Frank Rose on the question of airships he would realise how accurate those views were. It was not a question of Frank being a funny man; he was a student and a skilled engineer. The notable thing is that if one takes up the OFFICIAL REPORT and studies the statements that Frank Rose made in regard to the work carried on at Cardington, and what he said in regard to the question of lift, one is struck by their close relation to the events that we are discussing to-day. It is not right to judge a man of that type by saying that he was funny. The point is, was he right or wrong? He was right. Circumstances have proved that.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I think that in one of his speeches he said that the R 101 would not get off the earth.
§ Mr. HARDIE
On the first calculations, it would not. That fact has been borne out. If the hon. and gallant Member will study the OFFICIAL REPORT he will find that what I am saying is accurate. When the second calculations were 1460 made in regard to weight it is admitted that they had forgotten to calculate the weight of the gas. What Frank Rose said was so accurate that it ought to be published as a special paper. If ever anyone tried to prevent disaster he did. We have spent a great deal of money and we have published a beautiful report in regard to the disaster. How much better it would have been to have had the investigation as to the capacity of the airship before she set out. Those who are acquainted with steamships know what difficulties the new ship will have to encounter. That is known in regard to a ship which is in an element 800 times heavier than air. When R 101 was split and an extra bay was put in, all the balance of the original design was changed. When you change the balance of anything that is on terra firma you can regulate the balance by supports, but when you change something that is carried by gas, by something lighter than air, and you alter the area and the weight of the original design, you change every law of balance that is known. The day that R 101 left Cardington I was informed that a film was taken. I should like to know if that film was withdrawn. I had the fortune to see that film a few hours after it had been developed.
§ Commander O. LOCKER-LAMPSON
Did not the airship leave too late at night to allow of photographs being taken, still less a film?
§ Mr. HARDIE
No. There is a light that can be used for the taking of a cinematograph picture at all times. I should like to know why the film was withdrawn. The right hon. Member for Spen Valley said that the knowledge that he possessed had been gained during his chairmanship of the Committee of Investigation, but, as a layman, he was able to see real points. One hon. Member has referred to the question of the gas container and spoke of gold-beaters skin. If hon. Members will look at the OFFICIAL REPORT they will see what was said by the late Frank Rose in regard to that matter. He has been proved to be absolutely accurate. Even in regard to the rubbings he was accurate. He tried to bring to the notice of those who were engaged in the construction of the airship what he meant by wind friction and wind pressure on the gas-bag. He 1461 said that it was bound to come into contact with the edges of the metalwork. Frank Rose was laughed at when he said that it was possible in these circumstances for the gas-bag to rip. We know from the report of the inquiry what took place at the recent disaster.
The question of helium gas has been raised. What is the use of talking about incurring extra cost in helium gas if we are only to have a recording office? Summing up the Prime Minister's speech, we are to have a recording office and we are to spend so much and no more, and whatever we may be able to do it will be recorded in a book. I would rather that the whole thing were dropped than that we should deal with a thing like this piecemeal. The whole business, if it is to be done at all, should be done in a properly organised way. Aeronautics are not to stand still because of a disaster. That is contrary to everything that marks the action of the working classes. You do not shut down a mine because an explosion has taken place and 300 or 400 lives have been lost. You make your investigations and try to stop explosions from dust and gas, but you do not prevent the men from going underground to work at getting coal.
Reference has been made to models. We have been told that they are no use if you do not bring your full-sized craft up to the latest models. Let it be assumed that R 100 is built upon a model. Suppose you bring forward other models, it means that you will have to bring R 100 into conformation with that model or you will have to build a new airship. Do the Government really know where they are going on this matter? I do not know. Let us not get mixed up. If we are going to continue this work, do not let us go about it in a cheeseparing way, but let us get some return for the money that we spend. We are told that the reason why R 101 was put into the air before she was ready was because the public demanded it. I never heard of the public demanding it. Even if they did demand it, was it not the duty of the Government to tell them that they would not risk the lives of men on something that they were not sure about. They were not sure about it. The new bay that was put into the airship upset the balance of the original design. After 1462 that alteration there ought to have been an experimental flight of at least six weeks. Why did they start? Why did the nose dip?
I know that many other hon. Members wish to speak, but there is one other thing that I want to put before the Under-Secretary. The building of these airships has been regarded as a great scientific feat, and they were built with the best knowledge allowed or permitted. There are indications of what was thought by some people of the things which have taken place. The extension of the gasbag was allowed, and when this was done it was ready for real experimental work. I have, however, been thinking that if the men connected with the construction of the airships had been free agents, they would not have gone on with the flight. Everything that has taken place in regard to the inquiries into airships shows that there ought to have been much more experimenting, and I place the whole blame for what has happened on those who shortened the experimental period. What does it matter whether the airship got to India or anywhere else at a certain time if it was going to risk the lives of our men?
It has been stated that there was not sufficient time given to prepare for the flight. The R 101 had not been sufficiently exercised in the air, and consequently we did not know what might take place in certain circumstances. I want to know who was responsible for the policy that associated the maiden voyage, with all its unknown and know difficulties and dangers, with a political significance. Who was responsible for the policy that made it imperative that the airship should be at a certain place on a certain date? I think the country has a right to know who was responsible for that policy, because, whoever that individual was, or whoever those individuals were, that policy caused the death of all those brave men. It is no use talking now about what happens during the journeys of an airship in a hot climate. We all know how gas conducts itself under varying circumstances. I hope the Under-Secretary will represent to the Prime Minister the arguments which have been developed this afternoon, and I hope that the advice which has been given to the Minister will enable him to put things upon a sounder basis.
§ Commander O. LOCKER-LAMPSON
I think I am the only Member of the House who went up in a Zeppelin before the War, with the exception of my chief the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter), and ever since that time I have been interested in airships. I want the Ministry to arrive at a really sound decision in regard to this question. I know that in the early days there was a quarrel as to the merits of machines that were heavier than air and machines that were lighter. It is too late now to go into the whole of the arguments as to the relative virtues and defects of those two forms of machines. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare) told us that there was nothing wrong with airships as such, but I would like to join issue with him on that point, and I will try to state the case against airships. When hon. Members opposite say that we must take the lead, I am not in disagreement with them.
We must remain paramount in the air if possible, but the question is: How are we to do it! It is only by seeing the defects of each form of weapon in the air and discussing those defects thoroughly that we can, in the end, hold our own in the air as elsewhere. We know from revent developments the gases which are lighter than air, but it was found that the best gases for use in an airship were the most inflammable, and we have been driven to find a gas which will give a good lift and which is an inert gas, and the only gas that fulfils those conditions is a gas like helium. I know that helium exists at Calgary in Canada, and perhaps the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us to what extent what are technically known as the deposits there are still available. For the time being, the Germans were able to defeat our incendiary bullets early in the War, by producing a form of gas which at that moment we did not know how to account for.
What is the result? A monster of 5,000,000 cubic feet capacity has to be produced in order to lift less than 160 tons. This monster requires to be driven, and you therefore have to instal vast engines in order to drive it. Those engines increase the weight, and you have to increase, therefore, the size of the balloons and the size of the ship, until you reach a vicious circle where you do 1464 not know what you can do best, increase further the size of the engines or increase the size of the ship, and you reach a point when you have produced so large a ship that it must be unairworthy whatever engines you put into it. I do not mean to say that it must be unairworthy always, but it must be unairworthy under critical conditions. The larger the ship, obviously, the greater the surface offered to the winds and other disturbances and difficulties.
I have taken the trouble to read up the records of Zeppelins and airships during the War, and I should like to compare them, and to compare their value in war with their value in peace time. It is true to say that Zeppelins proved to be the eyes of the Fleet in remote bases during the War, and they may prove equally useful in future wars far away from enemy aeroplanes. But what was the record of Zeppelins in the last War? I have looked up the figures from the latest book published only a couple of months ago. Between the years 1914 and 1916, there were 42 Zeppelin raids into this country. Two hundred and fourteen Zeppelins set out for England, but only 160 got here, and what was the damage that they did? The damage to property was considerable, but they did not kill even 500 people as a result of those raids, and they never once touched a vital spot in our defences. I have looked at the list of the airships kept by Germany after the War, and the list of those which she lost. Briefly, this is the record of 125 German airships:
This accounts for 113, and the remaining 12 were handed over to the Allies. I would like these figures to be carefully considered before we commit ourselves to the building of any of these great Leviathans.
Destroyed by storms … 8 Wrecked in forced landings … 12 Destroyed by fire in sheds … 15 Destroyed by gun-fire … 46 Scrapped and broken up … 32
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will not mind my interrupting him, but could he tell us what good work the Zeppelins did in the War?
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
I think I must leave that to my more instructed senior officer in the late War. 1465 I understand that he is going to follow me, and I think he will be able to give that information.
§ Mr. TINKER
Could the hon. and gallant Member say how many returned from the raids into this country, and how many were destroyed?
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
I think I am right in saying that, of the last flotilla which came to England, 11 were destroyed, but I have not the actual figures showing how many returned. All that I know is that, if ever there is another war, which God forbid, and if we have to fight and are invited to go into the air, I am going in an aeroplane if I get the chance, and not in an airship.
Having briefly considered the military uses of the airship, let us now consider its practical uses and results. The cost of an airship of any value cannot possibly be less than £1,000,000. Bang goes, possibly, £1,500,000 in the creation of one of these vast ships. What is the upkeep? It is very difficult to give any figures for this, because it depends on the use that you make of the ship, but it cannot be less than between £50,000 and £100,000 every year. What is the wear and tear of so vast a machine? We know that the fabric is a cause of endless difficulty. No fabric, I believe, has been found which will resist cold weather and hot weather simultaneously. Conceive of that as a difficulty to begin with, and then think of the wear and tear of a ship of that size—greater and greater the bigger the ship. We are creating this delicate as well as costly Colossus, for what purpose?
Consider for a moment the commercial value of one of these machines. We have been told by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), in an admirable speech, all about the lifting value and power of one of these ships. It is very small. Once it has been able to lift its engines, its crew, its food, its fuel, very little is left for anything else. Therefore, you have vast ships created to carry commodities of the weight, say, of 30 tons, or even only a dozen tons, in a ship of the capacity of the R 101. There is no room for any further commodities, and, even if 1466 there were, there is no certainty of any flight taking place. How do you know when you are going to launch one of these great ships into the air?
It is far too expensive for the ordinary merchant to trust his commodities to a ship about which there is no time-table and no certainty as to when it can leave or where it is going to land. I recollect hon. Members of this House travelling to the middle of England in order to sit for hours waiting for a trip in an airship, and, if hon. Members of this great and distinguished House were kept waiting, what about less important people? There is no question whatever that nobody could afford to risk putting their treasured goods upon a large airship in order to be carried into the unknown. These big airships would be a medium of travel for millionaires on freak voyages, not to where they wanted to go, but to where the airship could safely travel. I repeat that, unless, in the case of an airship, you have a time-table which can be kept, it is absolutely futile as a means of locomotion either for goods or for individuals.
I now come to the final point. The commercial value of these ships is doubtful. What about the perils? The length of one of these airships is 800 feet—11 times the length of the House of Commons, or half as long again as Westminster Abbey. These enormous ships, 800 feet long, will grow in bulk and in length. What are the difficulties when they soar up into the Empyrean? If they meet with ordinary good weather, the difficulties may not be great, but what happens when they meet with rain? It renders them heavy. What about frost? Those who have flown in aeroplanes know the difficulties of meeting, first rain, and then frost. The rain at once freezes. Can it ever be possible to take airships into regions of the world where they may be covered by mist or wet, followed by frost and snow, which accumulates until their weight is 10 times what it ought to be?
There is another point. If you get into a seagoing ship, you can at least be certain that, however bad the sea is, sooner or later you will reach a port, but no airship can suddenly enter a port and ride at anchor. It is not untrue to add that there were not more than six mooring masts in the world at which the R 101 could have tethered herself if she 1467 came to any trouble. There are not more than six in the world, and there are none outside the world. Compare, too, the cost of the airship with the relatively cheap cost of the aeroplane. One of these mammoths costs over £1,000,000. You can build an aeroplane for £1,000. You can build a smaller aeroplane for even less. You can do more with aeroplanes. You can climb far higher. The future of flying will possibly be far higher up than it is to-day. Already an aeroplane has climbed over 40,000 feet, where the wind resistance is less. That is where the future of flying lies, in a region where we have been told by previous speakers you cannot possibly take airships. If you lose an aeroplane, you only lose at the most a few thousand pounds and a couple of people, or 10 at the outside. If you lose an airship, you lose possibly millions in money and also the flower of your flock. You may lose all the experts and the best elements which have gone to make flying and airships what they were and what they are. If we have got to waste money, I would sooner waste it safely than unsafely. The airship is a tremendous toy the vulnerability of which is out of all proportion to either its commercial value or its military advantage.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
I should first like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) on the very fine report which he and his assessors have given us on the regrettable accident to R 101. Whichever way you look at the report, from the practical or theoretical point of view, its case was admirably stated and it is very valuable to anyone who is interested in airship development. The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) referred to the late Mr. Rose and his criticisms of airships. As far as I can recollect, at one time he said R 101 would not get off the earth. Another time he said God Almighty did not mean airships to fly. Anyone who has seen Colonel Richmond's wonderful design will agree that it was a very fine structure. It was perfectly successful after the first trials. It was only slightly heavy, but nearly all great experiments with new aircraft, when you put them in the air, tend to be a little heavy.
§ Mr. HARDIE
What Mr. Rose said was perfectly true, and it was admitted in answer to a question. The first calculation that was put forward in the House was afterwards altered. What Mr. Rose said has been proved conclusively by the report of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
Colonel Richmond's very wonderful design was successful in its preliminary trials. It did not lift the amount of weight that he hoped it would, but all new designs, whether of submarines, airships, seaplanes, or aeroplanes, generally work out heavy. When they wanted to send her to India, they found that she had not enough lift, and they altered the original design. They first put, a bay in, then they let out the parachute system that held the gas-bags, with the result that the gas-bags took against the framework of the ship. When I went into the design, and when Colonel Richmond did away with the radial bracing, he said the whole idea of the parachute system of wiring was to keep the gas-bags off the framework, and, when the airship was in the air or at the mast, the actual frame would move slightly round the gasbags. They put in an extra bag before starting for India and let out the wire, with the result that the gas-bags butted hard up against the structure. We learn from the report that the structure did not fail at all. I can quite understand that, because I saw the whole structure erected, and it reflects very great credit on Colonel Richmond and his assistants that they could produce, right away from the first start, a new design and that it should go into the air successfully. There was nothing wrong with the structure.
It has been said that the composite girder was an alarming feature, but the structure held up, and there is no evidence that it was in any way weak. The controls did not fail, according to the report. The elevators were found hard up, as they would naturally be. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) and the late Under-Secretary for Air said they thought it was the outer cover that was responsible for the accident. There is nothing in the report to show that. In fact, the 1469 report says that, when they came back from the last trial, the outer cover was quite successful and, if there had been damage to the outer cover, it would take some considerable time before it brought about a disaster. What happened? The airship left Cardington. She crossed the Channel. She came down low and threw out flares.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
To get the drift and to see the flares in the water. That is ordinary aerial navigation. She went over to France flying normally at 1,000 or 1,500 feet. She had a tendency to dip her nose. That is shown in the report by the officer taking the helm away from the man at the elevator wheel and telling him to bring her nose up. She was flying normally but tending to dip her nose. In that position, when the elevator is put up and the nose comes up, you get severe compression stresses. When the elevator is put up, the ship will roll and you get torsional stresses and the punching of the gas-bag against the top of the ship. When you have a gas-bag punching against the top of the framework, there is no doubt that you will get friction on the gas-bag fabric, which will probably make a few holes, and it may even cause a rent, That, I believe, was the cause of this accident.
In support of that, I should like to tell of an experience that I had in a rigid airship. She had 16 gas-bags. I inflated them all. They were perfectly inflated. The gas-bags were punching against the top longitudinals of the airship, and were bumping against the central ring of the radio bracing. One of my seamen crew jumped from the structure on to the keel, and as I was looking at the gas-bag it slit from top to bottom and the whole of the gas in the bag, which was probably the size of this Chamber, went out in a second. I submit to the Under-Secretary of State for Air that this dreadful disaster to R 101, I am almost certain, was due to the "working" of the ship and the damage it did to the gas-bag fabric. The hydrogen got out. That would cause the first dive, and then the second dive. I wish to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Air whether the 1470 scientific men who approved of the lengthening of those wires went thoroughly into the question, because it upset the whole of the design of the ship.
We have heard a great deal about hastening these trials for the flight to India and about Lord Thomson hustling those airmen. I wish to say a word or two about that matter. Any Minister, or any officer in charge of experiments, knows perfectly well that one day he has to say, "Stop those experiments and take your vessel, whether it is an airship or a seaplane or an aeroplane, into the air and try it out." Otherwise your super-experts will go on trying for ever, and you will never get any result. I have had to take this decision in regard to the submarine. I have had to take the decision with regard to the first rigid airship and also with regard to coastal airships, and small S.S. airships, and seaplanes and aeroplanes. I have had to say, "Stop these experiments, and take her into the air." Lord Thomson simply fixed upon the date of the Round Table Conference, because it was a convenient date. We know from the report that Wing-Commander Colmore came up to London, and attended a conference with Lord Thomson. He reported that the trial flight was quite satisfactory except for the breakdown in the oil-cooler. Here was an expert air officer reporting to the Secretary of State for Air that the trial was satisfactory, and, on the result of that trial, Lord Thomson said this in his instruction:Leave Saturday five or six o'clock. No rush on my account.I put this before the Committee, because I do not think that Lord Thomson ought to be blamed, as he has been in the Press, for hustling the trial unduly. I think that he relied upon his experts, who said that the trial should be carried out. I only regret that he has not lived to see the great experiment brought to a successful issue.
The question may be asked, how can those great airships be made safe? Helium has been mentioned. Helium was discovered in 1868 by Lockyer and Jansen, and during the War I went into the whole question of helium. There is a trace of helium in the air—.0004 per cent., and we find that in America in the Dexter mines in Kansas there is 1471 1.84 per cent. of helium. The Americans took it up and now you have it in their airships. In Colorado you can get over 7 per cent. of helium out of natural gases; in Trinidad, 1.8 per cent.; in Canada 8 per cent. in some gas fields near Toronto. If we make further search, perhaps in the Rocky Mountains, we may get more helium there. It has not been investigated properly, and I think that our research workers ought to go into the whole question of helium and see whether it is possible to get a mixture of helium and hydrogen, which is fairly safe.
Another point which is rather overlooked in the report is that petrol was used to start up the heavy oil engines. I cannot understand why the scientific men in charge of this airship did not start those engines by compressed air. You have no need to use petrol at all. If you have petrol in a gondola and you come down crash to earth, the petrol naturally vaporises very quickly and comes in contact with the red-hot exhaust pipe and flares out at once, which, I submit, happened in this case. We want to investigate the whole of the matter to see whether we can make airships more safe, as I am perfectly certain we can.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) talked about airships being of no value. I am surprised that an officer of commander's rank should make such a statement. Really, he ought to be disrated and his stripes taken from him, because during the War the German Zeppelins were of the greatest value. I can assure the Under-Secretary of State for Air that whenever we laid a minefield, the German Zeppelin came out, reported where it was, and it was then swept up. Thousands of mines were rendered useless in that way. They also reported upon our cruisers in the North Sea. Whenever we made a sweep in the North Sea, the German Zeppelins reported where we were, and that is why our sweeps were always abortive.
I remember that when the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were on patrol in the North Sea, a German Zeppelin reported the whereabouts of those ships to one of the U. boats and the Commander of that 1472 boat, who was one of the most gallant submarine officers of our enemy, attacked those three ships and sunk all three of them. They were 12,000 ton cruisers and worth £1,000,000 apiece. That U. boat commander performed one of the finest torpedoing feats in the history of the world and he was put on to those three cruisers by a Zeppelin. There are many other instances of the value of Zeppelins in the War. If one sees the intercepted wireless signalling charts, he will find that the Zeppelins covered the whole sea with a wonderful network of observations. You have only to read Volume 3 of the "History of the War" which is so very ably written by Captain Jones, and you will see how the whole of our railways were held up, how our factories were held up during the War, and how people rushed into tubes in order to protect themselves, and all that sort of thing, and how hundreds of thousands of people were kept in this country because of these Zeppelin attacks. If my hon. and gallant Friend thinks that Zeppelins are of no use, may I give him the opinion of Lord Jellicoe? Lord Jellicoe says:The German Zeppelins, as their number increased, were of great assistance to the enemy for scouting, each one being in favourable weather equal to at least two light cruisers for such a purpose.Let me give the Committee the opinion of Lord Beatty as it is given in Colonel Repington's book. In his conversation with Lord Beatty, Colonel Repington asks about dirigibles, and Lord Beatty said that:The enemy has still a monopoly of the best air scouting in good weather, for one Zeppelin can do as much as five or six cruisers.I do not know whether the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth will put his opinion against that of these two gallant naval commanders.
§ Commander LOCKER-LAMPSON
I am sorry to interrupt, but I did say that they were valuable as the eyes of the Fleet in remote places. I know their value for scouting purposes, and it is only when they take on combative work that I doubt their value in the future.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
You must pay some regard to the moral effect of holding up our factories, stopping our railways, and making people bolt into the 1473 tubes like rabbits down a hole. I think they have a, value apart from their combative value. I should like to read a passage from what Mr. Ingall the Assistant Secretary to the United States Navy for Aeronautics:The military future of the rigid is assured in good visibility, one rigid can scout over 20 times the surface of the sea that can be covered by the ordinary cruiser. The Navy Department will use those ships at sea, and there is no reason or justification in approaching closely enemy ships. This fact will limit their attack to enemy aircraft. As the crew of the rigid airship would undoubtedly see the ship from which attacking aeroplanes would have to be launched at least as soon as the crew saw the rigid airship an aeroplane attack may be considered negligible for a surface vessel would probably be unable to head into the wind, prepare pilot and aeroplane for flight, and launch the same before the Zeppelin would be out of sight. And in any event the aeroplane could pursue for only one-half of its cruising range, when it must return to its ship or be lost at sea. Should an aeroplane attack be impending, the airship may first launch its five or six fighting aeroplanes as a means of defence and may use its 16 machine guns.The Americans, our cousins across the sea, are a very scientific people. They believe in airships, and they are going to develop them. One of the operations they can do now is to watch the Panama Canal without risking a single man in a surface ship. They are going on with that development. Some people have said that we should close down airship work. I submit that we should do nothing of the kind. We have had an accident. The, very fine report issued by the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley puts that accident into its proper perspective. May I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Air of what Lord Fisher did when we lost A 1 submarine in collision with the "Berwick Castle" off the Nah Lightship? I had just given up the command of A 1 submarine. What did Lord Fisher do? He went up to the Admiralty after the accident and ordered six more submarines, and sent the rest of the submarines out into the Channel for further manoeuvres. I was hoping that the Prime Minister was going to say that he had ordered six more rigid airships. To those who are opposed to the policy I would say, do they want to see a German airship flying to Egypt or to India, and American airships coming over to this country and this country to take 1474 no part in airship development? Of course we should take our part. Other critics will say, "Where is the money coming from?" Millions and millions of pounds have been expended in developing surface ships and millions of pounds in developing our harbours for surface ships. Cannot, we afford a few millions for airship development?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
The Prime Minister has told us that the experiments of the United States are only going to cost £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. I have said in this House a hundred times, what is the good of keeping big capital ships in commission? Admiral Richmond has just issued a book saying that we could do with 6,000-ton ships. I have always put it at 10,000 tons to come within the Washington treaty. Captain Acworth of the Admiralty says the same thing; and yet we keep these great monster battleships in commission costing £500,000 a year in upkeep. I suggest to the Under-Secretary of State for Air that he should approach his chief and ask him to go to the Admiralty, or to the Committee of Imperial Defence, and suggest the paying off of one or two or three battleships and put that money into the development of airships. If he will do that I should be proud of the Under-Secretary and give him all the support I can. We must develop airships. If we do not other nations will do it. Professor Langley, a great American scientist, once said that the world would be supine if it does not develop the great airways, and indeed it would be supine if it did not. I submit to the Under-Secretary that he should carry out experiments with R 100 by filling her up with helium, which could be obtained in America, compressed there, and put into bottles and brought over here. If the United States launch airships of 6,500,000 cubic feet and they are successful, we ought to lay down airships of the same dimensions right away. That I submit is the policy which should be adopted.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for AIR (Mr. Montague)
The general trend of the Debate has proved that the Committee generally accepts the modified programme outlined by the Prime 1475 Minister in his speech. During the course of the discussion a number of technical questions have been put forward which I confess that I am hardly capable of dealing with adequately, but I am sure that Whose who have the technical side of Air Ministry affairs in hand will take note of all the questions which have been raised. But there are one or two questions about which I would like to say something. I would begin by stating that I do not propose altogether to follow the remarks of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Chelsea (Sir S. Hoare), so far as he seemed to me to be anxious to put the case for private enterprise in airship building as against public responsibility for any kind of enterprise whatever. I do not know whether I am correct in assuming that that was his object?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I accept that statement fully. I think it would be quite in the minds of hon. Members that, so far as the efficiency of construction is concerned, so far as the acknowledged practical and technical value of R 101 was concerned, it bears equal comparison at least with that airship which was left to private enterprise in the plan of 1924. The Prime Minister's references to the valuable work that was done by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) were references to which I would like to add my own words. The work was a very fine piece of public work. It was done under conditions which called for the highest qualities that one could expect in a court of inquiry of that character, and I am sure that the House and the country realise the great value of the work that was done by the right hon. Gentleman and by those who assisted him as assessors, Lieut.-Colonel Moore-Brabazon and Professor Inglis. The report is an exceedingly valuable one, and one which goes to the very depths of the principles and considerations involved in the problem of airships.
Those who perished in the disaster to R 101 in October would, as the right hon. Gentleman said, unquestionably say, if they had the power to do so, "Go on," at any rate to the extent of doing our best to keep alive airship development and the 1476 opportunity for the training that is necessary in view of the possibilities of the future. Something was said by the right hon. Member for Chelsea about pressure that was exerted with regard to the trials and the date upon which the trip to India was taken. The keenness of Lord Thomson was, of course, undoubted. He believed in airships and believed in them from the bottom of his heart. But that keenness was equalled by the keenness of the technical experts and the others who were directly responsible for airship work and for the building and development of R 101. Throughout, the report of the court, so far as it deals with the question of Lord Thomson's desires regarding the actual practical work of the airship and the experience of the airship, shows that it is not correct to say that in the slightest degree Lord Thomson's keenness did more than encourage those who were responsible. It certainly did not unduly hasten any portion of the work. It did not hasten to an undue extent, or to any extent which can be described as being responsible for the accident, the actual flight to India.
In his exceedingly interesting speech the right hon. Member for Spen Valley-raised a question that was referred to by a number of other speakers. I do not wish to deal with any other part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech, because he was the chairman of the court; what he had to say to the House to-day was information of a very valuable character, and I certainly do not express any further view upon it. But so far as the question of autonomy at Cardington was concerned, that is to say, the responsibility that was vested in the technical experts and the people responsible at Cardington, it is not correct to say that Cardington was distinct from the Air Ministry itself. The tendency on the part of a very few-critics who have taken part in the Debate this evening has been to suggest that there was some sort or' dual system involved. There was really nothing of the kind.
Cardington was an integral part of the Air Ministry, and there was constant and direct contact between the experts at Cardington and the Air Ministry. Of course, there was a natural element of autonomy involved, for the obvious reason that the people who scientifically knew about airships and airship building were 1477 placed in responsibility for the building of R 101 at Cardington. What they thought and what they knew of the subject, the results of their experiments, whatever shrewdness and intellectual power they could apply to the whole problem, were applied by them, and necessarily and rightly carried their full weight in all that went on with regard to the development of affairs up to October last year.
More than one speaker to-day has said something about the suggested desirability of a reorganisation of the Air Council, to the extent of placing another member, a scientific expert, on the Council, either in place of an existing member or as an additional member. As a matter of fact the scientific side of airship development was centred at Cardington. The scientists were engaged in their proper work, and it is not always, in fact rarely will it be found to be the case that a scientific expert is an efficient administrator. After all, the policy throughout has been, so far as Cardington was concerned, that that was the airship side of the Air Ministry organisation, and apart from certain questions of outside policy all technical questions were left to Cardington, were left to the people who knew most about them; and, throughout, the autonomy of Cardington in administration can be thoroughly justified as the best technical method of dealing with such a proposition as this.
§ Rear-Admiral SUETER
You need not have a scientific adviser, but could not you have an airship officer? I think that provision was made originally for an additional member of the Air Council. That additional member could be an airship officer, and I think what the right hon. and learned Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) asked for would be fulfilled in that way.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I do not think that the addition of an airship officer would really have made any difference to the facts as they turned out.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
Or even for future work. It is of course a point of which I shall take note. All these questions are worth bearing in mind, but, prima facie, it does not follow, that because there is 1478 not a scientist as an administrative member of the Air Council, there is therefore a lack of scientific efficiency in any particular department of the Air Ministry's work. That is the only point upon which I wish to insist. The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy) raised the question of adequate supplies of helium. It is perfectly true that helium is a safer gas because of its low degree of inflammability. I am asked whether it is possible to-day to get adequate supplies of it. There was, until recently, difficulty with regard to this matter. The sources of supply are very limited and are mainly confined to the northern part of North America, and there has been a difficulty in regard to licences in the past, but I am given to understand that that difficulty does not exist now and that it would be possible to get reasonable supplies of helium, if it were considered desirable to use it for airships in the future.
Whether it would be desirable to use it or not, is a technical matter upon which I am not an expert, but I would point out two considerations. First, there is another side to the question of safety. Although hydrogen is much more inflammable than helium, on the other hand helium has far less lift than hydrogen, and safety is as much involved in the question of lift as in the question of the possibility of fire. These things have to be considered from all sides, and it is the view of the Government with regard to this modified programme—this compromise if I may express it in that way, the programme of a watching brief and of the reconditioning of R 100—that there is no necessity in the circumstances to consider the substitution of helium for hydrogen. Then, of course, the question of expense is very important. If it were decided to substitute helium for hydrogen in R 100 there would be, in the first place, a capital charge of at least £100,000. It is not such an easy matter as some hon. Members suggest to bring helium over from North America in bottles. The bottles would have to be a considerable size, and, apart from the question of transport, the cost is almost prohibitive. It would mean at least a further expenditure of £100,000 a year in addition to a capital expenditure of £100,000 for plant on this side.
1479 I do not wish to be dogmatic on a question of this character, but, as far as can be seen, there is little reason to suppose that the use of hydrogen in the circumstances which we have in mind, in regard to the work of the next two or three years, is dangerous. Hydrogen has been used in hundreds of airships and the danger of fire has not been a very pronounced factor in the story of airship development during and since the War. The "Graf Zeppelin" which has gone practically all over the world and has done some wonderful things, has been flown with hydrogen and during the War there were over 100—I think the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Rear-Admiral Sueter) said over 200—
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am speaking of Zeppelins. There were, I think, 170 Zeppelins and all were flown with hydrogen.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I was not quite sure of the exact number, but certainly a very large number of airships have been flown with hydrogen, and the disasters which have been referred to have not been attributable, to any largo extent, to the dangerous nature of the medium used for inflating. In any case it is the decision of the Government, after going carefully into all the circumstances, that we are perfectly justified in going on with the programme of experimental flying with R 100 without considering the question of using helium, at any rate for the present. Until recently the supplies were small, and there was none for export. Circumstances, I understand, have changed in the past-year, but, as I say, the greater lift of hydrogen is a factor of safety which has also to be considered.
The hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull also asked whether we were doing anything, or whether we had any responsibility for the workers who were employed at the Howden airship works. I am afraid that my answer must be that we have no responsibility at all. The Air Ministry has no responsibility for those who were employed in the building of R 100. The building of that air-ship 1480 was undertaken by a private company, and after the ship was built, and we had taken it over, there could be no question of responsibility on our part for the employés. The hon. and gallant Member went through a long list of disasters to airships. Although he supports the proposal of the Prime Minister as to the programme for the next two or three years, he referred to these disasters in detail, but I would point out to the Committee that it is rather unfair, when considering the problem as a whole, to refer to one side and not to the other, especially in view of the fact that in the larger number of the cases referred to, those disasters occurred to airships of War-time design and construction. The great point about the R 100 and the R 101 was that they were designed upon new and more scientific principles. They were designed from first principles, and I think it will be agreed that, from a structural point of view, they proved thoroughly successful in an engineering sense.
On the other hand, we must remember that most of those earlier ships referred to were scrapped mainly because they were of War-time design, and also because after the War, there was a general slump in airship thought, and it was not until 1923 or 1924 that new ideas came to the front, and minds were applied to the consideration of a new era in airship development.
The R 100 and the R 101 were scientifically-designed airships incorporating many new principles. When you are talking about airships, especially if you are comparing them with aeroplanes, it must be remembered that before an aeroplane with a single pilot got as far as from London to Manchester, airships had carried out flights with passengers. It was only with the development of the heavier-than-air machine that airships for a time, at any rate, fell very much into the background. The hon. and gallant Member for Northampton (Mr. Malone) made a speech that I thought was rather remarkable, and in some respects unfortunate, for he made a number of statements—without the slightest corroboration and without anything to back them up, and which certainly I think should not have been made—with regard to the organisation of the Air Ministry and a number of other critical points with regard to 1481 airships generally. One of the things he said was that there was no esprit de corps at Cardington. That is the type of statement which should have some backing before an hon. Member makes it in this House. I have visited Cardington on a number of occasions and came into contact with the people of Cardington, and I certainly saw no evidence of any lack of esprit de corps. On the contrary, I saw quite the reverse, a comradeship and keenness among everybody concerned. I really must say I do not think the hon. Member should make a statement of that kind without any facts to back it up.
Then he suggested that if Admiralty methods had been adopted with regard to airships things would have been better and we should not have had the disaster, and that there would have been very much more efficiency in every respect. I do not want to make comparisons between the methods of the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. I do not think there is any necessity to do anything of the kind. I had some experience of the Admiralty at one time in my life. I was in a department of the Admiralty as a temporary employé after the War, and I came into contact with this kind of experimental work. Although I do not profess to be an expert or to have knowledge enough to judge, my general impression, looking back, is that much the same type of experimental work was done there and much the same kind of methods adopted. In any case, I would like to point out it was the Admiralty which designed the R 38 and certain other ships. I really think there is no need to put one department against another in regard to a problem of this character. There is one other point I should like to make with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for Northampton. When he brings forward these ideas about the history of airships and what happened to airships in the past, there is at least this to be suggested. One might as well argue that when the early ironclad, the "Captain," turned turtle with a loss of 500 hands it proved that the Admiralty were not competent to construct ironclads. A point taken up by the last speaker was with regard to under-sea craft. The same kind of point could be made with regard to submarines or any other kind of scientific development.
1482 The hon. Member for Springburn (Mr. Hardie) raised a question in reference to a moving film and wanted to know why it was withdrawn. He said it illustrated the start of a trip by the R 101. The answer to that is that there is no information about any such film at the Air Ministry. I, personally, know nothing about it, and there has certainly been no official withdrawal.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Various picture shows had the film showing the ship in action, and it was understood from what was shown that it was this ship which was indicated; perhaps that has misled the public.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
In these things you usually find the film companies have their vans. I do not know whether something of the kind was done, but there is no official knowledge of it, and certainly there has been no official withdrawal. That is all I can say with regard to that particular point. I would like to take up another point raised by the hon. Member for Springburn with regard to the responsibility for the actual time at which the flight of the R 101 was undertaken. The hon. Member wishes to know who was responsible for the policy under which the R 101 started upon her trip to India without adequate trial. All I can say with regard to that is that here is the report, which must be read fully. It is not sufficient to take isolated quotations from it. I have read it exceedingly carefully more than once, and I think the one conclusion that any reasonable person can come to in regard to the whole question raised by the hon. Member is that here, in the first place, were technical men who were responsible for the building of the ship and who knew all that had to do with the technical side of its equipment. They were keen and enthusiastic men, and I would like to point out that the suggestion as to any pressure being brought by the Secretary of State upon Cardington is not seriously borne out by the report.
There is only one point which it is suggested lends any colour to the suggestion that Lord Thomson, by insisting upon the period of time and the desirability of being back in London in time for the Imperial Conference, was in any way responsible for pressing on unduly anything that was happening in regard to 1483 this particular ship. I want to bring that point out very clearly, because a great deal has appeared in the Press which has led to a wrong impression entirely. Upon page 53 of the Report there is quoted a Minute from Lord Thomson to Sir John Higgins in which he says:I must insist on the programme for the Indian flight being adhered to, as I have made my plans accordingly.That is, in fact, the only sentence in all this report with regard to this matter where it can be said upon the surface that there was undue pressure being brought by the Secretary of State on Cardington in the matter. But this Minute had reference to something entirely different. It had reference to the fact that there was the suggestion of holding up for a week the beginning of the insertion of the new bay while R 100 was having a trial flight, so that the results of that trial flight should be known, and that if necessary R 101 should be available, in the place of R 100, if something should happen during the trial flight of the latter, to go to Canada instead of India, because we were pledged to go to Canada within a short period. It was in reference to that matter that that Minute was written by Lord Thomson, and that makes a very great difference to the whole question.
It was not a question of insisting upon Cardington working at undue pressure and neglecting to do what should have been done in the way of margins of safety and all the rest of it. It was simply a question of insisting upon the programme being adhered to for the Indian flight, if it could be adhered to. He agreed to the holding up for one week of the beginning of the insertion of the new bay. That shows the unfairness of taking isolated sentences from minutes and statements and putting an entirely wrong construction upon them. So far as the rest is concerned, the evidence and the report of the R 101 Court are that Lord Thomson really insisted all along that on his account there should be no rush—those were his own words in one case—and that he left it to the judgment of the technical people concerned.
§ Mr. HARDIE
Why was it that the wiring that was to keep the gas-bags from rubbing the framework was not replaced? Why was it taken out?
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am not able to answer all technical details with regard to matters such as wiring, and I do not pretend to be able to do so. I must depend upon the report as a whole. I want to be quite frank in the matter. Let me quote the most important conclusion that is brought out in the report itself. On page 95 it says:It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the R 101 would not have started for India on the evening of 4th October if it had not been that reasons of public policy were considered as making it highly desirable for her to do so if she could.But the report goes on to say this, and again it is a question of the unfairness or the undesirability, to say the least, of just taking sentences out of the report and leaving it at that. The report goes on to say:But this is not to say that the authorities, political and technical, who were responsible for, or acquiesced in, this decision, would ever have done so if they had considered that the risk that was being taken was unjustified. The Secretary of State expressly stated that he relied on his experts, and it must never be forgotten that he was entitled to do so. Granted that it must always have been difficult for the distinguished officers at Cardington who sailed in the R 101 to resist the strongly expressed urging of the Secretary of State that a start should be made in time for him to be a passenger and to return for the Imperial Conference, we do not for a moment believe that Colmore or Scott would have accepted, without the strongest protest, the carrying out of a course which would in their judgment expose the whole enterprise to ruin, and risk the lives of men under their orders as well as those of distinguished passengers, to say nothing of threatening to make havoc of future airship policy. Wing-Commander Colmore's conversation with the Secretary of State, of which Mr. Reynold's notes are convincing evidence, proves this. The real situation can only be reconstructed by resolutely excluding from the mind the sombre impression produced after the event by the disaster.I do not wish to go further into that, because, after all, the Court was the inquest upon this accident. It is not for me to go over the points again, or to defend the Court or anybody else. The whole question was put to a constituted Court. We have had the report, and that report, on the whole, is a report which certainly does not suggest that there was undue haste in the general development of the building of the airship. As a matter of fact, as has been pointed out by quite a number of speakers this evening, 1485 the criticism in this House year after year has been, not that there was undue haste, but rather the reverse, and considering those critical months there is no reason—and there is no reason in the report; on the contrary, the whole of the report is in the opposite direction—to suppose that there was any political desire that the airship should have gone upon the trip earlier than otherwise it might have done. It did not go until everybody technically responsible was perfectly satisfied that it was in a fit condition to go, and I think that is borne out by the whole tone of the report.
Finally, upon the general question, I think that the programme outlined by the Prime Minister and the policy adopted by the Government are on the whole justified by taking into consideration all the facts, the facts with regard to national development, and development in foreign countries, as well as our own record and history and the facts of the case. The Americans and the Germans are going ahead with airship development. In common with them, we are looking to airships establishing themselves upon a commercial basis. It is perfectly true that at the moment there is not an immediate prospect of that desirable consummation being realised, but that is true not only of airships but of other "ides of civil aviation. Civil aviation everywhere to-day has to be subsidised, but we have to look at the future, and I think the common sense of people who follow commercial and technical developments in the nation realise that it is a good thing and a sound principle to back up developments of civil aviation generally, both from an industrial point of view and also from the point of view of the larger advantages of the use of the air medium as a means of bringing together the nations of the world as well as our own Empire.
The commercial operations of airships on world routes may well prove to be an international problem. The German and American projects are based upon that principle, and if they are successful, we want to be in a position to participate, as the leading carrying nation of the world, and we should obviously be in a much better position for doing so if we had kept in touch with airship operations. There is one point I would suggest in regard to that. Possibly this 1486 could be brought about by a British syndicate joining with an international company, the assets they can contribute being financial assistance and the use of the British airship bases of which the sheds may be of special importance for constructional purposes.
If we close down airship development, the atmosphere will not be favourable for the entry of a British syndicate. I put that forward as a suggestion and as a possibility in the future. There is no need to go very closely into prophecy with regard to future development, but there is every reason for keeping our own country well to the fore in the development of airships because of the fact that the great countries of America and Germany are certainly not thinking for a moment of scrapping airship development, quite the contrary. Regard must also be had to the Imperial position if airship operation through the tropics appears practicable. It is interesting to note from the Press that Dr. Eckener is proceeding to the Dutch East Indies to investigate the possibilities. The possibility of airships as a vehicle of Imperial communication cannot be overlooked.
The present position is that we built two airships instead of one in order to provide for the eventuality that actually occurred, that is to say, an accident to one airship not due to any inherent defect in airships as a whole. Before this accident took place, we had announced our intention of carrying out a series of experimental flights to ascertain whether airships were capable of regular operations over a given route. The majority of those who have spoken to-night have supported the Government's proposals very frankly, but so far as we have had criticism, it has been neglectful of the fact that, after all, these are experiments. Questions are asked why certain things were not done and why certain possibilities were not realised, but it must be understood, with regard, for instance, to the problem of lift, that when you start de novo and from first principles, and when you have got a new scientific instrument which you are developing, it is not possible to prophesy. It is not possible on paper to say what all the factors combined will result in in practical operations. That, I think, is the answer to those who ask, Why did they not know that this or that would happen.
§ Mr. HARDIE
It is well known what the gas is that you use, and you know exactly what it will lift. There need be no trouble if you know the number of millions of cubic feet in a container, because you know what it will lift.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am not a technical man, but the common sense answer to that is that, if you know all that, there is no case for experiment.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
I am not going into technical matters, but I understand from technical people that there is a large margin of uncertainty in all new experiments of this kind, and I am prepared to take them at their word. This is a point that still remains to be solved in spite of the magnificent work of the Graf Zeppelin. At the moment, it is proposed to recondition R 100 for flights in the neighbourhood of this country with a view to solving the problems of airship navigation throughout the year in our climate. Bearing in mind that we are not prepared to take the risk of there being no future for airships, and wish to share in the benefits that they will undoubtdly bring if they succeed, the expenditure of a comparatively modest sum in maintaining our prestige and good will is not an unreasonable contribution to the general problem during the next few years.
§ Mr. MONTAGUE
We are reconditioning R 100 and carrying on flights under present conditions, as far as I understand. In the course of our experience, no doubt, there will be certain alterations in the practical working of the airship. I cannot definitely answer the question at the moment; it is a question of carrying on.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again," put, and agreed to.—[Mr. T. Kennedy.]
§ Committee report Progress: to sit again To-morrow.
§ The remaining Government Orders were read, and postponed.