First flown in 1929, the British airship R101 crashed in bad weather over France on the morning of October 5th 1930, killing 54 people. At the time, it was the largest aircraft in the world at 777 feet. Its sister ship, R100, was decommissioned a year later.
The lift gas was Hydrogen, lighter than air but a little volatile to say the least.
The hangar where these two airships were built still stands at Cardington, England.
Did aviators learn from this disaster? No, they did not. The Hindenburg, 808 feet in length and only shorter than the SS Titanic by 78 feet, was started in 1931, but due to financial problems was halted and not resumed until 1935. May 3rd1937 saw the Hindenburg burst into flames, 36 people losing their lives. It too was filled with Hydrogen, but only because Germany was not allowed Helium by the United States, the only source at the time. It remains today the largest aircraft to ever fly.
It was at this point where it appeared to dawn on the world at large that maybe airships were not the way to travel. Aviators did learn this time, but the dream stayed alive.
No piece on airships would be complete without mention of the Goodyear Blimp. There have actually been 300 made since the very first in 1911. The current fleet are roughly 192 feet long, and are used as advertising and photography platforms. They are Helium filled and there has only been one crash, I think.
So, have airships finally found their vocation? Is the dream of a large luxurious airship gone forever? No, it hasn't.
The picture below is an artist impression of the next generation 'lighter than air' aircraft. The general idea is that it will enable 250 people to drift around in consummate luxury, much like R101 and Hindenburg attempted to do years ago. The questions are these. Even though the airship will be Helium filled, would you really want to drift around in an airship larger than most International airport buildings? Would you feel safe watching this thing pass over your house? This is Thunderbird 2 on steroids, a floating 'Canary Wharf'...