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TESTIMONY OF COMDR. GARLAND FULTON, CONSTRUCTION
CORPS, UNITED STATES NAVY
(The witness was duly sworn by the chairman.)
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you please state your name, rank, and station?
Commander FULTON. Garland Fulton; commander, Construction Corps, United States Navy, in charge of airship design section, Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. I have a brief statement of your service, which I will read, and if it is not correct you may correct me.
Graduated from the Naval Academy in 1912 and later entered Construction Corps. Assigned to aeronautical duties in 1918, and since 1922 has been continuously engaged in airship design, engineering, and construction work. Acted as inspector during construction of Los Angeles and later in charge of airship design, Bureau of Aeronautics. Took aviation observer's course at Lakehurst, and has had approximately 1,000 hours of flying experience.
Is that approximately accurate?
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you please relate your association with aeronautics in some particularity, giving the background of your experience?
Commander Fulton. While taking a post-graduate course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I took a course in aeronautical engineering. Later, at my request, in 1918, I was assigned to aeronautical engineering work and was associated with airplane and airship design for a period of approximately 4 years, part during the war and part immediately following the war. During that time, preliminary work looking toward the construction of the Shenandoah was under way.
way. In 1922 I was sent to Germany in connection with the acquirement of the Los Angeles, and remained in Germany at the plant of the Zeppelin Co., for 2 years during the construction of the Los Angeles, and, on returning to this country, was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, in charge of airship design, and have been intimately associated with the design and construction of the Akron and the Macon, in all of their phases.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Are you familiar with the history of airships in general?
Commander Fulton. Yes, sir.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Counsel for this committee requested the Navy Department to make available to the committee certain historical data as to what happened to former airships of not only this Government but of other nations that had crashed. Have you those data available?
Commander FULTON. Yes, sir; I have here a brief summary which with the permission of the committee, might be helpful if I read it. I
have tried to condense it as much as possible to cover merely the high spots. I can either read it or offer it for insertion in the record.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. I will thank you, Mr. Chairman, to tell us which.
The CHAIRMAN. Have you read it, Colonel?
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. I cannot tell. I have not read it. I assume that it is, as the commander offered it.
Representative DELANEY. May I suggest for the purpose of hurrying the investigation along, that Commander Fulton be permitted to insert it into the record, and then we can question him on that and his other statements?
The CHAIRMAN. This record is going to be so tremendously voluminous that it will be valueless, and I do not want to put in anything that we do not have to. I think that our counsel ought to read it, and, if he thinks it is relevant, tell us so.
Representative DELANEY. You mean collaterally, and not at the present time?
The CHAIRMAN. Yes, I think that would be better.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Are you familiar with the crash of the R-387
Commander Fulton. From a study of the literature and reports on the subject; yes, sir.
Representative DELANEY. I understood that that was also known as the “ZR-2,” and you might explain the meaning of “ZR-2."
Commander FULTON. “Ž” is a designation adopted by the Navy Department, to indicate an airship. “R” is a letter that indicates a rigid type of ship. “S” is a letter which indicates a scouting type of rigid airship.
Representative DELANEY. And the figure 2?
Commander Fulton. Figure 2 is the serial number. The Shenandoah was ZR-1; the R-38 was intended to be the ZR-2; the Los Angeles was ZR-3; the Akron was ZRS-4 (the S came into the picture at that time); and the Macon will be the ZRS-5.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you explain what you know about the crash of the R-38?
Commander FULTON. The R-38 was an airship of British origin. This document contains a little about the R-38, if I might read it in answer to your question. (Reading:)
Shortly after the armistice opportunity was presented to procure in England for $2,000,000 one of the latest type British built airships, which was then 50 percent completed. Under an arrangement with the British Government, a naval crew was sent to England for instruction by British airship personnel. It was expected that this airship, R-38 (ZR-2) of 2,700,000 cubic feet volume, could be completed and delivered to this country before the Shenandoah could be built. On her trial flights in August 1921 this airship broke in half with the loss of approximately half of her crew, including 14 Americans. Investigation showed that in the design of the R-38' insufficient attention had been paid to possible aerodynamic loadings and her structural failure in flight was attributed to this.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Are you familiar with the crash of the R-101?
Commander Fulton. From a study of the records; yes.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you inform the committee as to the surrounding incidents of that?
Commander FULTON. I have here the report on the R-101 inquiry, which was a very thorough inquiry into the loss of that airship.
The CHAIRMAN. From Great Britain?
Commander FULTON. Yes, sir. The R-101 was an airship of 5,000,000 cubic feet volume, built by the British Government at their airship building works at Cardington, England. She was completed in 1929, flown on trial flights, and was found to be considerably overweight, a matter of from 20 to 24 percent, I believe.
The CHAIRMAN. How much would that be in thousands of pounds?
Commander FULTON. A matter of 40,000 pounds, perhaps. I would have to get the exact figures out of this document.
The CHAIRMAN. Was that the investigation conducted by Sir John Simon?
Commander FULTON. Yes, sir; he was the head of the investigating committee.
She was first completed in 1929, and developed a useful lift of 35 tons, as against 60 tons expected. That was a deficiency in useful lift of 25 tons, approximately 50,000 pounds.
Minor modifications were made, and in June 1930, her useful lift had been increased by 5 tons, to 40 tons total. Then it was decided to increase her length and size and useful lift by cutting her in half, pulling the halves apart, and putting in a new bay in the middle. That was done, and that increased her lift to 49 tons as against 60 tons expected.
She was given one, possibly two, short trial flights, and then started on a trip to India, carrying on board very prominent airship officials, including Lord Thompson, Secretary of State for Air. After she had been up about 4 or 5 hours, she crashed to the ground in France, with the loss of all but 5 or 6 on board.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. What caused her to crash?
Commander FULTON. The findings of this investigating committee are quite lengthy, but from the summary I will read this one sentence:
But whatever the precise circumstances may have been, the explanation that the disaster was caused by a substantial loss of gas in very bumpy weather holds the field.
This is the unanimous view of all three of the members of the court of inquiry.
How the vessel began to lose gas cannot be definitely ascertained. The weather was exceptionally bad, and the gas bags were hard up against padded projections, some of which may have begun to wear the fabric. The bumpiness of the wind and pitching of the ship would intensify the strain, and earlier flights indicated the possibility of leakage through chafing.
There were certain features connected with the loss of that ship that would bear touching upon. The flight was started under weather conditions somewhat questionable. The ship crashed to the ground, but there is one striking difference; she came to the ground nose first. She went into a dive, and pulled out of it, and started another dive, nose first instead of tail first, as in the case of the Akron.
The CHAIRMAN. That might be accounted for by reason of the down pull being at the nose instead of at the tail.
Commander Fulton. Or, more probably, as indicated in here, by the loss of gas.
The CHAIRMAN. The gas is pretty well distributed, is it not, from the tail to the nose?
Commander FULTON. Under normal conditions; yes, sir. This implies that there was some failure or some tearing of the gas bag and a rather rapid loss of gas on that account.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. What was the loss of life in that disaster?
Commander FuLTON. Fifty four people on board, and all but eight perished. Two of the eight later died of injuries, so that there were six survivors.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Was that a hydrogen ship?
The CHAIRMAN. But the inflammability itself did not cause the descent?
Commander Fulton. No, sir.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Are you familiar with the loss of the Dixmude?
Commander FULTON. Yes, sir; from a reading of the literature.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Will you please relate what you know of that to the committee?
Commander Fulton. That was one of the last German-built wartime airships, built by the Zeppelin Co., and later turned over to France at the close of the war, was reconditioned by the French authorities, and was operated successfully for a time from the French airship base at Toulon.
In December 1923 she started on a flight in the Mediterranean, and never came back from that flight. What happened to her is still a mystery. Some wreckage was picked up close to the Italian coast, I believe, including the body of their captain.
As I say, it is still somewhat of a mystery what happened to her. I believe the general opinion is that lightning had something to do with it.
The CHAIRMAN. That has been controverted a great deal recently, even by the Italians and the French.
Commander Fulton. Yes, sir; and I do not believe anybody knows what happened. It is another case of a Cyclops that went to sea and did not come back.
The CHAIRMAN. In fact, from investigations which were made and data obtained, one was led to the conclusion that there were not storms enough in that area to cause lightning sufficient to destroy the ship.
Commander Fulton. I have seen nothing on the Dixmude that can compare with the report of the R-101 inquiry.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. What was the loss of life there?
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. France abandoned airships thereafter, did she not?
Commander FULTON. She still retained the small German built airship that was also turned over to her, and which was finally dismantled in its shed. There was a committee appointed by the French Chamber of Deputies to investigate the whole subject of airships in 1925, I believe. That went into the whole matter very thoroughly, and I think they indicated that they would replace this Mediterranee which was rapidly becoming old and obsolete, but it was never done.
France has continued after that to operate small airships of nonrigid or blimp type, and still has a few in operation. The CHAIRMAN. You are speaking of blimps now? Commander FULTON. Yes. The CHAIRMAN. And not large dirigibles? Commander FULTON. Yes, sir.
The CHAIRMAN. Did not France, after the loss of the Dixmude, as you state, make an investigation, and that ship, which she retained for 2 years, was condemned and dismantled, and during the intervening period, until the dismantling of it, it was not used?
Commander Fulton. It was still in service.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. After the R-101 disaster, what was the British policy as to airships?
Commander Fulton. After the R-101 disaster, the British practically abandoned airships. The sister airship, the R-100, which was completed about the same time as the R-101, and made a flight to Montreal, was dismantled and broken up in her shed. The airship works at Cardington have been placed on an inactive basis, and the mooring masts in the British colonies and the shed in India are idle.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Does the report of the Sir John Simon investigation committee that you referred to make any recommendation as to policy respecting lighter-than-air?
Commander Fulton. No, sir; it does not. It contains this paragraph, which is germane to this question:
Airship travel is still in its experimental state. It is for others to determine whether the experiment shall be further pursued. Our task has been limited to ascertaining, as far as is possible, the cause and course of a specific accident.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. What authority did decide to abandon airships in England?
Commander Fulton. The Government authorities, I presume; the Air Ministry sanctioned it.
Colonel BRECKINRIDGE. Are there any other air disasters, disasters to an airship, which you have knowledge of other than those that I have mentioned, abroad? I mean those of foreign nations?
Commander Fulton. Yes, sir; there was the case of the Italianbuilt semirigid airship which made the trip over the North Pole and later came to grief in the Arctic regions, the one that Nobile was .associated with
The CHAIRMAN. It resulted in his trial, did it not?