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Airship heritage

The extensive history of airships in Britain since 1900 is well covered by the Airship Heritage Trust.

My grandfather, Major JEM Pritchard, with his engineering background, became an Airship Pilot in the First World War and served in many types of airship patrolling for U-Boats in the North Sea and the Mediterranean. He later joined the Air Ministry as part of the small band of airship experts and visionaries. He made the famous and successful first double crossing of the Atlantic in 1919. He was dubbed the ‘Aerial Columbus’ by the American press as he jumped out by parachute to oversee the landing arrangements. Two years later aged 31, he and many colleagues were killed in the R.38 disaster over the Humber River in Hull during its flight trials before being handed over to the Americans.  He had been head of trials and was in profound disagreement with his superiors and his political masters over their insistence that the trials be cut from his recommended 150 hours to 50 hours. His body along with many others was never found.

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My grandmother, Hilda Pritchard (née Caldwell-Smith), his young widow, never re-married and kept all the newspaper cuttings, papers, letters and artefacts to do with his life and death. A few of these items have already been donated to, and are on display at, the Museum of Flight at East Fortune from where the R.34 took off for the USA, but most remain for now in the family archive of which I am the current guardian.

The Royal Aeronautical Society invited me to give a talk in 2019 to mark the 100th anniversary of the double crossing of the Atlantic, which I subsequently also gave in Pulham Norfolk where the R.34 landed.  They also invited me to give a virtual talk on the R.38 disaster to mark its 100th anniversary on September 1st, 2021.

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