The massive and elegant airships that floated through the skies of the early 20th century evoke a sense of romanticism and wonder for many people today, but they were used for more that defense and luxurious air travel.
An example of this is the R-100, a 720-long airship that amounted to more than five million cubic feet in volume when inflated, and was constructed with 58,200 ft. of tubing and five million rivets. While the R100 could carry 100 passengers in luxury accommodations, it gained recognition for its unique role in spore collection for a study on crop fungi—being the only type of airborne vessel that could carry proper scientific equipment at the time.
Dillon Weston persuaded those in charge of Sqn Ldr Booth’s mission to assist his experiment. As a former member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron, he had previously badgered friends to fly around Cambridgeshire in planes to test his Vaseline-coated collection dishes. His involvement in the R100 voyage was timely for the government, as it gave it an added note of practicality. “Devastating yet invisible plant diseases were an important enemy to conquer and new aviation technologies were vital in winning the war against them,” says [Cambridge University researcher, Ruth] Horry. “Newspaper coverage of the time showed that the scientist who chased invisible diseases captured both tiny spores and the imagination of the public. ‘Disease germs two miles up – flying scientists chase them,’ declared one newspaper.”
Did you know that a scientific experiment actually played a role in the airship-building race of the 1930s and contributed to this type of aviation’s’ renewed popularity?