Definitions

semirigid airship

Airship Italia

Airship Italia was a semi-rigid airship used by Umberto Nobile in his second series of flights around the North Pole.

Design and specifications

Italia was an N-class semirigid airship, designation N4. In design it was almost identical to the N1 Norge but larger in gas capacity. Little is known of airship N2. Airship N3 was sold to Japan and became "Naval Airship No. 6". According to Italian sources, airship N5 (which was larger and had three times the lifting capacity of N1) was Nobile's preferred design for the Arctic expedition, but when funding was refused by the Italian government he built N4 with the assistance of private backers and the City of Milan.

  • First Flight:
  • Length: 105.4 m
  • Diameter: 19.4 m
  • Gas capacity: 18,500 m³
  • Performance: 112.3 km/h
  • Payload: 9,405 kg
  • Power plant: 3 x Maybach 750 hp (560 kW)

Polar flights

Nobile planned 5 flights for the expedition, each starting from and returning to Ny-Ålesund (Kings Bay) and exploring different areas of the Arctic.

The first flight departed from Ny-Ålesund (Kings Bay) on May 11 1928, but turned back after only 8 hours due to problems with icing and the control system.

The second left on May 15 and gathered valuable meteorological, magnetic and geographic data in a 2,500 mile (4,000 km) flight to the hitherto uncharted Nicholas II Land and back.

The third flight started on May 23 1928, and reached the North Pole at 12:24 am on May 24 1928 with the assistance of strong tailwinds. Nobile had prepared a winch, inflatable raft, and survival packs (very providentially as it turns out) with the intention of lowering some of the scientists onto the ice, but the worsening weather made this impossible. Instead the Italian and Milanese colours, and a wooden cross presented by the Pope were dropped onto the ice. At 2.20 am on May 24, the Italia started back to base. The weather was horrendous and the airship struggled to gain ground and break through to the zone of calmer winds which expedition meteorologist Finn Malmgren predicted was just ahead. At 9.25am on May 25 the first critical incident occurred when the elevator control jammed in the downward position. All engines were stopped and importantly, the airship was allowed to rise to 3000 feet and above the cloud layer into bright sunlight for 30 minutes. After the engines were re-started the ship descended to 1000 feet with no apparent ill effect, but at 10.25 am the ship was noticed to be tail-heavy and falling at a rate of 2 feet per second (0.6 m/s). Despite applying maximum elevators and jettisoning weight, a crash was unavoidable and shortly afterwards the airship's control cabin hit the jagged ice and smashed open. Nine survivors and one fatality were left on the ice, and six more crew trapped in the still drifting airship envelope. Chief Engineer Ettore Arduino, with remarkable presence of mind, started throwing anything he could lay his hands on down to the men on the ice as he drifted slowly away with the envelope. These supplies, and the packs intended for the descent to the ice were to help keep the survivors alive for their long ordeal on the ice. The envelope and the crew members aboard it have never been found. The position of the crash was close to . The drifting sea ice later took the survivors towards Foyn and Broch islands.

Causes of crash

The causes of the crash remain controversial even today. The Arctic climate and decision to head back to base in the teeth of a worsening gale was the main cause, and it is significant that this fact alone almost drove meteorologist Finn Malmgren to suicide. Another factor is the decision to let the airship rise above the cloud layer, provoking heating and then expansion of the hydrogen, which triggered automatic valving of the gas. Once the engines were restarted, the ship dived through the cloud into freezing air again and, either because the automatic valves were jammed open, or because the ship had already lost too much gas above the clouds, it could no longer stay afloat. Although Umberto Nobile was the victim of a smear campaign after the crash, one criticism of him, from the master airship pilot Hugo Eckener is perhaps justified — that Nobile should never have risen above the cloud layer in the first place.

Crew and expedition members

  • Umberto Nobile - Expedition leader. Survived.
  • Finn Malmgren - Swedish meteorologist and physicist. Died trekking for help.
  • František Běhounek - Czech physicist. Survived.
  • Aldo Pontremoli - Italian physicist. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Ugo Lago - Journalist, Il Popolo d'Italia. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Adalberto Mariano - Navigator. Survived, died few months later.
  • Filippo Zappi - Navigator. Survived.
  • Alfredo Viglieri - Navigator/hydrographer. Survived.
  • Natale Ceccioni - Chief technician. Survived.
  • Giuseppe Biagi - Radio operator. Survived.
  • Felice Trojani - Elevator operator/technician. Survived.
  • Calisto Ciocca - Engine mechanic. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Attilio Caratti - Engine mechanic. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Vincenzo Pomella - Engine mechanic. Killed in the crash.
  • Ettore Arduino - Chief engine mechanic. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Renato Alessandrini - Mechanic. Lost with envelope, never found.
  • Titina - Fox terrier belonging to Gen. Nobile, expedition mascot. Survived.

Rescue effort

An international rescue effort followed, but was bedeviled by apathy and political interference on the part of the Italians. The bravery on the part of Norwegian, Russian, Swedish, and Finnish pilots searching for the lost men – as well as that of the survivors themselves – contrasted sharply with the woeful response of the Italian Fascist government. The lack of co-ordination meant that it took more than 49 days before all the crash survivors (and stranded would-be rescuers) were retrieved. Roald Amundsen was lost, presumed dead, flying to Spitsbergen in a French Latham sea plane to take part in the operation.

Chronology of the rescue operations:

  • May 25, 1928 - The Italia crashes on the ice. Radio operator Biaggi salvages radio, constructs a radio mast and begins transmitting SOS.
  • May 31 - Survivors unable to establish radio contact because of weather conditions and negligence by base ship Città di Milano who fail to maintain radio watch and instead continue to send routine traffic. Malmgren, with Commanders Mariano and Zappi, begin a trek toward land.
  • June 5 - A Norwegian pilot makes the first flight in search of the Italia. In the ensuing weeks, pilots from Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia and Italy make search and rescue flights.
  • June 6 - A Russian amateur radio operator hears the Italia SOS signals.
  • June 8 - Radio contact established between the ice floe and the Città di Milano. Search operations continue.
  • June 15/16 - Malmgren collapses from exposure on the ice and asks to be left behind. His body is never found.
  • June 18 - Roald Amundsen disappears on a flight to Spitsbergen to aid in rescue operations. Captain Sora of the Italian Alpine troops defies orders and sets off by sled with Arctic explorers Varming and Van Dongen to try and reach the crash zone.
  • June 20 - Italian pilot Maddelena spots the survivors and drops supplies, many of which are smashed or useless.
  • June 22 - Italian and Swedish pilots drop more supplies, this time successfully.
  • June 23 - Swedish pilot Lundborg forcibly removes Nobile from the ice floe but crashes his plane on the return for more survivors and is trapped with the others. Rescue operations suspended pending arrival of suitable light aircraft capable of landing on the ice.
  • July 12 - The Russian icebreaker Krasin rescues remaining Italia survivors, as well as survivors Mariano and Zappi. Russian pilot Chuckhnovsky also rescued.
  • July 14 - Rescuers Sora and Van Dongen rescued from Foyn Island by Finnish and Swedish aircraft.

Dramatisation

The tale was made into a movie staring Sean Connery in 1969

Krasnaya palatka "The Red Tent" http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067315/

References

  • Wilbur Cross, Disaster at the Pole, 2002 ISBN 1-58574-496-4
  • Lord Ventry and Eugene Kolesnik, Airship saga: The history of airships seen through the eyes of the men who designed, built, and flew them, 1982, ISBN 0-7137-1001-2
  • Alexander McKee, Ice crash, 1980, ISBN 0-312-40382-8
  • Arthur Frederick et al.,Jane's Pocket Book 7 - Airship Development, 1976 ISBN 0-356-04656-7

See also

External links

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