His Majesty's Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World's Largest Flying Machine (Hardcover)

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From the bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist Empire of the Summer Moon comes a stunning historical tale of the rise and fall of the world’s largest airship—and the doomed love story between an ambitious British officer and a married Romanian Princess at its heart.

The tragic story of the British airship R101—which went down in a spectacular hydrogen-fueled fireball in 1930, killing more people than died in the Hindenburg disaster seven years later—has been largely forgotten. In His Majesty’s Airship, historian S.C. Gwynne resurrects it in vivid detail, telling the epic story of great ambition gone terribly wrong.

Airships, those airborne leviathans that occupied center stage in the world in the first half of the twentieth century, were a symbol of the future. R101 was not just the largest aircraft ever to have flown and the product of the world’s most advanced engineering—she was also the lynchpin of an imperial British scheme to link by air the far-flung areas of its empire from Australia to India, South Africa, Canada, Egypt, and Singapore. No one had ever conceived of anything like this. R101 captivated the world. There was just one problem: beyond the hype and technological wonders, these big, steel-framed, hydrogen-filled airships were a dangerously bad idea.

Gwynne’s chronicle features a cast of remarkable—and often tragically flawed—characters, including Lord Christopher Thomson, the man who dreamed up the Imperial Airship Scheme and then relentlessly pushed R101 to her destruction; Princess Marthe Bibesco, the celebrated writer and glamorous socialite with whom he had a long affair; and Herbert Scott, a national hero who had made the first double crossing of the Atlantic in any aircraft in 1919—eight years before Lindbergh’s famous flight—but who devolved into drink and ruin. These historical figures—and the ship they built, flew, and crashed—come together in a grand tale that details the rocky road to commercial aviation written by one of the best popular historians writing today.

About the Author

S.C. Gwynne is the author of Hymns of the Republic and the New York Times bestsellers Rebel Yell and Empire of the Summer Moon, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He spent most of his career as a journalist, including stints with Time as bureau chief, national correspondent, and senior editor, and with Texas Monthly as executive editor. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife.

Praise For…

“An addictive account the rise and disastrous fall of the R101 airship. Author S C Gwynne, no stranger to literary success, does a fine job in explaining the machine’s lineage, capturing the spirit of the times and something of the never-say-die attitude that persisted. A compelling read.” FlyPast Magazine

“Gwynne delivers a fascinating account of the bad decisions, distractions, naivete, and sheer incompetence behind the crash of the massive British airship R101 in a field outside Beauvais, France, in October 1930. Meticulously researched and vibrantly written, this is an immersive and enlightening account of how hubris and impatience can lead to disaster.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A sturdy, well-paced contribution to aviation history.” Kirkus

"Gwynne’s meticulous reporting and the sweet rise and fall of his prose are a mirror to our own foibles, desires, dreams.” —Doug Stanton, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Horse Soldiers

"Aviation history is nothing less than miraculous; it took a mere sixty-three years, after all, to get from the Wright brothers to Neil Armstrong. Barely a century ago, however, our skies were filled with a bounty of gliders, biplanes, and flying boats; balloons, blimps, and zeppelins. With His Majesty’s Airship, the inimitable Mr. Gwynne explores in vivid detail how this dream bloomed, and how it, in time, fell tragically to earth. He has written both a remarkable history and an eye-opening revelation of technology’s recurrent phantasms." —Craig Nelson, award-winning author of Pearl Harbor and Rocket Men
Product Details
ISBN: 9781982168278
ISBN-10: 1982168277
Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: May 2nd, 2023
Pages: 320
Language: English