“Slide Rule : The Autobiography of an Engineer”

The novelist Nevil Shute was once known as NS Norway, pilot, aeronautical engineer, and for a while a principal of the company that made the fastest aeroplanes in the world, known ironically as Airspeed Limited. His autobiography is well written and interests me a great deal, and the section on his work on the R.100 continues the airship theme from My Zeppelins and My Polar Flights.


  • 2024–06–25 The first chapter starts south of Melbourne, Victoria, in the early 1950s, and then flashes back to the author’s youth in London, where he skipped school to visit the South Kensington Science Museum.
  • 2024–06–28 The end of the First World War, sailing, early days at de Havillands, a piece of poetry (someone else’s) described as very good and another (the author’s) as very bad, and some advice on writing.
  • 2024–07–02 The beginning of work on the airship R–100, a discussion of what makes a good test pilot, and the publication of the author’s first novel, Marazan.
  • 2024–07–05 Completion and first flight of R–100, and a mention of how So Disdained was published in the USA as The Mysterious Aviator.
  • 2024–07–09 Flight trials of R–100, and the beginning of the flight to Canada, with some vivid description of fascinating aspects of airmanship, and remarks on the difficulties of R–101.
  • 2024–07–12 “Aircraft do not crash of themselves. One crash in a thousand may be unavoidable because God wills it so — no more than that.” The flight to Canada, concluded ; rough weather and mid–air repairs ; the disaster of the R–101 and reflections on its origins.
  • 2024–07–16 The disaster of the R–101 and the end of airships in Britain, lessons drawn about institutions, and the origins of Airspeed Limited.
  • 2024–07–19 Early days at Airspeed Limited, with ruminations on the problem of risk capital ; the sad story of a German pilot who wanted to immigrate to Britain, but was deported back to Germany, where he undoubtedly ended by flying for the Luftwaffe against Britain ; and the observation that “everybody pays lip service to the safety of aeroplanes, but nobody is prepared to pay anything for it.”

“My Polar Flights”

Umberto Nobile, the Italian airship builder and pilot, came together with the great Arctic explorer Roald Amundsen to reach and cross the North Pole by air for the first time, in the year 1926. Two years later, on a subsequent expedition, Nobile and his men were shipwrecked. This first part of this volume, entitled “The First Crossing of the Arctic Ocean”, covers the successful voyage of the N1 Norge, known as the Amundsen–Ellsworth–Nobile Polar Expedition. The second part, “The Tragedy of the Italia”, is about twice as long.

Having read My Zeppelins, I thought that this would be of similar interest, and also that it might be best to give General Nobile the chance (as it were) to defend himself against some belittling remarks of Dr Eckener’s regarding his skill as an airshipman.

  • 2024–02–20 The preface ; the first chapter, The Preliminaries of the Expedition ; and a little bit of the second chapter, On the Eve of the Flight. (Chapters are not numbered.)
  • 2024–02–23 Remainder of the second chapter ; beginning of the third chapter, The Flight from Rome to the Svalbard.
  • 2024–02–27 Completion of the third chapter, and almost all of the fourth, From King’s Bay to the Pole.
  • 2024–03–08 Completion of the fourth chapter, covering the actual first attainment and crossing of the North Pole by air ; and the whole of the fifth chapter, In the Unexplored Zone, describing an incredible feat of piloting under conditions of adverse weather and extreme exhaustion.
  • 2024–03–12 Two short chapters, The End of the Flight and Returning Home, and an Appendix, complete Part I. The author attempts to settle once and for all the controversy caused by certain intemperate and ill–informed remarks of Amundsen, who knew much of Polar exploration, but little of airships or their handling.
  • 2024–03–15 Origin and Preparation of the Expedition (in which we learn how to spell “caïque”), and the first part of The Flight from Milan to King’s Bay, describing the atrocious weather on the way to Stolp on the Baltic (now Słupsk, Poland), begin Part II.
  • 2024–03–19 Completion of The Flight from Milan to King’s Bay ; At King’s Bay ; and The Flight to Severnaya Zemlya.
  • 2024–03–29 The Voyage to the Pole ; The Catastrophe ; and the beginning of Adrift on the Pack. I note details related by Nobile which completely negative Eckener’s notion of the cause of the wreck. (For some reason, the aNONradio archiver split this show into two parts, so I had to re-join it.)
  • 2024–04–05 After a couple of days when I could not do a show, the remainder of Adrift on the Pack, followed by the entirety of The Courage of Despair. Interrupted near the end by a telephone call.
  • 2024–05–10 “Both Parties will Die!” ; Six in the Red Tent ; and the first part of The Miracle of the Radio.
  • 2024–05–14 After some dead air and glitches at the beginning, the completion of The Miracle of the Radio ; Manna from Heaven ; and the first section of An Aeroplane Lands on the Pack.
  • 2024–05–17 The remainder of An Aeroplane Lands on the Pack ; and all of On the Città di Milano, in which Captain Romagna has things to say which are difficult to comprehend, much less believe. Only one chapter remains.
  • 2024–05–21 Our story concludes with the long chapter entitled The End of the Drama. Details of the political scene have been omitted by General Nobile, but may be read in his 1945 book Posso Dire la Verità.

“My Zeppelins”

Im Zeppelin über Länder und Meere (1949), an autobiographical account of the development of intercontinental airship flight by Hugo Eckener, long–time head of the Zeppelin organization, was abridged and translated into English by Douglas Robinson, published 1958. I found to my sorrow that the local library’s copy, which I had checked out many times, had been discarded ― but I managed to buy it, in order to read it to you. As usual, there is a great deal of my chatter intermingled with the actual material.

  • 2023–11–07 Introduction, and first part of Chapter I, “The Flight of the ZR III (sic) Los Angeles
  • 2023–11–21 Remainder of Chapter I, and commencement of Chapter II, “The First Flights of the Graf Zeppelin
  • 2023–12–05 Continuation of Chapter II
  • 2023–12–12 Conclusion of Chapter II, all of Chapter III, “A Sentimental Journey to Egypt”, and the very beginning of Chapter IV, “The Flight Around the World”
  • 2023–12–19 Continuation of Chapter IV
  • 2024–01–05 Conclusion of Chapter IV, and beginning of Chapter V, “The South American Service, 1930―37”
  • 2024–01–09 Conclusion of Chapter V
    Links to a British Pathé Newsreel series showing a trip to South America aboard the Graf Zeppelin : “Flying Down to Rio” Part 1 (not to be confused with the musical film of the same title) ― Part 2Part 3Part 4
  • 2023–01–12 Commencement of Chapter VI, “The Arctic Flight of 1931”, with commentary about, inter alia, Fritjof Nansen’s humanitarian efforts, and Eckener’s undeserved censure on Nobile, and a promise to read the latter’s book My Polar Flights
  • 2024–01–16 Conclusion of Chapter VI ; beginning of Chapter VII, “The Victory of the Zeppelin Concept, 1931―37”
  • 2024–01–19 Conclusion of Chapter VII ; beginning of Chapter VIII, “The Hindenburg” (plus some chatter about the Japanese SLIM lunar landing mission)
  • 2024–01–23 Conclusion of Chapter VIII, and almost all of Chapter IX, “Helium Troubles and a Gloomy Ending”
  • 2024–01–26 After a few minutes of dead air (owing to my failure to un–mute the mic), the conclusion of Chapter IX, and with it the main text ; and the first part of the Appendix, “A Note on the Technology and Development of the Zeppelin Airship”, by Dr–Ing Knut Eckener, son of the author
  • 2024–02–02 Not quite the whole of the remainder of the Appendix
  • 2024–02–06 A short show, just the conclusion of the Appendix, with a promise to start My Polar Flights by Umberto Nobile with a show of its own