Roma Tragedy

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In 1920 the Army Air Service purchased a 410-foot long semi-rigid dirigible, the Roma, from Italy. Disassembled and shipped to the United States, the reassembled airship made its first flight in America from Langley Field, Va., on Nov. 15, 1921. Dissatisfied with the Roma's performance, the Army Air Service replaced its Ansaldo engines with more powerful Liberty engines.

The first flight test with the Roma's new engines took place on Feb. 21, 1922. With 45 officers, enlisted men and civilians onboard, the Roma flew across Hampton Roads at about 55 mph. While about 600 feet over Norfolk, Va., the control box at the rear of the airship broke and forced the Roma downward. The nose buckled, the disabled airship hit some high-voltage wires, and its hydrogen gas exploded. Thirty-four men died in the crash. Investigators could not determine the cause of the accident, but it was generally thought that the Liberty engines had been too powerful for the Roma.

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