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Roma Tragedy

DAYTON, Ohio -- Roma exhibit on display in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Roma exhibit on display in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Ansaldo engine on display in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- Ansaldo engine on display in the Early Years Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Roma makes its first flight in the United States at Langley Field, Va., on Nov. 15, 1921. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The Roma makes its first flight in the United States at Langley Field, Va., on Nov. 15, 1921. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A semi-rigid airship, the Roma used hydrogen for lift, and a metal keel supported the bag. This photograph shows the metal keel being assembled. Afterward, the metal framework was covered with cloth, giving the Roma its characteristic fin along the bottom. (U.S. Air Force photo)

A semi-rigid airship, the Roma used hydrogen for lift, and a metal keel supported the bag. This photograph shows the metal keel being assembled. Afterward, the metal framework was covered with cloth, giving the Roma its characteristic fin along the bottom. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Normally filled with hydrogen gas, the Roma's gas bag was filled with air to allow workmen to repair any leaks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Normally filled with hydrogen gas, the Roma's gas bag was filled with air to allow workmen to repair any leaks. (U.S. Air Force photo)

One of the Roma's Ansaldo engines on a test block. (U.S. Air Force photo)

One of the Roma's Ansaldo engines on a test block. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spectators watch as a crane removes the twisted metal of the crashed Roma. Note how the steering assembly remained caught in a telephone pole on the right. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Spectators watch as a crane removes the twisted metal of the crashed Roma. Note how the steering assembly remained caught in a telephone pole on the right. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This page from The Langley Field Times has news about the Roma disaster. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This page from The Langley Field Times has news about the Roma disaster. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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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