Thursday, August 1, 2013

Another pen with an airship connection

A Parker Black Giant is a noteworthy pen in itself. This one has considerable additional historical interest that fits right into my own fascination with early aviation -- airships, in particular (a recent post on a Zeppelin-sold fountain pen is here).

This oversized Parker belonged to Major Walter W. Vautsmeier, who died on February 21, 1922 in the fiery crash of the Roma, an Italian-made semi-rigid dirigible and the last US military airship to be filled with hydrogen. According to the University of Illinois Alumni Association's Alumni Quarterly and Fortnightly Notes, vol. 7, no. 11, Mar 1, 1922, p. 156, Vautsmeier had been an aviation instructor during World War I at Kelly Field, and had hoped to become one of the Roma's pilots. At the time of his death, Vautsmeier was serving in the Coast Artillery Corps, assigned to the Air Service (Aerial Age Weekly, Mar 6, 1922, p. 610).

The crash of the Roma did not impress itself upon historical memory as did the Hindenburg disaster. There were no newsreel cameras to record its demise, and though the loss of a brand-new airship with 34 deaths made headlines nationwide, in time the Roma was largely forgotten -- though not before ensuring that US military airships would henceforth be filled with helium. Vautsmeier's big Parker came to us without any provenance or accompanying items. There are no signs of scorching or overheating, so it seems likely that it was not aboard the fatal flight, given the intensity of the fire following the crash. For more photos of the Roma, before and after the disaster, and a full account of its last flight, see this 2010 article.

1 comment:

Giovanni Abrate said...

Great story! I knew one of the italian designers of the Roma. His opinion was that fitting new, more powerful engines was a mistake, because the structure was not made to take the higher power and its associated stresses.