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Archives at The Museum of Flight

Roger Charles McNally Collection

Identifier: 2009-06-19
The Roger Charles McNally Collection consists of items related to Master Sergeant McNally's career in the Army Air Corps, and his death in the airship Roma accident. The collection consists largely of photographs and a souvenir roster from the period when McNally and his family were stationed at Langley Field (Virginia) in the early 1920s.

There are fourteen (14) black-and-white photographs, a few with brief handwritten inscriptions on the reverse that identify people and locations. The images depict the McNally family and friends, including a group portrait of Roger McNally, his wife Mabel, and their children Will and Margaret in front of a statue in Yorktown, Virginia. There are also several group portraits of military personnel, likely the airship crew and officers. One (1) group portrait, which also ran in newspapers after the crash of the Roma, features eight (8) officers standing on steps with a handwritten inscription on the back, "Right to left, front row: CPT W. J. Reed (injured), MAJ J. G. Thornell (missing), CPT Dale Mabry (missing); Second row, left to right: SGT V. C. Hoffman (missing), SGT J. B. Biedenbach (injured), M/Sgt R. C. McNally (missing), M/Sgt H. A. Chapman (injured)."

Additional images depict McNally's grave and headstone, a photographic postcard of the Roma in flight in Italy, and an image of an unidentified aricraft parked in a field. There is also a 1921Souvenir Roster of Commissioned Warrant and Non Commissioned Officers that contains the names, dates of service and official duty for the men stationed at Langley Field in 1921. McNally is listed as a Master Sergeant with three (3) years of service.

Additionally, there are eight (8) clippings about the Roma accident. Most of the clippings are glued to letterhead from the American Eagle Fire Insurance Company. There are no citations available for most of the newspapers, although many of the clippings appear to be from Philadelphia newspapers.

At the end of the collection is a copy of the script from radio play, "Thunder Over Congress," that aired November 7, 1941 on WMAQ (Chicago). The show was a dramatization about the Congressional hearings that happened in the wake of the Roma accident.


  • 1892-1941


Language of Materials

All materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research and is accessible in the Dahlberg Research Center by appointment. For more information contact us.

Conditions Governing Use

The Museum of Flight (TMOF) Archives is the owner of the physical materials in the archives and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. Written permission must be obtained from TMOF archives before any publication use. TMOF does not necessarily hold copyright to all of the materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners. Consult repository for more details.


0.2 Cubic Feet (1 half-width letter size document box)


Roger Charles McNally (1887-1922) joined the U. S. Army in 1917 and after World War I was sent to Italy to assist with the Army’s purchase of the airship Roma. The collection consists of clippings, photographs, and assorted ephmera related to Master Sergeant McNally's career in the Army Air Corps, and his death in the airshipRoma accident.

Biographical Note: Roger Charles McNally

Roger Charles McNally was born in 1887. He joined the United States (U. S.) Army in 1917, after walking about 400 miles to an enlistment center from the school in Alaska where he was teaching for the Department of the Interior. After World War I, McNally stayed in the U. S. Army Air Service and was subsequently sent to Italy to assist with the Army’s purchase of the airship Roma. McNally remained in Italy for nearly a year and essentially became one of the officers of the dirigible, though the leadership role of McNally and his fellow pilots was never made official. The crew brought theRoma to the United States, where it was modified and tested at Langley Field (Virginia).

McNally, who had been promoted to Master Sergeant, was on board the Roma on February 21, 1922, when the airship crashed. He died in the fire resulting from the crash, along with 33 others. He left a wife, Mabel, and three children: Will, Margaret, and Rogene.


Biography derived from collection materials.
Historical Note: Airship Roma Master Sergeant Roger C. McNally was a member of the crew of the U.S. Army Air Service dirigible Roma. The airship had originally been built by the Italian outfit Stabilimento Costruzioni Aeronautiche [Aeronautical Construction Factory] and was given the designation Usuelli T-34.

The United States Army purchased the airship in 1921 for $195,000. It was, at the time, the world’s largest semi-rigid dirigible, and was designed to make cross-Atlantic flights. Following its arrival at Langley Field (Virginia), the ship was heavily modified and the six original Ansaldo SVA engines were replaced with 400hp Liberty engines.

The Roma was destroyed by an explosion and fire near Langley Field (Virginia) during a flight trial on February 21, 1922. The crash resulted in the abandonment of the use of hydrogen as the lifting agent in dirigibles, with helium being used instead in all subsequent United States dirigibles. The crash was believed to have been caused by a failure in the rudder system, which was supposed to allow theRoma to maneuver over tight areas. The ship failed to clear some high voltage power lines, and the airship burst into flames as it came crashing to the ground.

A total of 34 out of the 45 men on board were killed. Most of the eleven survivors escaped death by jumping from the wreckage as it hit the electrical wires, before it hit the ground.

Sources and Further Reading:

"The 'Roma' Disaster," Flight 2 March 1922: 140.

Forrest, Leo C., Jr. "Remembering the Roma." NASA Researcher News. 22 February 2002.

Swinfield, John. Airship: design, development and disaster. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2012.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Roger Charles McNally Collection was donated to The Museum of Flight in June 2009 by one of the daughters of McNally.


No further accruals are expected.

Separated Materials

The following items have been separated from the archival component and are kept in Objects Storage:
  • United States Army Air Corps wings, pinned to a ribbon
  • Two (2) dog tags that belonged to Roger C. McNally
  • Ashtray made of an airplane engine cylinder head and spark plugs
Guide to the Roger Charles McNally Collection
Completed - Level 4
L. Zaborowski, J. Parent
Description rules
Language of description
Edition statement
2nd Edition

Revision Statements

  • 2018: This finding aid has been revised to reflect updated DACS and Museum of Flight standards.
  • November 2018: Finding aid migrated to ArchivesSpace.

Repository Details

Part of the The Museum of Flight Archives Repository

9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle Washington 98108-4097

The Museum of Flight | 9404 E. Marginal Way South | Seattle WA 98108-4097 | 206-764-5874
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