the problems in 1911 with HMA No. 1 "Mayfly", a decision
was made in 1913 to continue to invest in rigid airships. Designated
HMA No. 9, a new ship was planned, but when war broke out on
4th August 1914, this put a delay on further design and construction
of the ship.
rear two engines were replaced by a Maybach engine retrieved
from the wrecked L-33, enhancing the ships useful life.
original plans for the second rigid Airship had been agreed between
the Admiralty and Government. However, this was a time of turmoil
in that the political situation in Europe had darkened and also
there were quarrels within the Government as to whether a replacement
for HMA No. 1 would be required. The non-rigid programme was proving
to be more successful that the rigid at this stage. With the Dardanelle
fiasco already making the situation in Europe more uncertain,
a conference was called with the Admiralty on June 19th 1912 to
consider the programme again.
At this meeting it was not only agreed to expand the non-rigid
programme, but also to recommence Airship HMA No. 9. It was agreed
that Vickers should be asked to design an improved class of ship
incorporating all that was then known about the Zeppelins. There
was only one restriction with this order, which was that the proposed
classes would have to be built in existing facilities. This meant
that the ship would have to be limited to the size of the Zeppelins
on their cradles in Germany. The reason behind this decision was
that the technology was being based on the German Army Zeppelin
Z IV, which accidentally landed in France on 3rd April 1913. Her
design was already 3 years old, but there was little else to go
on except the information on what the designers in Germany had
planned. It must not be forgotten that some of the refinements
made were better than that of contemporary Zeppelins.
had disbanded its airship department after the failure of the
government to keep it supplied with work following the Mayfly
project. A new department was therefore constituted in April 1913.
They re-assembled its original design team including H. B. Pratt
and the young Barnes Wallis. Design work started on the No. 9
in April 1913. Work proceeded slowly at first as specifications
were required to follow the Zeppelin lines.
The original order for the new rigid was placed on June 10th 1913,
with final plans, agreed at the end of the year, and formal contract
signed in March 1914. Construction was delayed because the old
shed at Cavendish Dock, Barrow-in-Furness was much too small and
a new one had to be erected. This was completed at Walney Island,
a flat area of land just off the west of Barrow-in-Furness. The
new shed had internal clearances of 450 feet long, 150 feet wide
and 98 feet high. It also incorporated an innovation having a
6-inch concrete floor with handling rails embedded in to it that
extended some 450 feet out into the adjacent field. Also new were
the eight fire extinguishing jets linked to a special reservoir
to deal with the possibility of fire. A gasbag factory with 100
employees was set up beside the shed.
workmen were gathered and when war broke out, HMA No. 9 was nearly
ready for erection. Work on the ship continued during the first
months of the war despite the demand for materials and manpower
for the war effort. More concerns were expressed at the Admiralty
and on March 12th 1915 the first Lord of the Admiralty, Winston
Churchill, cancelled the order for the ship. It was said that
the reasons behind this decision were that it was expected that
the war would be finished in 1915 and the vessel would not be
operational by then and thus was a waste of valuable resources.
However history proved otherwise; the war continued and work was
recommenced on the ship with the order re-instated in June 1915.
Final erection of the ship began in the Autumn of 1915 but the
ship wasn't completed until 28th June 1916. There were problems
in obtaining the nets for the gasbags as the flax was coming in
from Ireland when the Irish rebellion broke out and delivery of
the materials was delayed.
November 16th 1916, HMA No. 9 left her shed and was moored outside
for final shakedown and checking of the fittings and engines.
The first test flight was on 27th November 1916, the first time
a British Rigid airship had taken flight.
With four engines mounted in pairs on each of the two external
gondolas, and mounted on massive extension shafts, the designers
of HMA No. 9 had added the useful adaptation of swivelling propellers
to assist in take off and landing; an example of vectored thrust
on an aircraft as early as 1916! This was an idea which was later
used to full effect by the Airship Industries Skyship series in
the 1980s. There was a problem in that she was unable to lift
her contract weight of 3.1 tons, and so she was lightened by removal
of the rear two engines replacing them with a single engine that
had been recovered from the crashed L33. After this she was able
to carry a disposable lift of 3.8 tons, better than that originally
left the Vickers facility at Barrow and flew to Howden where she
underwent trials. Most of her life was spent in experimental mooring
and handling tests, as she was still classed as an experimental
ship, as were the first Zeppelins.
From October 17th 1917 to June 1918 she resided at Pulham Air
Station in Norfolk where she was finally dismantled due to demand
for shed space to allow construction of newer ships.
HMA No. 9 spent 198 hours and 16 minutes in the air, of which
some 33 hours were at mast.
It must not
be forgotten that HMA No. 9 was the first British rigid airship
to fly, and the success of the design, thought unable to compete
against contemporary Zeppelins of the time, proved that the British
Admiralty had a successful prototype. They now also had experience
of handling a rigid airship, and mooring masts, which were to
evolve into a unique method of mooring ships.
No. 9 was built much stronger than her contemporary German airships.
This was because the Admiralty had insisted that she would have
to be handled by novice crews until some officers and men gained
experience with rigid airships. The ship was also designed, like
the Mayfly, with watertight cars.