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R 100 - G - FAAV

Length 709.5ft (1929) reduced to 695ft (1930)
Diameter 133.5ft

Cruising 64mph

Recorded Top Speed 81 mph, limited to 70mph


6 x 650hp

Volume 5, 156, 000cft
R100 under construction at Howden
R100 nearing completion in the Howden twin shed
The control cabin
Further detail of the control cabin
One of the three engine nacelles, containing two engines, and a tractor and pusher propellor at each end
Close up detail of the passenger configuration and engines. Quiteness in flight was noted in the passenger compartment was due to the engines being sited far behind the accommodation.
R100 in reflection
R100 in flight showing slight rippling of the envelope
Graf Zeppelin and R100 at Cardington
May 1930, aerodynamic pressure around the tip of the tail caused the tail to break, and so this was shortened and rounded off.
R100 on mast prior to Canada departure
R100 on the Montreal Mast

Following the completion of the R101, the R100 followed closely on, being an innovative and modern ship when compared to its counterparts at the time. The daring decision to move way from the more traditional Zeppelin design lines was shown in the more oval, streamlined and aerodynamic shape of both the R100 and R101.

It was as early as 1921 during the Imperial conference when A.H. Ashbolt London Agent-General for Tasmania, proposed an Imperial Air Company. The idea being that a subsidy for mails carried and a proposed passenger service to connect London to South Africa, and across to Australia and New Zealand. This plan later was adapted as part of the 1924 Imperial Air Communications Scheme.

In 1923, Barnes Wallis, and Sir Dennison Burney both visited the Zeppelin Company in Friedericshafen to see if agreement could be met in a commercial operation between the Zeppelin Company and the Vickers Company. This plan was later not followed up on. It was after much deliberation and further discussing that in1924, a contract between the Burney-Vickers Group was completed on 1st November 1924.

The decision had been made that separate organisations would construct two ships. One would be built by the Royal Airship Works and the other by a commercial contractor. The contract for the R100 had been awarded to Vickers, who were regarded as one of the best airship constructors, considering their history with lighter than air craft. A new subsidiary of Vickers, the Airship Guarantee Company, was set up purely for the construction of the ship. It was felt by the government that having two prototypes built would lead to twice the level of innovation over traditional lines. Both the R100 and R101 teams were the first to build airships in a more aerodynamic form than the traditional Zeppelin designs. British designers had always tried to improve the aerodynamic shape to aid efficiency compared to other contemporary ships, the R 80 being the case in point, being the most aerodynamic ship constructed to date.

With Barnes Wallis using new design techniques assisted by Neville Shute-Norway as his chief calculator, the R100 was designed as a unique and efficient craft. Construction of the R100 began at the Howden construction facility in 1927, the ship being designed to only just fit within the existing shed. Construction of the ship was slow due to innovations being added, such as rainwater collection devices along the top of the ship. Also, the contract with Vickers was for a ship to be constructed at a fixed contract price. It had been remarked that there was rivalry between the R100 and R101 design teams, fuelled by comments made by Neville Shute-Norway, but recent research is contradicting the these views.As part of the original design concept, Barnes Wallis had designed the R100 to be built from as few different parts as possible, with as few machines, to cut down the need for additional costs. The plan was to design, and build a ship to fit the planned contract.

Cutaway plans of the R100- Frame 5 with passenger accommodation.
Frame 9 showing the port and starboard engine cars
Frame 12 showing the rear engine car
Frame 14 showing the tail confinguration

It was during the construction phase at Howden that strikes delayed works, in 1926, 1927 and 1928. The ship was 80% completed by December of 1928, and it was hoped that she would be able to fly in early of 1929. However construction was hit by further strikes by fitters in 1929, and the R100 was not ready for shed trials until 3rd July 1929.

The ship was designed with only 13 longitudinal girders compared to previous designs of up to 25, and hence the ship was lighter. Upon completion, the R100 contained 58,200ft (11 miles) of tubing, 5,000,000 rivets, 400,000 minor bracing pieces, and yet as per the specification and Barnes Wallis design genius, made of only nine basic and 50 different parts.

With all tests completed, on the morning of 16th December, 1929 the R100 was brought out of the Howden Shed, with clearance of 9ft each side of the hull and only 5 feet clearance of the roof. Her first flight was from her constructional base, at Howden and down to Cardington, as her operational hope. An initial design problems was that the outer cover would ripple in flight, however this did not affect the performance of the ship. Also, there was a slight problem with the aerodynamic forces acting on the tail. This had shown up on wind tunnel tests but was dismissed as a scale anomaly.

On return from testing the outer cover and investigating the ripple, on a flight on 22nd May 1930, the R100 was on it's return leg of the trial, when it was noticed that the tail end failing had broken. The original tail design was a very sharp tapering point, but the pressures built up and the tip broke off on one test flight (see flight log). The R100 masted at Cardington safely, and then put in the shed. The decision was made to trim the tail, and replaced with the more traditional rounded tail. Some say that this detracted from the streamlined shape of the ship, and changed it's beautiful sleek looks.

With the prototype completed the R100 had design features which were to be incorporated within the next generation of ships. The interior passenger space was completely new to airship design and was very different from that which was designed for the R101.

Competition was high between the two design teams but it was still seen that both of these ships were unique prototypes. On a global scale, the Imperial Airship scheme was the largest project of its kind and in 1929 the only competition was from Germany with the smaller LZ127 "Graf Zeppelin". Not until the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin II some seven years later would newly designed commercial passenger airships of this scale take to the skies.

Interiors - Luxury in flight

A double staircase led down to the interior dining room. The dining and central space had galleries in which passengers could access the accommodation. Flanked on each side were two large panoramic windows allowing a two tier promenade deck giving the interior a large, open and light feel. The interior was different again from the set up of the R101, the idea being that design details would be taken from each airship and utilised in the next generation. The R100 could carry 100 passengers in a selection of accommodations; an arrangement of 14 two-berth and 18 four-berth cabins were available. More details can be found on the Interiors page.

Voyage to Canada

After the 7 successful trial flights and flights checking the outer cover ripple effect, the decision was made for a transatlantic flight or long distance proving flight by one of the two new airships. As the R101 had been put back in Shed Number 1 for further changes to the design to increase the disposable lift, the R100 was tasked with a trip to Canada, successfully crossing the Atlantic to Montreal to the newly erected mast.

The ship slipped the moorings from the Cardington mast at 02.48am on the morning of 29th July 1930. The ship flew over the Atlantic and headed down the Newfoundland coast to Montreal, arriving on 1st August at 05.37am, after a voyage of some 78 hours and 49 minutes; a journey of 3,364 miles.

The crew were deemed heroes for this voyage. The crossing was not as smooth as predicted when the ship encountered a rough storm flying towards the Canadian coast, causing a ripping to some of the outer cover. Temporary repairs were made in flight and then the cover was replaced at the mast at Montreal.

The crew enjoyed banquets and receptions in their honour. It was seen that this trip would be the start of many crossings and the start of commercial operations. On 13th August 1930 the R100 was required to go on a "local" flight where it was received excitedly by all the towns she crossed over.

On 16th August 1930 R100 made her return to Cardington and, making use of the gulf stream, managed to knock off some 21 hours off the outward bound flight time, arriving on 16th August 1930 at 11.06am after 2,995 miles and a trip of 57hours 56 minutes. Many journalists were invited as passengers for the return leg back to the United Kingdom. There were a few problems on the way home, noticeably the loss of cooking facilities as the electric oven was "shorted" out on the return due to ingress of water through the fabric. Some dairies of the crew and journalists noticed this discomfort for 3 days.

On her return to Cardington there was less of a public reception, however some 200 cars and coaches turned up. The crews were congratulated by Lord Thompson when they decended the mast. On mooring, the new watch was formed of members of the R101 crew, under the charge of Grabby Atherstone. Early the next moorning, on Sunday 17th August, a landing party was assembled and the R100 was flown from the mast, to the ground. The ship was then carefully put into the shed for inspection and attention switched to the R101's flight to India, which was anticipated to be at the end of the year. Because many of the crew members were actually operating on both ships, the majority were transferred over to the R101

Final Life of the R100

Not much was written about the R100 following her retirement to the shed in August of 1930 and the crash of the R101. However, recent research made by AHT member Brian Harrison uncovered some very interesting facts regarding the final days of the ship.

The R100 was put back in the hangar on 17th August 1930, and the crew switched their attention to the R101 for the next long trip. It was noted of the poor condion the R100 was, on return from the trip from Canada. The outer cover was in a poor condtion, and liable to split, as had occurred over the St Lawrence River, on the outward journey. Considering the cover was starting to come to the end of it's life, a refit was in discussion, and more expense required. It had been decided that after the refit and repairs that a return flight to Canada to be prepared for in early 1931.

At this stage of the Imperial Airship scheme, there was only a small group of trained officers to cover both ships. However with the R102 in the planning stage more crews would be required and training was underway. This was abandoned when the destruction of the R101 in October 1930 led to the decision to halt all future flights.

The R100 was deflated on 11th December 1930 and "hung" in the shed. The outer covers were still under inspection but it was seen to be deteriorating in places. After the R101 inquiry, Parliament then had to discuss where the future lay for the R100.

In May of 1931, Parliament and the Government lead by Ramsay McDonald discussed the options and their costs. The country was coming out of the depression years but still had a long way to go and so there were many financial restrictions.

The R100 was seen as very advanced for its time and in the lighter than air world it was a real innovation. So much so that the American Government had offered cheap or even free helium to inflate the ship in return for the British technical know-how and data.It was declared that Helium deposits had been discovered in Canada and so an option was for the sale of the ship to the Canadian Government. There was even suggestion that helium had been found in Ceylon and Singapore, within the bounds of the British Empire. Canada already had a mast from which the ship could be serviced and this was deemed a reasonable option. The future of the ship and the service was debated for a long time, with opinions given from many people for and against.

The three main options were to:

1. Keep the ship, refurbish the cover and continue with the project, moving on to the R102;

2. Reduce the staff numbers from 850 to 300 at the Royal Airship Works and keep the ship for scientific study until future plans could be made;

3. Scrap the project.

After long and hard deliberation, the final outcome was that the British Government could not afford to keep the project in place nor the staff at Cardington. The world was emerging from a global financial depression and a project of this scale could not find financial backing from either the private or public sector. The R100 was therefore sold for scrap and work began to dismantle her on 16th November 1931. The work was finished in February 1932. The interior fixtures and fittings were sold off and the framework was sold for £427 - originally thought to be £450, however in recent research by our curator, it was discovered that a ring section was retained. Some original footage of the dissassembly can be seen here. The major purchaser of the scrap was Elton Levy. A presence was however kept at Cardington with some 300 people continuing to be employed there. Even though the ship was scrapped, the sheds and workshops were still kept in place for future plans.


Related ships: R101

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