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.
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.
under construction at Howden
nearing completion in the Howden twin shed
detail of the control cabin
of the three engine nacelles, containing two engines, and
a tractor and pusher propellor at each end
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.
in flight showing slight rippling of the envelope
Zeppelin and R100 at Cardington
1930, aerodynamic pressure around the tip of the tail caused
the tail to break, and so this was shortened and rounded off.
on mast prior to Canada departure
on the Montreal Mast
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
her return to Cardington she was then 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
Life of the R100
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.
R100 was put back in the hanger 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.