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Airship Sheds
United Kingdom - Cardington

Country : United Kingdom Location: Cardington
1 Mast
2 Masts
2 Sheds
3 Sheds
Constructional & Base Facilities
Extended Base Facilities

Shed Internal Dimensions:

Length: 812 ft
Width: 180 ft
Height: 157 ft
Total weight of steel: 4,000 tons

It may be seen as rather a simple fact, but before you build an airship, you need somewhere to build it in. This is the main factor which dictates the design and size considerations of an airship. The simple fact is that the size of the ship is dependent on the size of the shed it is built in.

Today, the two Cardington Sheds can be seen dominating the skyline for many many miles around and are seeing a new change with the buildings surrounding them.

Why Cardington?
How did a small village some 5 miles from the centre of Bedford come to be the centre of Airship operations and excellence?
The story starts not with the village but with the Shorts Brothers Engineering Company. Having won a contract for the construction of an airship in 1916, the original design team had set up offices in a private house in Hampstead, London. In September of 1916 they decided to move to Bedford, choosing this market town for its sufficiency of high grade light engineering works and its population of about 35,000. Outside the town, at Putnoe, was a stretch of farmland being used as an aerodrome for the Royal Flying Corps as part of the United Kingdom's defense network against the Zeppelins. Within sight of Putnoe was, and still is, the village of Cardington.

The man who headed up the enterprise for the Shorts Company was a young man by the name of Claude Lipscomb. At 29, Claude had already served his apprenticeship at Woolwich Arsenal but had joined Shorts at the outbreak of the war in 1914 attracted by the prospect of technological advancement in the new aviation world. Claude set up his first drawing office in a loft of the coach repair shop in Bedford. Having been attacked by Zeppelin Raiders that September and with the threat of the new Super Zeppelins, agreement was reached to develop our own ships. With its gentle prevailing wind, the site of farmland south west of Bedford and the site of Cardington was chosen.


The original siteplan circa 1916 The Project.
Cardington having been chosen, the airship project was begun and proposals were framed as to what was needed in the way of resources to actually build airships of this scale. When the proposal was reviewed, it was realised that it could take an act of Parliament to release the thousands of tons of steel to construct the hanger alone!  

The shed was the biggest to be built in Britain at that time. It was to provide a minimum of space for two ships under one cantilever roof. The dimensions were such that it would be possible to build ships that at that time would in no way be inferior to the biggest Zeppelins. Additional steel was needed for the enormous windbreaks which were set up at both ends of the shed. These screens, as long as the shed itself, were designed to protect an airship during the time it was being maneuvered in to and out of the sheds from either end


Shed 1 completed in 1916, then entended and raised, and shed 2 added in 1925 The Airships and Imperial Airship Service.  
The first ship to come out of the Cardington airship facility was the R31. The ship was commissioned only 5 days before the Armistice on 11th November 1918, and exactly two years and two months from the time that Claude Lipscomb had set up in Bedford. The shed was an impressive construction and design project, admirable even in retrospect in a time of high powered computers and modern communication. Today it is easy to forget that it was hand designed and hand built.


Cardington became one of the World's best airship facilities. Due to the economic depression of the post war years, the Airship station was closed in 1921 after the construction of the R38 and the scrapping of the R37.

However the station was reopened in 1924 following the announcement of the Imperial Airship Service and the undertaking of the construction of, amongst others, the R101.


The original shed was too small for the designed R101, and so had to be lenghthened and also raised in height. Work was started in October 1924 on the lenghtening and raising of Shed 1, which was completed in May 1926. A second shed was also required, and so it was agreed that shed 2 from the Pulham operational base be used. This was dismantled in June 1927, and re-errected next to Shed 1. The second shed was completed in 1928. In that time the R101 was slowly being assembled in shed 1 next door. Shed 2 was going to house the R100 which was being built in the airship construction facility in Howden, Yorkshire.

The huge airship mast was constructed for the civil programme in 1926, built by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company under the direction of Major General Sir William Liddell, Director of Works and and Buildings at the Air Ministry. 202 feet high and 70 feet in diameter at the base, the tower was the first ever cantilever mooring mast to be built. It was demolished in 1943 to help the war effort. For more information on the Cardington Mast site, and an insight in to life after the airship service, please click here

For communications, a wireless station and Cardington control tower was constructed in 1928 behind the Administration block.


Discussions in Parliament following the crash of the R101 in October 1930 led to the Committee on National Expenditure's final decision to dismantle the R100 in shed no.2.

In 1931, the Station was nearly closed, with only a skeleton maintenance staff of some 44 people remaining. However work soon resumed quickly in 1932, with resurrection of the old WW1 national defense system of barage balloons as a deterrent to the German Bombers.


View of the sheds and mast 1929

The sheds 1990, (prior to shed 2 being restored in 1994) The War Years  
With the threat of war looming at the end of the 1930s Cardington was back in business with the development and creation off thousands of kite balloons. It sounded simple but every balloon had to be large enough to carry a couple of miles of steel cable and required a trained crew who could monitor the balloon 24 hours a day. Also required for each was a winch and motor transport. Preparation for meeting this demand started in November 1936 when the station became known as Royal Airforce Station Cardington. At its peak Cardington was producing some 26 balloons a week. Simultaneously the station was a training centre and by 1943 some 10,000 balloon operators and a further 12,000 driver/operators had been trained


It's all still here. With the exception of the windbreaks and the addition of many more houses in Shortstown and the impressive second shed from Pulham, the whole site is complete as it was constructed and planned back in 1916. It is also intended that airship activity of a kind will return
one day.

Airships have also returned to Cardington in the form of Hybrid Air Vehicles who are developing the prototye Airlander 10. The Airlander 10 successfuly few two flights in August 2016, but a heavy landing on the third flight damaged the cockpit. The ship has been returned to the shed and is expected to undertake repairs and return to flight programme in early 2017.

The visit of the first Zeppelin in 80 years was commemorated by the visit of the Zeppelin NT as part of it's 2008 tour.

Cardington is ever changing and shed 2 has been leased out to a film company and is enjoying a second life as a "sound stage".

Shed 1 has come under the ownership of Fosbern Hangers, and the company undertook the restoration of the shed, which shots of the restoration work can be found here

The original construction buildings and workshops which were situated behind the Administration Block (also known as the Shorts Building) were demolished as part of the RAF selling the site in 1999 and 2000. The site was left as bare land but later developed in the latter part of 2007 with the expansion and re-development of the site. A new village was created opposite the original Shortstown village which was created in 1917 on the site of the workshops. This new housing development was named New Cardington. Further development of the old site is being considered and proposed, however is being subject to acceptance and review by the Bedfordshire planning authorities. Also under review is the development of the north and eastern side of the flying field.

Inside the Shed, it has also housed limited airship and lighter than air activities, of which a Goodyear Lightship was constructed, and launched from shed 1 in 2011

More information on the activities in the sheds can be found here and on our links page

Planning permission has been granted to the area surrounding the north side of the shed, and around the original 1917 administration building.

The Shorts Building

The original Shorts Building, constructed in 1917, which housed the design and administration block, and later the control tower during World War 2, has been restored and utilised. This is seen as the imposing building on the A600 road between Shortstown village and the village of Cotton End. Today the town of New Cardington is being developed and the Administration Block is still a prominent building in part of the new development, containing community services such as a crèche, doctors surgery, and apartments.

The AHT has been fundamental in ensuring that the communal areas open to visitors have pictures of the work which was carried out at the site, and of the R101 and construction, to ensure that the importance and history of the building is known to it's visitors and tenants.

More pictures can be found here


Did You Know... Both the RMS Mauritania and the RMS Lusitania could comfortably fit in each shed with the doors closed and the RMS Titanic would have almost fitted with only 40ft of her bow sticking out of the open doors. Also, did you know that the size of an airship is dependent only on the size of the shed she is built in!

The imposing doors of shed no 2. (large file to download)
Opening the doors was by hand and required a team of men to winch the 70 ton doors open, before they were later motorised.
Inside shed no 1. (large file to download)
Cardington mast and winch houses under construction
View of the mast from the nose of the R101.Steam from the winch houses can be clearly seen
The Administration block in 1917

The same Administration July 2000 block prior to sympathetic and extensive re-development by Belway Homes Limited
The Shorts Building today 2011, centerpiece of new development. and apartments.
The original workshops by the Cardington Sheds

Early 2002' Activity at Cardington

AT10 and the"SkyKitten"

The new Goodyear "Spirit of Safety" built at Cardington 2011
The Airlander 10 in August 2016


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