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Advert taken from "The Airship" Magazine 1935 using AD1 as example
Photo Gallery
The AD 1 inside the Cramlington shed. Note the size of the advert in comparison to the man on the ladder.
Airship Developments AD 1 showing the advertising space on the side of the envelope.
A later Airship Development self advert with different message
Early test flight of the ship, with no advertisement on the envelope
The Cramlington shed and you can make out the words Airship Developments Company Limited
Length 137.9 ft
Diameter 38 ft
Speed 50 mph
Engines 75ph (1 ABC Hornet later Rolls Royce)
Volume 60,0000
Total Lift 15,000lbs with ABC Hornet Engine, reduced to 12,000lb with Rolls Royce engine
Disposable Lift 4,250lbs


Airship Development Company AD 1
The First Private Airship


The British Airships Limited Company, were looking to use the idea of seeing the new lighter than air craft, as perfect flying billboards for advertising. Prior to this, airplane pilots would loop the loop leaving a trail of smoke plumes to spell out a word or phrase, exciting to see but one disadvantage is that skywriting is short lived. A slower moving airship would be perfect for getting the message across to those on the ground. One of the first times an airship had been used for advertising was the Spencer Brothers of Highbury in London, whose airship in 1901 had the name of Mellin emblazoned on the side of the envelope. Mellin being the name of the principle financial sponsor. After this, advertising on airships stuck and were seen as perfect "advertising" vehicles, which is still true to this day.


After the First World War, RNAS Cramlington was chosen the stand alone operation base located north east of Cramlington Station, and adjacent to the existing aerodrome. During the War, a single Coastal class airship shed was constructed. There was a small hydrogen gas making plant in a building behind the shed. It was intended to eventually base four non rigid Submarine Scout Twin airships here. Cramlington’s coastal shed was unusual as it was pained brown to blend in with the local countryside. Also unusually there were no windbreaks fitted to the shed, despite it’s exposed position

Originally, the station was not completed by the time of the Armistice but work continued on the construction of the planned airship shed, which measured some 300 x 100 x 70 feet on a NE-SW axis that aligned with the prevailing wind. During it's time in the war, four Submarine Scout Twin (SST) airships were operational from the Coastal shed with some twenty officers, and 281 men were stationed at the airship station. Further airships were to be station here, however with the armistice, and then following peace treat, the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, it was decided the airship station was no longer used. Like most other airship stations in Britain it was hastily abandoned, but unusually not auctioned off or dismantled.

In the early 1920’s a company considered using the facilities to operate an airship service to Norway but nothing came of this plan. Some of the buildings around the shed, were used as a hostel for miners. The closing years of that decade saw a revival of its fortunes.

Airship Development Company

Originally the company went by the name of British Airships Ltd.; which later changed its name to the Airship Development Company. It thought it could revive the fortunes of the small non rigid airships as at the time the latter part of the 1920's optimism in lighter than air transport had gathered, with the Imperial Airship Programme. The Airship Development Company constructed an airship designated the A.D.1 in the airship shed at Cramlington.

Construction and Design

The airship was 138 feet in length and maximum diameter of 38 feet. The ship had a 60,000 cubic feet envelope made by the Reginald Foster Dagnall Company of Guilford. The airship was based on the SS design. It was powered by a 100 hp (75 kW) ABC Hornet four-cylinder piston engine mounted on a three-seater underslung car. The company It recruited former navy airship pilots who'd previously patrolled the North Sea in search of enemy submarines. Their expertise was invaluable.

It was advertised as being suitable for private flying, passenger flights, instruction, advertising , aerial photography and surveying. The main revenue was anticipated to come from advertising and for this role it had panels on its side measuring 76 feet by 24 feet. It was designated the "AD.1" and registered G-FAAX . When the ship was constructed and inflated, the it made its first successful flight on, seemingly unlucky, Friday 13th September 1929 and then followed by an appearance at the Newcastle Air Pageant held at the Cramlington Aerodrome on 5th October.

Advertising Success

Their first commercial success was with local supermarket chain Walter Wilson's. The first recorded flight of it carrying their slogan - "Walter Willson's on top" was on 31 May, 1930. The AD.1 flew for five hours over the North East, but captain Jack Beckford-Ball picked up a two guineas fine for flying too low over a farm in Ebchester. Newspaper reports at the time said it frightened a horse which then bolted and injured itself so badly it was unable to work. For a while the airship was a familiar sight as it toured around Tyneside, Ashington, Morpeth, Blyth, Durham, Darlington, Bishop Auckland, West Hartlepool and Sunderland.

However business was slow. Convincing other companies to advertise wasn't easy. In need of cash and with winter approaching it was clear the airship would be best plying its trade over larger populations such as London. In Autumn 1930 the ship and crew headed south. They found sheltered moorings in the lee of some trees at a girls' school at East Horsley in Surrey.

A publicity trip around the Houses of Parliament and over the City of London, and St Paul's Catherdral which was a particular landmark for airship flights, proved irresistible but the crew got into difficulties. A cable snagged, jamming the controls and one of the men had to climb out of the gondola to try and manually steer the rudder while the engine started to splutter and threaten to cut out. Despite this and several other setbacks the company was able to prove the airship and obtained a contract with a tobacco company to fly over Belgium, and advertise "Gold Dollar Cigarettes". For this contract it was decided that the original ABC Hornet engine was replaced by a 75 hp Rolls-Royce Hawk engine.

Destruction in Belgium

Unfortunately while flying in Belgium the airship was destroyed in a storm only 2 days after the loss of the R101. The ship was lost on 7th October 1930. It was torn from its moorings and the envelope was ripped by neighbouring trees. With no income coming in and no prospect of surviving through to the following summer, the Airship Development Company went in to liquidation and the company was closed. The salvaged remains were brought back to the UK and remains later sold at auction the following year on 18th June 1931.

All of the materials of the company were sold off, the two envelopes which had cost £1,000 each sold for £22 10s, to be made into dust sheets for furniture, the engine for £13 10s (the new owner planning to use in a motor boat) and the Gondola with all instruments fetching £2.

Britain at the time was in deep recession. The airship shed at Cramlington vacated, never to be used again by airships.

Towards the end of its days, the airship shed was used by a firm called Concrete Utilities Ltd ., to make concrete lamp posts. It was eventually demolished in 1967 having outlived its contemporaries by many years. Most other airship sheds had in fact disappeared by the outbreak of World War II.

The AD 1 has to be remembered as the only privately built and owned non-rigid airship produced in Britain between the wars and, the only British non-rigid airship to fly between 1921 and 1951.

Related ships: SS Class The Bournmouth

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