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.
Graphic of HMA No9.
The 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
Vickers 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 reassembled 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
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.
The 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, canceled
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 reinstated 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.
On 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 swiveling 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
She 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
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.
HMA 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.
Recycling a new idea
Despite recycling being a
relatively new concept, back in 1918 the staff and directors knew
better, as when the H.M.A 9 was being dismantled in 1918, you
can see from the picture to the left that the nosecone was kept,
and used as a marquee (perfect being light weight, strong and
waterproof ) during the Pulham Air station sports day event