In 1924, the Government agreed to establish aerial
communication links with the far corners of the Empire. The
decision was made to construct two entirely new airships to
serve air routes to Montreal, Canada, and Karachi, India, with
the final view to have a ship to reach Australia. A plan was
also made that the ships could be of a military value to have
the ability to carry some 200 troops or 5 aeroplanes. Whoever
it was deemed that a ship of some 8,000,000 cft would be required.
However it was agreed to continue with the non military version
of the ships.
The original plans by 1926 were to have routes from Canada to
Australia with a regular connecting service and stops en route.
The original specification lead to a plan for 6 airships to
cover this service and a series of airship bases along the way.
The following link will show a map of the routes and prospective
airship stations which would be covered by the scheme.
Routes - as taken from the Imperial conference on the Future
of Aerial Communications 1926
Also from the same document came the specification as to the
setting up of an airship base and what parameter were required
in the ideal location for the station.
Bases - as taken from the Imperial conference on the Future
of Aerial Communications 1926
It has now been disclosed that the South African masthead was
constructed at the same time as that for Montreal and shipped
down to Cape Town. Also a number of farms had been purchased
outside Mombassa and Durban as sites for potential mast sites.
The Airship Guarantee Company, a subsidiary of Vickers, won
the contract to design and build one ship, and the Government
would have her own design team to build the other. These two
design teams decided to move away from the conventional, much
copied Zeppelin designs, and come up with two completely new
prototype ships. It was agreed that the best features from both
ships would be used in the next generation of airship. The Airship
Guarantee Company designed and constructed the now designated
R100 at Howden, Yorkshire,
and the Government sponsored team built the designated R101
at Cardington. Hopes were high for both new ships and nearing
completion, the specification and plans were already being drawn
up for the R102 and R103.
June 1930, the R100 was ready,
and after testing, flew successfully to Montreal, and back. The
R101, after various changes and initial setbacks, was finally
seen to be the shape of things to come. With her lavish interiors,
sleeping berths, lounge, smoking room and promenade decks, her
comfort was comparable to that of an ocean liner.
After her initial test flights,
by October 1930, she was ready to leave for India and the Imperial
Conference. With the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thompson
of Cardington and most of the design team, she left on the night
of 4th October. It was at 2.09am on the morning of the 5th that
the R101 struck the ground near Beauvais, France. The project
was reviewed following the loss of the R101 as most of the design
team, the leading government sponsor, Lord Thompson of Cardington,
and some of the most experienced airship crews died in the crash.
Future: as at 1930 (R102, R103, R104)
Airship Programme 1931-33
With the new ships being tested,
plans were underway for the design concepts of the new class of
Airships. Funding had been agreed and the design specifications
drawn up. The budgets and plans had been agreed up to 1935 and
included the refurbishment of the R33 and R36 for future testing,
the R36 was to go Egypt to be tested in tropical climates. The
R 102, R103 and R104 had been planned and the concept specifications
showed that they would carry up to 150 passengers. At Cardington
the design team had already started plans for the next generation.
The R102 was to have a volume of 8,300,000 cubic feet which would
have made it comparable to the LZ129 "Hindenburg" which
was completed some 6 years later.
Designated "Project H"
(R102) had been agreed in the August of 1930, with a capacity
some 36% larger than the lengthened R101 was to be built at Cardington.
It was to be powered by 7 improved Tornado engines.
Discussions during 1929 and 1930 centred on a still larger ship
of 9,500,000 cubic feet capacity - the R103 but not yet designated.
As quoted by Sir Peter Masefield, "This ship would be capable
of regular operations with a non stop travel to Egypt with a substantial
payload. The ship would then move on with stops at Karachi, Rangoon
and Singapore to Australia. It was expected to reach westwards
to Montreal non stop in all weathers".
However is was agreed that Project H (R102) could carry out the
same duties being a smaller ship, if additional masts were built
for refuelling. Plans and land surveys were carried out at Malta
and Baghdad on the India route, and at Monkton, New Brunswick
on the Canadian route.
The future plans also included
the lengthening of the Cardington sheds, and the building of one
new shed capable of accommodating two ships side by side. An additional
mast would also have to be built so that the R100 and R101 could
run and operate services concurrently. This would also be backed
up by a mobile transporter tower and supported by a second transporter
tower at the Karachi base with it's own shed and mooring mast.
Recent research has confirmed that some 3 farms near Cape Town
in South Africa had already been purchased by the Air Ministry
with the intention to turn it in to an airfield with it's own
The single fare was to be
£150, being comparable with that charged by Imperial Airways
on its London to Delhi route. It was also agreed and plans were
underway, that the tickets would be issued in agreement with
a commercial travel agent to undertake the passenger administration
and distribution of tickets.
the successes of the R33 and
her sister ship the
R34, further investment in airships
was provided and saw the creation of the R36,
R38 and the R80.
Airships were now proving themselves as technically advanced
aircraft surpassing the aeroplane.