- R. 100 passing the village of Trios Pistole, located
at the mouth of the St Lawrence River. (Credit AHT
member Tom Raub)
R.100 passing Point
Wolfe Island, Ontario Canada (Credit AHT Member Tom
on the Montreal Mast
close up shot of the R.100 on the Motreal Mast. The
design differences can be seen clearly verses the
Following the completion of
the R101, the R.100 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 R.100 and R101. It 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
This plan later was adapted as part of the 1924 Imperial Air Communications
Scheme.In 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
The 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 R.100 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 R.100 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.
With Barnes Wallis using new
design techniques assisted by Nevil Shute Norway as his chief
calculator, the R.100 was designed as a unique and efficient craft.
Construction of the R.100 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 R.100 and R101 design teams, fuelled by comments
made by Nevil Shute Norway, but recent research is contradicting
the these views.As part of the original design concept, Barnes
Wallis had designed the R.100 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.
Arrangement of R.100 (click plan to enlarge)
Arrangement of Power Car (click plan to enlarge)
Since wind tunnel tests showed
that a 16-side transverse section had about the same drag as a
circular one, both R.100 and R101 used a smaller number of longitudinal
girders than previous airships in order to simplify stress calculations.
Even so, the calculations for the transverse frames required hand
computation that took two or three months to produce a solution
for each frame. The thoroughness of the stressing calculations
was a consequence of new Air Ministry criteria for the strengths
required of airships, formulated in response to the catastrophic
structural failure of R38 in 1921. However, fewer longitudinal
girders resulted in larger unsupported panels of fabric in the
Barnes Wallis created the frame of the airship using only 11 standardised
components. The 16 longitudinal girders were formed of three tubes
each, formed from strips of Duralumin wound into a helix and riveted
together. These connected 15 polygonal transverse frames, which
were held in shape by wire bracing connected to a central longitudinal
girder running the length of the ship. A further consequence
of the new rules for airframe stress design was that a new way
of harnessing the lifting force of the gasbags had to be found.
Wallis's solution to this problem later led to his innovative
geodesic airframe fuselage and wing design for the Wellesley,
Wellington and Windsor bombers.
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 thatshe would be able to fly in early of 1929. However construction
was hit by further strikes by fitters in 1929, and the R.100 was
not ready for shed trials until 3rd July 1929.
The elevators were aerodynamically
balanced but the rudders were unbalanced. When the designers learned
that R101 had been fitted with servo motors at a substantial cost
in weight and money they thought that they had made a mistake
and rechecked their calculations. They eventually concluded that
their calculations had been correct: when R.100 was flown the
controls proved both light and effective, and its control characteristics
were compared favourably with those of R101 by Nöel Atherstone,
First Officer of R101.
R.100 was built suspended
from the roof of its shed. The individual transverse frames were
assembled horizontally then lifted up and slung from roof-mounted
trackways before being slid into position and attached to the
adjacent frames by the longitudinal girders. The ship remained
suspended until the gasbags were inflated with hydrogen.
By summer 1929 the ship's
structure was nearly complete and her gasbags were inflated. Following
inflation of the gasbags, the outer covering of linen fabric painted
with aluminum aircraft dope was put in place, and she was completed
at the beginning of November. Lift and trim trials were carried
out on 11 November.
With the prototype completed
the R.100 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.
Competition 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.
It had originally been intended to design
special engines for R.100 which would be fuelled by hydrogen and
kerosene but after a years' work it was realised that the engine
would not be developed in time and it was decided to fit the Beardmore
Tornado diesel engine that was being developed for the Air Ministry
for installation in R101. However at a very early stage the Tornado
was judged unsuitable because of its weight and other problems.
Wallis finally settled on the use of six reconditioned Rolls-Royce
Condor petrol engines even though the fuel, with its lower flash
point, was considered to be a fire risk under tropical conditions.
The engines were contained in three gondolas, each with one engine
driving a 17 ft (5.18 m) diameter tractor propeller and a second
driving a 15 ft (4.57 m) diameter pusher propeller. The engines
driving the pusher propellers were also fitted with a gearbox
to provide reverse thrust for docking the airship
The 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 R.100
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
With all tests completed, on the morning
of 16th December, 1929 the R.100 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 home.
R.100 made her maiden flight
in the morning of 16 December 1929. After departing Howden at
07:53, she flew slowly to York then set course for the Royal Airship
Works at Cardington, Bedfordshire, running on five engines since
one of the engines had to be shut down because of a cracked water
jacket, and completing the mooring process at 13:40.
A second flight was made the next day, with the intention of making
a flight to London, but shortly after slipping the mast a strip
of fabric became detached from the lower fin, and the flight was
limited to a cruise around Bedfordshire to test control response,
lasting 6hr 29 min.
The following day, R.100 was taken from the mast to No.2 shed
at Cardington and work on modifying the wiring holding the cover
in place begun: this took until 11 January 1930.
During a test on 16 January
1930, R.100 achieved a speed of 81.5 mph. It was at speed a problem
with the outer covering became apparent: it tended to ripple and
flap excessively in the form of a standing wave. During a fourth
flight on 20 January cine film was taken of this phenomenon, which
occurred because of the large areas of unsupported fabric; it
is also clearly visible in some photographs.
A further short flight was
made on 20 January before an endurance flight, starting at 09:38
on 27 January when R.100 slipped the mast at Cardington and ending
at 15:26 on 29 January after more than 53 hours in the air. The
flight was down over the south west of England, and then down
over the Channel Islands, and return to Cardington.
Following this flight it was returned to the shed for work on
the cover to be carried out. At the same time the original reconditioned
Condor IIIA engines were replaced by six new Condor IIIBs and
some weight was eliminated by reducing the amount of passenger
accommodation. The work was complete by the end of April but on
24 April it was caught by a gust while being walked out of the
shed, damaging the tail surfaces. The wind prevented it being
replaced in the shed, so it was moored to the mast. It was not
possible to return it to the shed for repairs until the morning
of 27 April. Repairs took longer than expected, and R.100 remained
in the shed until 21 May, when it made a 21-hour flight intended
to test the new engine installation and modifications to the cover.
The flight this time was to the north of England and up to Hull
and her home town of Howden.
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 scale anomaly.
On return from testing the
outer cover and investigating the ripple, on a flight on 22nd
May 1930, the R.100 was on it's return leg of the trial, when
the officers were very surprised to receive a wireless message
from the Cardington base saying "I suppose you know you tail
is buckled?" The officers knew nothing of the sort.
The air pressures around the
hull had built up and the tip broke off. The faring behind the
last frame had buckled. It was thought that this was done during
a full speed test which the ship had undertaken for 10 minutes.
The R.100 landed safely at
Cardington mast in gusty winds, showers and sunshine, and then
was carefully let down to the ground and walked in to the shed.
On inspection in the shed showed that the conical section of light
alloy tubes had buckled and there was a discussion on how best
to repair it.
It was decided that the designers and engineers would trim the
tail, and replaced with the more traditional rounded tail, and
thus shortened the length of the ship by 15ft (4m
Some say that this detracted
from the streamlined shape of the ship, and changed it's beautiful
originally designed sleek looks.
A 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
See inside the R.100
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 R.100 could carry 100 passengers in a selection
of accommodations; an arrangement of 14 two-berth and 18 four-berth
cabins were available. With two sets of double height windows
in a curved shape on either side of the ship, gave light to two
sets of promenade decks on both sides of the passenger accommodation.
A gallery lead to the upper
deck cabins, which could overlook the lower promenade deck. The
dining room was internal to the ship, and could seat 56 passengers
in one sitting. The catering was undertaken in an electric kitchen
next to the dining room, where the food would passed through a
large window by the serving staff to the diners. More details
can be found on the Interiors
Canada really became involved
in the Imperial Airship Scheme during the 1926 Imperial Conference,
when Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, showing an unusual
amount of enthusiasm, pledged Canadas assistance to the
mother country. Patriotic duty was not the only thing he had in
mindKing was certainly counting on an increase in foreign
trade if the program came through. Ironically, of all the Dominions,
only Canada and South Africa, showed any inclination toward the
Airship Scheme; the Air Ministrys well-rehearsed presentation
had fallen somewhat flat, since Australia, New Zealand at this
stage, were not convinced of its value.
Despite problems at the House
of Commons, money was set aside for the construction of an airship
base, airport and mooring mast in eastern Canada. British experts
came over in May 1927 to choose a site; they visited a number
of locations in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, finally settling
on a piece of land on the south shore of Montreal, at St Hubert,
and officially announcing this decision in August 1927.
Work on the airfield began
almost immediately and St Huberts first airmail delivery
took place in November 1927. It was also during the summer of
1927 that the Air Ministry decided to send the R.100 to Canada,
and the R.101 to India. The mooring mast at St Hubert was a gigantic
structure, sixty metres high, which enclosed all the complex machinery
required for mooring, refuelling and servicing future airships
coming to Canada. Design work was done in Canada by the Department
of Public Works while Canadian Vickers of Montreal received the
building contract. To ensure proper handling, and at the request
of the British authorities, a small team from the Royal Canadian
Navy spent eighteen months training at Cardington.
Preparations were also made to handle the huge crowds, 600 000
people or more, which were expected to flock to see the R.100.
In anticipation, the Canadian National Railway (CNR) ran an extra
siding into St Hubert; elaborate traffic regulations were prepared
and published in the papers; special flights in and out of the
airport were duly planned; and a special camp was established
for the six hundred troops needed for traffic and crowd control.
Media coverage was on a scale never seen before in Canada; the
CNR, the Canadian Pacific Railway and other groups set up observation
posts in a number of places, in both Quebec City and Montreal.
It was agreed that bilingual official commentators would be on
hand, but only after a fair amount of pressure was applied by
some newspapers and Quebec Members of Parliament. The mooring
tower was finally completed in May 1930. The flight of the R.100
to Canada was originally scheduled to take place in May or June
1930, but was delayed. Unfortunately, one of the R.100s
fins was damaged in April 1930, and the ships tail cone
was damaged in May. By the time these were repaired, the event
had to wait until after the Canadian federal election, in late
On the 25th May, the R. 100
was put in to shed 1 for repairs to her tail, and during this
time the tail was rounded off and a loss of lenght of some 15ft,
reducing the ships original lenght from 709.5ft to
to 695ft. Also during this time in the shed, it was agreed to
save weight for the forthcoming Canada trip, that some of the
upper cabins had their bunks and fittings removed.
On 25th July,
the R.100 emerged from the shed showing the world her new, more
rounded tail design, and then was flown up to the Cardington mast.
Preparations were made for a 24 hour endurance flight to test
the outer cover, and also the handling of the ship with the new
tail design. The R.100 left the Cardington mast at 19:02pm that
evening, and flew out over the Midlands, then across Wales, and
out over the Irish Sea. The ship then turned south and made her
way over Cornwall and down to the Channel Islands of Guernsey
then turn north east and headed back up the English Channel and
across southern England, to return to Cardington on 26th July,
mooring on the Cardington mast at 19:18pm, a journey of some 24
hours and 16 minutes. The R. 100 had successfully passed the trial,
and preparations were now to be made for the trip to Canada.
details, with original R.100 footage kindly donated by Roger Dawson
taken by his Grandfather whilst on holiday in St Peter Port on
Guernsey, 26th July 1930.
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 R.100 was tasked with a trip to Canada,
successfully crossing the Atlantic to Montreal to the newly erected
The ship slipped the moorings from the Cardington mast at 02.48am
on the morning of 29th July 1930. The first two days crossing
were very smooth and the crew settled down in to a normal routine
of standard watches. As day 3 approached, the ship flew over the
Atlantic and headed down the Newfoundland coast.
more details, with our video of the Atlantic Crossing
The transatlantic passage
was smooth but the airship ran into difficulties over the St Lawrence
valley on a couple of occasions. Near lIle aux Coudres,
the R.100 was buffeted by shifting winds like never before. A
number of very large tears appeared on three fins and the engines
had to be stopped for eight hours so that repairs could be made.
The people of Quebec City, forty thousand or more, cheered and
waved as the airship slowly flew overhead.
A second incident occurred
closer to Montreal as the R.100 flew through storm clouds, and
very strong updrafts caused more damage to the fabric of the fins.
The R.100 finally arrived
at the Montreal mast, on 1st August at 05.37am, after a voyage
of some 78 hours and 49 minutes; a journey of 3,364 miles.
Temporary repairs were made
in flight and then the cover was replaced at the mast at Montreal.
The best definition of how
the airship was moored was described in the Barry Countryman book
"R.100 in Canada" 1982
streaks of dawn showing in the eastern sky the R.100 [on her first
landing in Canada] swung in narrowing circles about the St Hubert
field. A few minutes before 5 oclock she turned toward the
mooring mast. On the passenger platform stood Lieutenant Commander
Pressey, the landing officer, and his assistant at the cabinet
controlling all the mooring machinery The R.100 had to
valve little hydrogen, having collected almost 5 tons of rain
water in her ballast bags. As she slowly approached the mast head
from the east at a height of about 500 feet, her 900 foot long
mooring cable snaked down in swinging loops to the ground. Her
aft engines were put in reverse. Presseys 14 men, 3 of whom
watched the winch drums, allowed the wire to discharge any static
electricity in order to avoid a severe shock. With not
a breath of wind the main wire was secured by three of the ground
crew and spliced to the ¾ inch cable which had been led
from the top of the tower through the mooring arm to a spot determined
by the direction of the wind airships approached a mast
head to wind. The ground crew signalled to the ship and the tower.
As the engines eased off a little more the cable became taut.
At 5:13 am, as the variable speed, electro-hydraulic winch
was slowly reeling in the wire the airship dropped her first water
ballast from frame 3 in the bow to keep an even keel. The
750 foot starboard yaw guy was paid out 4 minutes later, coupled
with a yaw winch cable from the base of the tower and carried
to a snatch block on one of the 24 concrete blocks spaced at 15º
intervals on the circumference of a circle of 750 foot radius.
The port yaw guy dropped and was seized by the waiting
ground crew and coupled to the masts second yaw cable. The
last engine stopped at 5:25 am, but the ship continued to release
ballast, some of the water drenching the ground crew and those
on the passenger and searchlight platforms. Dungareed mechanics
climbed out of the silent engine cars as the ships dew drop
neared the mooring cup. Pressey called Ship secure
at 5:37 am Friday, August 1 as the ram contracted and locked,
allowing the airship to swing freely. The mooring in a
record 27 minutes versus 35 minutes at Cardington was a signal
for rolling cheers from early risers and those who had remained
all night. (Countryman, 1982:58-62)
Upon its arrival, Montreal
simply went wild; there were dozens of VIPs on hand,and a huge
crowd. Companies used the visit to advertize everything from beerto
cigarettes; there were signs everywhere, not to mention special
R.100 songs,in both English and French. The forty-sixbynine-metre
sign erected by the SunLife Insurance Company was by far the biggest.
Two dozen aircraft transported
sightseers by the hundreds. According to some estimates, more
than one million people came to see the R.100 at St Hubert; three
thousand actually had a chance to tour the airship, many of them
borrowing souvenirs along the way. The visit may have
been a rare pleasure, but the half-metre gap between the airshipsgangway
and the towers platform gave quite a scare to many visitors.
The crew were deemed heroes
for this voyage.
The crew enjoyed banquets and receptions in their honour. There
were banquets too, ten or so in all, in Montreal and Toronto,
Burney and Air Ministry representatives extolled the virtues of
airship travel, and greater Imperial co-operation. The two sides
did not always see eye to eye; the British officials promoted
the Air Ministrys ideas, while Burney put forward his own.
All offers of help by the U.S. Navy were politely but decisively
turned down by the federal authorities;
this was, after all, Canadas day. New fabric panels for
the damaged fins were prepared by Canadian Vickers, which also
did some interior repair work.
It was seen that this trip
would be the start of many crossings and the start of commercial
operations. On 13th August 1930 the R.100 was required to go on
a "local" flight where it was received excitedly by
all the towns she crossed over. Flights over southern Ontario,
Quebec and the Eastern Townships had been planned from the start,
but had to be postponed and modified due to the damage to the
At 6.15pm on the evening of
10 August, the R.100 left with a number of senior military officers,
government officials and one journalist, eighteen people in all.
During the next twenty-six hours, it flew over Ottawa, southern
Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula and most notably Toronto, where
the R.100 caused horrendous traffic jams
The route it covered Ottowa-Hull,
Kingston, Peterborough, Oshawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls, St Catharines,
Hamilton, Burlington, Garnanoque, Prescot, Cornwall and Montreal.
Everything worked perfectly,
until the reduction gear of one of the engines failed just before
mooring, and it is suspected that some damaged gearing flew in
to the path of the spinning propellor, and caused damage to the
outer cover and knocking a fist size hole into a 4" transverse
tube, and bending it as well. The engine was quickly closed down,
and propellor held in place by it's brake.
Repairs could not be made
since the special derrick needed to hoist the engine had been
left in England; the R.100 had to fly home on five engines instead
of six. The R.100 started back to England on 13 August, as thousands
cheered it on; many were expecting to see it return within a few
On 16th August 1930 R.100 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. Some 19 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. This mean the lack
of hot food and so only cold meals could be served. Some dairies
of the crew and journalists noticed this discomfort for 3 days.
detailed track of the R.100 return to Cardington
On her return to Cardington
there was less of a public reception, however some 200 cars and
coaches turned up. The crews were congratulated by Lord Thompson
when they decended the mast. On mooring, the new watch was formed
of members of the R101 crew, under the charge of Grabby Atherstone.
Early the next moorning, on Sunday 17th August, a landing party
was assembled and the R.100 was flown from the mast, to the ground.
The ship was then carefully 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 R.100 1931-32
Not much was written about
the R.100 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.
The R.100 was put back in
the hangar 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 R.100 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 required. It had been decided
that after the refit and repairs that a return flight to Canada
to be prepared for in early 1931.
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 flights.
The R.100 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 R.100.
Some of the original re-design
ideas had been started in August of 1930. Documents and plans
show that progress was being made in making changes to the R.100,
to again alow more lift. One of the main ideas was to remove the
upper deck of the passenger accommodation, remove the upper deck
wooden flooring and wood pannelling, then having some of the accommodation
moved to an extended external cabing behind the control car. With
some of the weight saving, plus allowing the gasbag to be enlarged
above the passenger accommodation, this would gain an extra 9.25
tons. in lift.
It was hoped that by placing
some of the car externally to the ship, then this may have given
more room in the gasbag which was immediatly above the passenger
accommodation. This would have also allowed more disposable lift
suitable for more commercial operations. By removing the large
passenger areas and reviewing the use of the R.100, it was seen
that the new class of ship, the R102 class be deemed more suitable
for carrying the large number of passengers as orignally planned
in the R.100 and R101.
It was also planned that the R102 was also to have some of the
passenger accommodation protude from below the main hull, and
so this could have been seen as early concepts for part of the
planned external smoking lounge for the R102. The passenger capacity
of the R102 was deemed to be a realistic 50 passengers and so
the potential reduction in cabin numbers and configuration on
the revised R.100 would have been realistic in line with the plans
In 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
- The flying Aircraft Carrier
Over the Spring and Summer
of 1931, the staff at the Royal Airship works still continued
to maintain and monitor the ship. Recent documents have been uncovered
which show the condition of the ship, plus the costs involved
in making good for further flights.
Plans in December 1930 were
also being drawn up for the R.100 to not only have the re-arrangement
of the passenger accommodation, but also to have two hatches,
winches and suspension frames attached from the main corridor
for up to 4 Tiger Moth aircraft to be attached.
Aeroplane Carrying Concept Document - click to enlarge
We know that there had been
successful trials with the R26 and the R33 as aerial aircraft
carriers, and the experimental work with the R33 was being considered
to be transferred to the R.100. Plans were drawn up, and the idea
that the adjustments would be ready for the RAF Hendon display
The R.100 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.
After 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 transcript from Hansard
for 21st December 1931:
in the House of Commons. On Wednesday, December 2nd 1931.
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air in the House of Commons
to give an estimate of the annual cost of preserving the framework
of R.l00 on a "care and maintenance" basis had this
course been preferred to selling the framework as scrap
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Sir Philip Sassoon):
It is estimated that the cost of material and labour necessary
for preserving the framework of R.100 on a "care and maintenance"
basis would have been approximately £1,000 per annum in
direct charges. This however, makes no allowance for the occupation
of the airship shed and for other overhead charges of the Royal
asked the Under-Secretary of State for Air what use it is proposed
to make of the houses, offices, hangars, workshops and hydrogen-producing
plant at Cardington; and what annual outlay their maintenance
is likely to involve?
Sir P. Sassoon:
Some of the houses will be occupied by the care and maintenance
party and the remainder will be let to suitable applicants for
housing accommodation. The hydrogen-producing plant will be closed
down, the use to be made of the: offices, hangars and workshops
no longer required for airship purposes or for the care and maintenance
party, is still under consideration.
The annual cost of maintenance cannot therefore be exactly stated
at present: it will probably be in the neighbourhood of £4,000.
Capt. Sir William Brass:
Can the right lion. Member say whether the hydrogen plant will
be kept or sold?
Sir P. Sassoon:
It is being kept. The cost of maintaining the hydrogen plant in
its present condition is included in the figure of £4,000.
The R.100 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 It was
originally £627.00, but £100 was deducted, when the
final ring section to be retained for testing, was excluded -
price £527.00 paid by Elton Levy & Co. Ltd., 18 St Thomas
Street, London Bridge. 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.
The transcript from an
article of a visit during the scrapping reported in Flight Magazine
December 11th 1931
MEMORIES of many pleasant visits to
Pulham. Howden and Cardington were awakened by the journey to
the Royal Airship Works on Thursday. December 3rd to witness the
destruction of R.100 by the workmen of Messrs. Elton, Levy &
All previous visits to airship stations were characterised by
a spirit of hope and a band of enthusiasts full of belief in their
own craft of the air, and extremely convincing in the arguments
by which they supported their belief, always made the visitor
very welcome, especially if that said visitor was prepared to
take an intelligent interest in the subject of airships. A more
delightful set of hosts it would be impossible to imagine, and
the arguments which they used, if still not proved by practice,
are still unrefuted.
lt was true that on those visits one sometimes had to say good-bye
to a particular airship which had made a name, but had outlived
its usefulness. Gallant old R.33 comes first to the mind ; and
the wisdom of breaking her up when we had no other airship in
which to train and practise crews is still in question. Regret
was felt too, when the doom of R.36, with her passenger saloon,
was pronounced. No tears were shed over the un?nished framework
of R.37, or the interesting little R.80, or the two surrendered
Zeppelins, all of which went to the airship knackers. In those
days, one was always looking forward to something bigger and more
of the R.100 being dismantled, showing 1931 experimental
'padding' of transverse ring supporting wires, to avoid
previous gasbag 'nipping' problems.
nose of the R.100 being lowered to the ground
The experimental covers for the central axial girder disc
and transverse ring support wires fitted during June 1931
- but never used. An detached engine car lies on it's side
at the right.
R.100 seemed to fulfil those
expectations. It is true that she was experimental, and at the
utmost only pointed the way to better things; but still she did
fly the Atlantic twice with ease, and she survived the dreaded
ordeal of a storm with violent rising air currents. She accomplished
a good deal, and at the same time she asked a lot of questions,
which could only be answered by further trial and experiment.
Admittedly the nation is too
poor at the moment to pursue those investigations, but one wonders,
is it really so poor that it could not have afforded a small number
of men to keep the framework in order until such time as the experiences
of Germany and the United States; should have enabled us to decide
definitely whether it would be worthwhile to carry on or to close
down? Is the nation so poor that the price received for some 50
or 60 tons of scrap duralumin was a consideration suffcient to
deprive the future of the chance of making a free decision?
As I entered the shed at Cardington last Thursday the sound of
hammers at work came to my ears. Then, passing through the offices
into the main shed, the skeleton of the great airship met my eyes.
The breakers had been at work for a week, (w/com. 23/11/1931.
- almost a year after the expiry of the original contract. RAA)
and they had already made considerable havoc. The main longitudinals
and transverse rings were still in place, slung from the roof.
Wooden props supported the passengers' coach and the control car.
The passenger quarters were being rapidly dismantled. The gangway
from the nose to the quarters had been removed intact. Mr. Elton,
with whom I travelled down from London, said that there might
be some use found for that, and it would be a pity to break it
up. l was surprised to and what a pleasant companion Mr. Elton
I had expected to find him a sort of Jack Ketch; but he seems
to consider his vocation in life is the benefcent one of preventing
waste. He had many interesting stories to tell of how he had retrieved
metal from all sorts of unlikely places, where others thought
that it would be no good for anything, and had made it available
for the further service of mankind. I suppose that it had never
occurred to him that anyone might have a sentimental affection
for R.100 and feel it a desecration to see the axes at work on
her once beautiful duralumin structure.
He reckoned that the work of converting the ship to scrap would
take some three months. The bays would be lowered one at a time
to the floor, and broken up so far as axe and saw and blow-lamp
could accomplish it. He thought that a steam roller would have
to be used to flatten out the main girders before they could be
At one side of the shed the beds, kitchen equipment, tables. etc.,
were all neatly stacked. The beds have only three legs apiece,
the framework itself having supported the fourth corner. They
are light and strong, and yachtsmen may find them a good investment.
I was rather taken by a little ladder, used. I suppose, for climbing
into the upper bunks, which would be an acquisition to, say, a
library. Some sections of the framework may be disposed of intact,
and there have been inquiries for sections of certain dimensions.
One can imagine that some sections might serve as useful bridging
material for surveyors or explorers, perhaps in Africa, who need
lightness combined with strength. Two of the ?ns were already
on the ?oor, and for a while I watched a workman with a heavy
axe cutting the lighter webbing awav from the girders.
But I found the sight too brutal. and speedily turned away. Talk
about breaking a butterfly on the wheel! One bay, I think it is
No. 11 aft of the centre, is to be kept for experiment.
central ring of the R.100 was retained, and bolted to the
rear of shed 1 door. It was kept for testing purposes, and
remained in place until 1937. This photo was taken from
the 1937 report.
up of spider joint on final central ring for testing 1937
arrangement close up
up details showing testing work platforms next to framework
On each side of it were large
discs of fabric connected by radial strips of fabric to the transverse
rings. Sqd. Ldr. Nixon explained to me that those discs were an
experiment to prevent sections of the gas bag from wrapping round
the wires. as they sometimes were inclined to do. Various experiments
were in progress when the work was stopped. Outside the shed was
a large frame covered with a panel of fabric. Underneath the fabric
ran a number of wires, to which the fabric was attached at various
points by pieces of cord.
The cords were secured to
the fabric by various methods. This represented some experimental
alternatives to the original method of securing the cover to the
framework, which had been criticised a good deal, and which had,
as a matter of fact, led to a good deal of rain getting inside
the cover. This panel had been out in all weathers for several
months, and none of the points at which the cords were attached
to it had leaked at all. I remarked that this showed how much
more experiment was desirable, and the reply was: " that
is just where R.100 would have come in so useful."
I returned to the shed, in time to see the nose section of the
ship lowered to the ground. The transverse had been disconnected
from the longitudinals. The supporting ropes, which passed over
pulleys in the roof and were secured to weights on the ?oor were
loosened, and the whole section came to the ground with a grinding
noise which re-echoed fearsomely through the vast shed. The hatch
by which crew and passengers used to embark and disembark was
still covered with fabric, and it hung limply down like the mouth
of a dead creature until the nose section rolled forward on the
floor, and forced the hatch to shut. I have been in dissecting
rooms more than once, but I dislike them. I was glad to leave
the shed and the horrid work that is going on inside it.
Cardington is to be reduced to a "care and maintenance"
basis; but those in charge will care for the place and will maintain
the sheds, the mast, and hydrogen plant, etc... in good condition.
I believe that the mooring tower will be used for experiments
with kite balloons. So, if the results of the present work on
airships that is going on in Germany and the United States should
have the effect of deciding us to resume airship work when out
national pocket is a little less empty, the Royal Airship Works
will be ready to use-.
We shall not have an airship,
and we shall not have a crew in training. The price of the scrap
duralumin will have been spent---swallowed up in the vast maw
of our national expenditure. So if, for example, the Admiralty
clamours for airship cruisers as a great measure of efficiency
and economy (as it seems almost certain that they would be), we
shall have to start building and training afresh, possibly under
foreign guidance, and certainly at vast expense.
However, R.100 is now spilt
milk, and to shed tears over its fate would be almost as profitless
as to hope to pay our national debt by selling scrap duralumin.