It was in 1971 that
a company formed, named Aerospace Developments, a partnership
of an airship enthusiast, John Wood, and Roger Munk, naval
architects. Later on in that eyar, the company was awarded
a study by the Shell Oil company to develop a large rigid
airship capable of transporting pressurised natural gas.
However in 1974, after
a major budget review arising from the sharp escalation
of oil prices, Shell resolved to cut back their long term
research and developement expenditure, and accordingly the
airship gas transporter project was shelved. As a result
of this the Monk/Wood partnership was free to design and
build their own airship prototype, albeit on a modest scale.
The first ship, the
AD 500 flew 3rd February 1979, but whilst moored out a gale
blew on 8th March in the early hours, and trying to get
the prototype ship, back in to the shed, a decision was
made to pull the rip chord on the envelope. The disaster
finished off Aerospace Developments, but with the promise
of new funds, the company reformed as Airship Developments
the AD500 which was to be come the prototype for a successful
series of Skyship 500's took shape on the drawing board
back in 1976. Airship Developments, the company formed for
the venture, later Airship Industries, went on to create
a very successful fleet of multi-role airships.
The AD 500 was seen
as a modest sized airship of only 182,000cft. From the outset
of the project, the designers were to incorporate the most
modern materials wherever possible where technology could
One of the main and most important features of the new ship
was the propulsion system. The designers carried an idea which
had been utilised in the earliest days of the airship programme,
the use of vectored thrust engines. The
propellors were in fact ducted fans, tilted in order to drive
the airship upwards or downwards; a principle very similar
to the Harrier Jump Jet V/STOL applies to maximum advantage.
The propulsion ducts allowed the units to swivel through 200
degrees rotation allowing full maneuverability of the ship.
Unlike previous airship designs, by putting the fans in to
"cowels" this gives the advantage of low propellor noise and
improved safety to passengers boarding the ship.
The influence of Roger Monks maritime background would
be seen in the design of the large gondola. This was constructed
of kevlar, making it a giant reinforced plastic shell, being
not only sturdy but also offering design flexibility, ease
of manufacture and also very low maintenance. The
gondola itself is suspended from the top of the envelope by
a fail safe system of 14 kevlar suspension cables and a sheer
collar for horizontal restraint. The load of the gondola is
spread along four arched parabolic load curtains bonded to
the top of the envelope. The layout of the gondola is for
maximum comfort with the skyship 500 able to carry 9 passengers
and 3 crew. The
large windows could be opened and offered spectacular views
for those who enjoyed the flights. The nose of the gondola
offered a spectacular view for the pilots who could see almost
180 degrees unimpeded disability by the large windscreen.
Even though the ship has 2 seats in the cockpit, the Skyship
was developed for one pilot operation. The control is offered
by twin control yokes which operate all of the control surfaces,
as there are no rudder pedals as in conventional aircraft.
The engines are operated by single lever control mounted on
a central control console.
By March 1978 all the major components had been assembled
in the No1. hanger at Cardington, a fitting place for the
rebirth of the airship as it was the same hanger which had
assembled the R101 some 50 years earlier. The construction
of the ship did not go without it's problems and the initial
launch of the ship had to be set back. A buyer had also been
found for the new product and so it was important that the
new airship prove it's viability.
The prototype, the AD500 was first flown on 3rd February 1979.
Using vectored thrust and ducted engines, this enhanced the
ships maneuverability, and hence did away with the need for
a large and expensive ground handling crew. The prototype
was short lived as disaster struck the AD500 on 8th March
1979, when moored out at Cardington a storm blew up and the
crew were unable to take the ship in to the shed. It was agreed
that the emergency rip cord be used to deflate the ship before
it would be totally destroyed.
The loss of the AD 500
caused the financial collapse of Aerospace Developments
as a company, however the ship, G-BECE was eminently repairable.
However, over the next two years, the company, through a
merger with Major Malcolm Wren's Thermoskyships company,
and and subsequent de-merger, the creation of the company
known as Airship Industries, the design crew were back together.
The team used the AD 500 prototype design to create the
Skyship 500 series. All was not lost, having proved itself
a success, orders for the ship soon came in and the first
of the new Skyship 500ís were produced.
1980's A Decade of Success
In the following years
1981-1990, six Skyship 500 series ships were built. The
hub of activities were based at the Cardington No.1 Hangar,
whereby it was often common to see Skyships in a series
of production and delivery.
The ships were used worldwide not only for advertising but
for security and passenger skycruises over the major cities.
In 1983 the first ever charter of an Airship was arranged
and the sponsor of the ship was Fuji. The ship was delivered
in March 1984 and in July of that year, the company made
it's first outright sale of a ship to Japan Airship Services,
a division of Japan AirLines. Later another sale was made
to JAS, the Korean Government and one to Tokyo Metropolitan
Police for internal security.
Later on in 1984 Los Angles Olympics was a true showcase
for the ship, being involved in the opening ceremony. The
Fuji chartered ship had the words Welcome emblazoned on
it's side. Later on in that year the use of the same ship,
GBIHN was shown to full effect in the hit James Bond film
A View to a Kill.
By mid 1988 there were 5 skyship 500's in operation throughout
the world. In the latter part of the 1980's the Airship
Industries Skyships and Skycruise programme had been immensely
popular. Not just showing that airships were flying billboards,
but for a schedules passenger flight programme over the
major cities of the world.
The 1987 Skycruise programme
was offering a schedule of 700 flights in a season (from
March to October) and the popularity was so high for the
seats on the airships, that they all flights were sold out
within 72 hours.
Originally running flights
from Cardington, the popularity grew so that a new base
of operations was needed for passenger specific trips, as
the flights over London were hugely popular and sold out
for weeks. Airship Industries decided on a new passenger
operation base and a SkyCruise termial was set up on the
old Handly Page aerodrome, situated inbetween south of St
Albans and north of Radlett in Hertfordshire.
The Skyship 500 model was
see as the proving model in the Airship Industries fleet and
was immensely popular. Multiple times per season, the advertising
livery could be changed with Airship Industries offering monthly
advertising contracts on the side of the ships.
3rd February 1979
as the prototype AD 500, carried out a sucessful test
flight, but after the second flight, whislst attached
to the mobile mast-head / nose cone failed on in high
winds March 1979. Deflated. Not rebuilt.
Gondola and engines are at the South Yorkshire Aircraft
Museum "viewable but stored outside pending restoration"
28th September 1981
March 1987 deflated when storm at Cardington snapped
the mast. Not rebuilt
in Canada. Sent to UK for conversion to HL 1988.
Damaged by elevator hinge failure in cruise, 17th May
Rebuilt with new envelope. Transferred to UK 1987 for
conversion to HL.
in Japan. Lost in training accident March 1988.
in USA. Converted to HL in June 1990. Crashed in Argentina
22nd November 1996.
The Skyship range was enhanced with the addition of the 500
- HL (heavy lift) series whereby a Skyship 500 gondola
was attached to a larger Skyship 600 envelope. This had the
added advantage of offering up o 30% more lift for the airship
with no additional weight costs.