It was thought that
the British airship died following the loss of the R101
and dismantling of the R100. Various plans were offered
to revive the airship, however it was not until almost exactly
50 years later did a new breed of British airship take to
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 Munk/Wood partnership was free to design and
build their own airship prototype, albeit on a modest scale.
The first ship, the
AD 500 flew made it's
maiden voyage on 3rd February 1979, however whilst moored
out a month later, 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
The disaster finished
off the Aerospace Developments company, 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 Skyship 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
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 Vertical Take Off and Landing (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 as well as focusing
thrust from the propellors.
The influence of Roger Munk's 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
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
The nose of the gondola
offered a spectacular view for the pilots who could see
almost 180 degrees unimpeded visability 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.
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
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
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.
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
500 G-B1HN was accretive from September 1981 to 27th
March 1987 and the first airship to hold a public
transport Certificate of Aviation, operated the first
Skycruise fare paying passenger flights over London
from Cardington and later Leavesdon. G-B1HN was wrecked
in spectacular fashion on 27th March 1987 in a gale
when the fixed mooring mast broke under the strain,
and destroying the envelope. G-B1HN is most well known
for being used in the James Bond film A View
to a Kill as the villain Zorins vehicle
of choice, and also used on BBCs Blue Peter
and Tomorrows World.
March 1987 deflated when storm at Cardington snapped
the mast. Not rebuilt
in Canada. Sent to UK for conversion to HL 1988.
500HL G-SKSB was originally built as a Skyship 500
in the Wardair Hanger in Toronto by LTA Systems (on
of a number of shell companies owned by Roger Munk)
and moved to the Airship Industries USA base in a
rented part of a former US Navy shed for rigid airships
at Weeksville NC near Elizabeth City. On 17th March
1985 it suffered a structural failure 1,000ft over
Kansas when the leading edge spar of the port elevator
failed and the elevator, still connected with control
cables attached, fell off. It swung down slashing
the rip stop envelope causing a rapid
descent and severely damaging the gondola when it
hit the ground despite full power up vector of the
G-SKSB Was contracted to Fuji Film during 1984 and
to this end the envelope was painted in the Fuji livery
which appeared differently on each side and as the
green stripe tapered as you read the logo, when viewed
from the front the port and starboard green stripes
ended up at different levels and were joined by an
angled stripe across the nosecone.
the inflight failure the ship was repaired and a new
envelope was fitted at the Weeksville base, after
which it flew for a year in the USA, before bing deflated
and retuned to Slingsby for modifications to 500HL
standard. It was used for certification of the HL
series but due to CAA modification requirements for
strengthened internal suspension cables, only gained
an Aerial Work Certification of Airworthiness and
was used for night sign and other trials at Cardington,
until the company closed and never flew commercially.
500 G-SKSE registered in Japan as JA 1003 was ssembled
in a shipyard in Tokyo for Japan Airship services
the principle pilots being Brian Collins and Dave
Burns tasked with training the Japanese pilots and
starting commercial operations.
in training accident March 1988.
in USA. Converted to HL in June 1990. Crashed in Argentina
22nd November 1996.
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
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