Built - No.25, R29 and R33 R39 (incomplete)
In 1913, a site had been
purchased by Armstrong Whitworth, the forth constructor who,
like Beardmore, Shorts, and Vickers, had competed for Government
contracts to build rigid airships.
The site was located
near Selby in Yorkshire, and was intended to be set up as
a base of all of its aviation activities, including
the building of aeroplanes. Although the site was seen as
remote, being away from main areas of manufacture and shipyards,
which were along the densely populated River Tyne, the site
chosen was closer to the mainline railway network.
During the First World
War, some consideration was given to building and housing
airships in dry docks, enclosed with a roof, or even tunnels
within hillsides. These approaches were not taken seriously
and Armstrong Whitworth planned for housing the airships
by conventional means, in a purpose built shed.
A large airship shed
was erected on land close to the River Ouse, in 1913. Like
all other airship projects at the time, it was partly funded
by the Treasury. The main contractor for the building of
the shed was awarded to A.J.Main & Co. and a short branch
line was constructed from the mainline, Doncaster to Selby
some future planning was undertaken and it was agreed that
the shed should already be enlarged, so that it would meet
the future requirements of airships. By the end of 1916,
a 700ft airship shed was nearing
During the Spring of
1917, the first Rigid airship was taking construction, the
No. 25. Workers from the Vickers Barrow-in-Furness site
were sent to assist with the construction of the ship. Armstrong
Whitworth transported the components from their works in
A railway siding had
been placed next to the shed for the ease of transfer of
the components. In this time, the hydrogen plant was also
The sheds location
was in the middle of a wood, and although this may sound
very curious, as all existing airship sheds had been sited
in open flat land. The reason for this siting was that the
trees would act as natural windbreaks, however it was later
decided to fell the trees around the shed and artificial
windbreaks were put in place.
The construction works
at Barlow, being a twin shed, could construct two ships
at a time. By the time the No.25 had made its first
flight in the end of 1917, the R29 was taking shape under
construction next to it. The R29 took flight not long after
on 29th May 1918, and delivered in June 1918 to East Fortune
Shed under construction 1916 The wood can been seen either
side of the shed, the idea being that the trees would act
as a windbreak.
As soon as the No.25
had vacated the space, the next ship, designated the R33,
was commenced in its place. As sister ship, the R35,
was almost completed by the time the Armistice was signed
in November 1918. Armstrong Whitworth had hopes that there
would still be a market for airships, and plans were underway
to complete a second large shed at Barlow. Work continued
on the R33, and in 1919, it was completed and walked out
of the shed.
A plan had been proposed
that the R33 make a trip to Newfoundland in America, from
Barlow, however the Admiralty intervened, as it didnt
want the R33 to return to the Barlow site, as it was not
classed as an operational airship station, but a constructional
site. It was also a conflict of interest as the R34 was
about to embark on its flight across the Atlantic.
In April 1920, the R33 was flown to Pulham, and carried
out its long and successful life from the Pulham station.
The R33 was the last
airship to be completed at Barlow. Despite the successes
and speed of construction of airships during the war, the
only follow on order for Armstrong Whitworth was for the
R39, an Admiralty A Class ship. With the R33 completing
her flight worthiness trials in March 1919, the shed was
vacated and so the construction of the R39 could begin.
It was later on following
the Armistice, that the Government later decided to cancel
the order for the Admiralty A Class ships, and so the order
for the R39 was cancelled, however some £90,000 (£4m
2019) had aldready been spent on the construction of the
Later in 1919, the
workers received notice of redundancy due to the fact that
there were no further orders to fulfil.
The shed was later dismantled
later in the 1920s, and without the extension of the
shed, it would not have fitted the plans for the next generation
The Hydrogen plant (silcol process)
was sold and moved to the refurbished Howden site when the
Airship Guarantee Company took over the Howden site in 1924
Despite a few further
schemes to use on the site, nothing came to fruition. The
site today is part of the Drax Power station site, and part
forms a nature reserve.
Barlow shed and the R33 before being launched
R33 emerging from the Barlow shed, the size of the shed can
be seen clearly.