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Airship Sheds Location: South West London
Country: United Kingdom Location: Farnborough
Situated some 30 miles south west of the capital, Farnborough was already the home of army flying with the siting of the Farnborough Balloon Factory. The site was later renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory from May 1912.

The first military airship named Nulli Secundus ("Second to None") was taking shape as early as 1905, in the first airship shed which was completed in the same year. The ship was not ready to fly for another two years, with it's inaugural flight on 10th September 1907. The first flight was launched from Farnborough common, not far from the Military Balloon Factory.

However, the flight which was planned to be over the capital was short-lived, as the airship was forced to land at Crystal Palace, which was an impressive 30 miles from Farnborough and only 3 miles short of central London. The ship was forced down by strong winds, where it was seriously damaged by the wind. The ship was later taken back to Farnborough, to be rebuilt, and humorously renamed "Nulli Secundus II" (Second to None, the second!).

Two more ships, the "Baby", a smaller sized non rigid airship, named after it's smaller size, took to the skies in 11th May 1909. The ship performed poorly, and was rebuilt with a larger envelope.

It was renamed "Beta" and in June 1910, undertook a successful night flight over the capital. Again in 1910, Beta took part in Army exercises and during this time, during one of it's flights, it stayed aloft for almost eight hours.

Farnbrough also was home to the production of the Army's third airship, Gamma, and like Beta, made it's first successful flight in 1910.

With financial support from the newspaper, The Morning Post, which ran a campaign to raise funds to boost the British airship fleet, enough money was raised for a new shed at Farnborough.

The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington was employed to build new shed to house the Lebaudy airship, which was purchased by the Morning Post. The shed was a steel framed structure with a vaulted roof, and two bands of glazing to give light.

The shed itself was painted white, which made it very easy for airship crews to be able to spot from a distance. In the early part of the 20th century, and with aviation in it's infancy, navigation was by compass and also line of sight, so a white shed would have been a marker for the crews to see.

The Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company went on to win the contracts for many more of Britain's airship sheds. The Lebaudy airship would have easily fitted in the new Farnborough shed, however the French builders of the airship omitted to tell the British War Office, that they had increased the height of the new ship by 10ft in height.

On 26th October 1910, the Lebaudy arrived at Farnborough after a non stop flight from Paris. The handling party was able to haul the ship down and began maneuvering the ship in to the shed. In doing so and confusion arose as to the instructions to the handling party, and the top of the envelope was torn on the edge of the new building, and the envelope deflated. Once repaired the ship only made one more flight, when disaster stuck again on landing. The passengers on board sustained minor injuries but no fatalities. The Lebaudy never flew again.


In 1912, the Beta shed was extended to double it's original length, and the shed enjoyed a long life right up until the 1960's when it was finally demoished. A smaller "portable" shed was erected that year, again the contract going to the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company. Fifty men erected a lattice of frames which were completed covered in heavy canvas sections.

Due to it's lightness, the shed was vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Not long after it was erected, it was agreed that it should be dismantled and a stronger structure should be put in it's place. The "C Shed" was erected on the same ground as the original canvas shed.The portable canvas shed was re-errected beside the new C Shed.


As the emphasis moved from balloons to aeroplanes,the Balloon Factory became the Army Aircraft Factory April 1911.The Royal Flying Corps was formed on 13th May 1912,and with it,the first Squadron ,No 1 Sq, was formed.Throughout WW1 the establishment,by now renamed the Royal Aircraft Factory,produced and repaired hundreds of aircraft for the Royal Flying Corps.

As 1913 drew to a close, the factory originated the Inspection Methods for Aircraft & Accessories and on 1 January 1914, the Navy and Military Airship Section were amalgamated, the Admiralty taking over the military airships and equipment from the Army, signaling the end of the Airship phase at Farnborough.

Midway through the First World War, in August 1916 the Annual Report of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics recorded the work at Farnborough, with suitable
brevity considering the country was at war as:

i) Full scale research by experiment and observation of aeroplanes in flight as well as wind-tunnel tests on scale models.
ii) Aerodynamic tests to streamline wires, demonstrating that the resistance of ‘Raf-wires’, which were a simple, symmetrical
ellipse, was so little greater than wires of true streamline form that their universal adoption was recommended.
iii) The design and development of aircraft instruments and of bomb sight.
iv) The design and development of wireless sets
v) The design and development of variable pitch airscrews and their testing by means of the newly-constructed 70 mph
Whirling Arm.
vi) Experiments with fabrics and dopes.
vii) Testing of all metals used in aircraft construction.
viii) The design and construction of new experimental aircraft based upon new knowledge and devices.
ix) Special tests on fuels, oils, magnetos and spark plugs.

At the end of the First World War, 1st April 1918 the Royal Flying Corps became the Royal Air Force,and the Royal Aircraft Factory was renamed the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) to avoid confusion with the Royal Air Force (RAF).This was the starting point of some 70 years of aircraft research and experimental work which has made Farnborough world famous.

In the period from 1914 -18, the Factory had built some 509 aircraft, some 85% as production aircraft for the RFC, which included 24 Handley Page HP 0/400 bombers in 1918. In comparison, between 1911 and the end of 1913 the Factory produced only 24 aircraft, all of them experimental, the largest number being the BE2 type

During World War 2, the hard runways, which had been extended several times,were again extended, and in the 60s the main runway was added to yet again. The Farnborough site became the centre for excellence in experimental aircraft and research, using the high speed wind tunnels and high pressure technologies, to supersonic levels.

The termination of the war brought about a considerable reduction in commitments, particularly the urgent day-to-day kinds that characterised the war period. Also the change over to new policies, such as turbine aero engines and rocket aircraft and guided weapons, led to a period of policy reorientation.

In 1948, the site was the of the first Farnborough airshow. The inaugural show took place on the first week of September 1948, and over the next few years, the event grew to become the second largest airshow of it's kind, only to the Paris airshow.

In 1988 the Royal Aircraft Establishment had changed its name to the Royal Aerospace Establishment to reflect the increased breadth of the research and development that it was undertaking. On the 1st April 1991 the RAE ceased to exist. The Establishment was renamed the Defence Research Agency (DRA) and remained an executive agency of the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). The DRA lasted until 1st April 1995 when it was re-arranged into DERA (Defence Evaluation and Research Agency)


Sheds 4:
"Beta Shed" 300ft long, 82ft wide 72ft high
"A" Shed - 324ft Long 60ft wide 75ft high
Portable Shed canvas covered 250ft long, 50ft wide, and 60ft high
"C" Shed steel frame, 350ft long, 100ft wide, 60ft high.



The Framework of the Portable shed at Farnborough 1911

Overhead view of the Farnborough Balloon and aircraft establishment 1911
The portable airship shed, covered 1912  
The Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough. Notice the airship sheds and also aeroplane works, with aircraft stored outside.  
The airship sheds, Farnborough common  
View of the 3 sheds  
The Beta airship shed being dismantled 1960  


United Kingdom - Royal Aircraft Factory and RNAS Farnborough

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