Mast and facilities at base of mast
and buildings under construction. Seen here, the mast
head is still awaiting to be completed, along with
the roof's of the administration and winch buildings.
shed under construction 1928
(Photo copyright Mike Baldwin Collection)
mast nearing completion with the uniquely designed
administration buildings around the base of the mast.
Shed under construction - the largest building in
the British Empire at the time.
airfield, showing the shed, and the distance from
the mast to the shed. The fuelholders can be seen
in the foreground.
the vast shed. You can see the design differed from
the Cardington contructional sheds, by not having
and side annex's for construction or storage.
Shed showing the door frames and gantry to hold the
massive doors. Again, doors were only placed at one
side of the shed, unlike the Cardington sheds.
A rare aerial view of the Imperial Airship Base at
Karachi. The shed can be seen with the shadow to the
right of the building. The mast can be seen further
to the right of the shed.
site was agreed at Karachi (now part of Pakistan since the
partition of the country in 1947) in . This was agreed to
be the one of the main "terminals" or junctions as part
of the Imperial Airship Communications scheme in 1926.
site was located outside Karachi in 19525, as a preference
to Mumbai (Bombay) due to the advantageous weather and thunderstorms
were less frequent in the area. The Karachi site was situated
some 13 miles east outside of the town, and was almost at
sea level. This would have given the airships an advantage
with being able to maximise their lifting capacity, despite
the heat differential.
The land was purchased and surveying commenced on the land
as to where best to place the buildings. Construction began
in 1926 and an airship mast, hydrogen plant and hanger.
The Mast followed the same basic designs as the Cardington
mast, with the same height and construction method. The
only exception was that the base of the mast contained buildings
followed along the baseline in an octagonal shape. The airship
base also contained a hydrogen plant in order that the ships
can be regassed at the mast.
The gasometers contained enough gas to refill the R101,
at a capacity of 5.5 million cft of gas. The Karachi airship
shed was erected which was larger than the original Cardington
sheds and of a simpler design. This was decreed that the
slanting side areas were not needed as it was not to be
a constructional shed, and the sides of the hangers at Cardington
contained a lot of the offices and storage space during
construction of a ship. The shed also differed from other
previous designs of sheds, in that the shed only had doors
at one end, with a differing door frame design. Once completed,
the Karachi shed was the largest building in the British
Empire at that time.
The shed was also designed with the future in mind as it
was 850ft long , 170ft high and 180ft wide. This would have
fitted the new R102 class ship which was designed to be
some 822ft long. Construction of the facility cost some
£ 93,000 in 1928 ( £5,500,000 - 2017 value).
As there were no major iron or steel works in India at the
time, the materials and components were fabricated at the
Geriston Steel Works, Glasgow, with the Armstrong Construction
Company being awarded the contract for the Shed's construction.
The first piece of structural steelwork being lifted in
to place on 9th October 1926. Despite the shed being erected
along the lines of previous sheds, the Karachi Shed was
the largest. Despite the size, and some 4,000 tonnes of
steel used in the construction, one of the conditions of
the assembly and design, was that the shed could be dismantled
and moved to another location. The precedent of this had
already been made with the moving of the constructional
shed in Pulham in Norfolk, to be re-erected and suitibly
enlarged as Shed 2, at the Royal Airship Works, Cardington.
The mooring mast was constructed along the same design lines
as the Cardington and Ismailia mast, and work began in 1929,
with the completion of the construction in August 1930.
The mast itself was the standard design, however the buildings
around the base were added in an octagonal design. As with
the Montreal Mast, it was see that administration and other
logistical space was needed. Space would have also been
needed for customs and official passenger formalities. At
Cardington, these were not to be processed at the mast but
in what was know as the Administration Builing or Short's
Building as it's known today. To transport passengers, a
8 mile railway spur was built to connect the base with the
The Shed and mast, although never used by an airship remained,
and according to records, some eighteen men were employed
up until 1939, to maintain the facility which shows the
decision on "cancelling the programme" was not as immediate
as people believe after the R01 tragedy. With the decisions
over the future of the Imperial Airship programme being
discussed in London over the next few years, the locals
managers allowed the Karachi shed to be used by local soldiers
as a sports arena, out of the sun. It was reported that
two games of football could be played inside the shed at
once. It was also rumoured that the building was large enough
to host local polo games, although there is no current evidence
to substantiate this, however again the shed was certainly
large enough for shelter play.
The shed became involved in aeronautical activities finally
in the late 1930's when Imperial Airways took over responsibility
of the building as an aeroplane hangar and workshops.
It was during the Second World War that the shed was used
by both the RAF and the US Army. They utilised the shed
for repairing aircraft which were being used in Burma and
Indochina. The British Government were always looking for
other uses for the shed, as well as offering the facilities
to other interested Governments. The US Navy did investigate
the possibility of using the base for it's own airship programme
as the shed was large enough, however this did not progress
any further. The sheds and mast remained erected until well
after India's independence from Britain, and later territory
tansferred to Pakistan.
1952, Pakistan Aviation issued a tender to dismantle the
shed, and it was not until 1961 that it was finally agreed
to dismantle it. Not that the building would be seen as
going to waste, as the resources could be put to other uses.
The steel was used for bridges and other smaller buildings
along the vast Pakistan Railways. As with some of the other
proposed sites, the Karachi site is the location of the
International Airport today. If you are able to visit the
airport today, check out the Pakistan International Airlines
buildings, and the widebodied aircraft hangar is sited close
to the grounds once occupied by the Karachi Airship Shed.