Located in the northern
suburbs of London, north of Watford, the site of Leavesden
bounded now between the M1 and M25 motorways, Leaveden has
been a home to many heavier than air companies, but it's
also connected with lighter than air craft.
was establised shortly after the outbreak of the Second
World War, in 1940. It's runway being suitable for heavy
bombers and aircraft hangars available.
The site was used by
the local De Havilland company from nearby Hatfield. After
the war this was later used as their gas turbine production
plant, and through a series of aquistions withing the British
aircraft industry, the site came under the control of Rolls
In 1973 it became temporary
home to the Goodyear "Europa". The Goodyear airship
had been constructed in Akron, Ohio, but flown to the UK,
and assembled and inflated at Cardington.
Having spent a year
at Cardington, in 1973 it was decided that a base closer
to London was required for promotional fligths and also
coverage of sporting events and races.
Leaveden Areodrome was
chosen due to it's proximity to London, and also availablity
as an airfield. During June 1973, a series of promotional
flights were made as part of it's European tour.
Being able to carry
six passengers, the ship could often be seen over major
sporting events, as she provided a stable camera platform
for filming. Europa was also equipt with over 7,500 coloured
light bulbs for night-time advertising and displaying messages.
The time at Leaveden
was short, as there was no real infratructue for airships
to be permanantly based there, however the ship used the
Leaveden base for it's London tours.
There are many memories
of the Goodyear Europa flying over the suburbs of north
London? Do you remember seeing the ship?
Euopa launching from Leavesden in 1973
of the Europa flying from Leaveden 1973
Industries - 1986
Airship Industries had
always looked to use skyships as a multi role aircraft,
and that included it's evaluation as passenger transport,
and were able to obtain a Civil Aviation Authority approval
for licensing the Skyship 500, and later the Skyship 600
model airship, not only as flying billboards, but to offer
This would be a very
lucrative revenue stream for the company, along with further
confidence from the general public as to the safe return
of airships for passenger carrying trips.
Cardington had been
Airship Industries base for since the late 1970's and had
been use exstensivly as the home of the airship for flight
testing and developement. Promotional and advertising flights
had been operated out of the Cardington base for a number
of years, but now with passenger certification of the Skyship
500, a trail base nearer to London was required for sightseeing.
being baled at the end of the summerseason at Leavesden
Leavesdon had been pointed
out as a potential base by Operations Manager, Martin Hull,
who had known that Goodyear had used the airfield sight
in the early 1970's for it's Europa flights over London.
A trial operation was
carried out in early 1986 with the use of a Skyship 500
SK 500-02 (G-B1HN), which operated a series of short flights
from Leavseden. The Skyship 500 was now the only airship
in the world which was legally permitted to carry fare paying
The Skyship was flown
down to Leaveden from Cardington, where a temporary portacabin
reception area had been errected on the side of the airfield.
A mobile mast had also been driven down to the airfield
for mooring the ship.
The planned schedule
was for four 1 1/2 flights over London, on six days a week
and tickets costing £100 per passenger.
A programme of flights
over London's scenic landmarks took place scheduled from
23rd April to 28th June 1986.
flying the airfiled showing the main aircraft hangars and
Under the initial sponsorship
of British Caledonian which had recently launched a business
class chauffer service "door to door", the company's
logo was emblazoned on the Skyship.
One of the prestigious
passengers was the then current aviation minister, Michael
Spicer, and he was joined by the then managing director
Alan Birchmore, and techincal director of Airship Industries
and founder Roger Munk, along with Sir Peter Masefield,
the chairmand of the British Airports Authority 1965-1971,
and later became president of the Airship Heritage Trust.
Despite the press coverage,
flight attendents dressed in British Caledonia uniforms,
and British Caledonian Airways sending their fifteen peice
bagpiper band, , unfortunatley the first flight didn't reach
central London due to adverse weather conditions of low
clound and winds gusting at 20 knots. The flight was cut
short and returned 45 minutes later, it was nevertheless
enjoyed by all on board and a good view of the central London
could be seen.
During the trial flight
period, the ship was aiming to make 4 scheduled flights
a day, with over 1,000 people on the waiting list. Passengers
paid £100 per ticket (about £220 in 2022) and
an added attraction was the opportunity to get a bird eye
view of the BBC Eastenders set at nearby Elstree Studios.
the lauch of the first airship passenger service, with the
first passengers. April 28th 1986
Despite the publicitiy
and support, there were a few unhappy local residents and
Watford Borough Council recieved fourty-five complaints
about noise and invasion of privacy due to the low flying
latitude of the flights.
However the local complaints
didn't dampen the popularity for the Skyship flights
.Flights routed down
the Lea Valley to Tower Bridge the up and down the Thames
giving passengers a grandstand view of the major landmarks
over the City of London and beyond.
The popularity of the
trial meant that all flights were booked and the scheduled
services ran till 28th June flying some 760 passengers,
after which the airship was then contracted for a tour of
the UK for Fuji Film.
takes to the sikes on the first trips from Leavsden - April
SK 500-2 was then flown
back to Cardington for it's new banner and livery to be
attached in Fuji Film coulour, and could be seen over cities
across the country.
The trial season was
only agreed with the local council as a 10 week period from
Leaveden, it given the company a great experience in running
a scheduled service, and the logistical requirements needed.
It had shown that the confidence in the return of a passenger
carrying airship for sightseeing popularity had grown, and
Airship Industries ended the short season with a waiting
list of passengers of some 3,500.
With this demand for
flights, and with the concept of expansion, ease of public
access, and less disruption to local residents from noise,
Airship Industries decided to look for a more suitable base
of operations, and aiming to get a larger ship, which was
capable of taking more passengers, for the 1987 season,
moved their operations to Radlett Areodrome.
Take off -
the tail of the shp in British Caledonian sponsorship livery.
you fly from Leavesden in an airship? What was it like?
The Skycruise flights
and operations were very popular and many flights were taken
over London. Do you have an memories or photos you wouldl
like to share and add to this page. Please contact
us with details.
inaugural flight on 23rd April 1986 ushered in a new era
with the trial of a passenger service over London