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Airship Sheds
Mooring Mast Technical Information
Construction and Designs

The design concept for mooring airships without the need for a ground crew came from the original concept of the "three wire system". Experiments were carried out by the ability to moor airships from three wires from the bow of the ship, then the ship "flown"with the wires taught. This proved that airships need not be housed in the hangers, of which the Germans had proved was the time when the ships were most vaunrable.

The first high mast was developed in Pulham where a mast erected and an airship was able to dock, the crew could alight the ship, and also be refuelled and ballasted at the same time. This was used for a number of years by many of the ships stationed there. All British rigid airships were fitted with bow mooring gear and crew/ passenger access. Later development of the mast lead to a higher mast of some 200ft, which also contained a lift for easier access for crews, passengers and goods.

The nose entrance design was incorporated in to the R33, R36 as well as the standard moring design of the R100 and R101. With the later loss of the R101, the Government proposed the use of or leasing of the masts and sheds to the Zeppelin company. It was noted that the Graf Zeppelin and later Hindengburg designs would have had to be altered to incorporate the access via the nose of the ship.


Mast Specifications
Diameter at base
Check out the mast in operation - click on the movie clip above  
R33 on the first high mast design for an airship
The Mast plans for the Standard High Mast
A plan of the masthead and entry to the Airship
The mooring schematic for the proposal of mooring large airships against high masts.

Artist impression showing the masthead and connection machinery in place.

The huge airship mast was constructed for the civil programme in 1926, built by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company under the direction of Major General Sir William Liddell, Director of Works and and Buildings at the Air Ministry. The Cardington Mast was completed in 1926. The Cardington and Ismalia masts were both up to the level of the searchlight gallery to the tower were an open work structure made up of eight main legs set in concrete bases and cross braced on all eight faces to horizontal frames arranged at intervals of 28ft 4 inches. From the searchlight gallery upwards the surmounting tapered circular turret was framed in steel, endoused with corrugated sheeting and lt by sixteen windows. The top platform, at a height of 170ft, from wich the passengers embarked and disembarked in to the airships, was 40 ft in diameter and encircled by a heavy parapet. The top rail of this parapet formed a track on whic a gangway, left down from the ship, ran on wheels to give freedom for the airship to move around the top of the tower as it swung in the wind.

A lift shaft, 9ft 6inches, ran up the centre of the tower in a separate block, with a stairway around the outside. The electric passenger lift, with capacity for 12 persons at a time, ascended to a height of 156ft from the ground at which level there was a steel platform with stairs up the remaining 14 ft to the passenger platform.

The very first stages of the Cardington Mast construction early 1924
The basde of the mast under construction at Cardington,1924. Part of the mooring head machinery is about to be winched up the central stairwell.
The mast nearing completion, here without the mast head housing
The mast almost completed and winch buildings being added.
The mast head constructed showing the nose docking arm fully extended Inside the mast head, showing the suspension mechanism for the docking arm and the extendible arm retracted. It was maneouvered on the pulleys attached to it's lower end. In this photo of a visit by MP's, the mast head controls can be clearly seen.      
The Missing Masthead.

Babcock and Wilcox Ltd were the main contractors for the mast head machinery. They had already produced the mooring machinery for the Cardington, Ismaila and Karachi masts . The second sets of orders were already being placed and the Montreal and South Africa masts were ordered at the same time and it is noted that Babcock and Wilcox gave a 2% discount on the mast head prices due the "bulk" order. The Montreal mast was completed first as it was the Montreal trip was which deemed to be one of the primary trips for the demonstration flights of the new airships. This was delivered to Montreal in August 1928 and so it is expected that, at that time, the South African mast heard would have been completed after this date, maybe early 1929.

Whatever happened to the South African masthead was unknown but however years later a comment was made to a member of the AHT stating that when posted in Aden during the second world war, a "airship masthead was seen in storage". How true this is, we cannot confirm, however it would tie in with the fact that the Canadian mast had to be constructed first as it was always agreed as part of the "demonstration" flights of the 1924 Airship Programme. Therefore if the first masthead was constructed and delivered in 1928 then the second mast head would have been constructed and also forwarded for onward delivery to South Africa. Aden is a key port for trade on the west coast of Africa. On the 1926 proposal map, both Cape Town and Durban are noted, however on a later edition map, presumed to be end of 1930 shows both Durban and Cape Town to be proposed Airship bases with masts and sheds facilities.
Testing the Mast
Once the mast had been completed, the testing of the design was needed. A strain test to 30 tons was ordered and undertaken by a pulley system to test the strength of the mast tower and mooring machinery
The wires were connected from the top of the mast to a steam winch and pulley system on the ground
The team assembled on the ground
The pulley connection to the steam winch.
The connection at the top of the mast, and with no health and safety, the technician is checking the loading guages at the top of the mast.
A member of the team measuring the tension on the wire

Mast Variations

This later design became the template for all masts constructed for the Imperial Airship scheme and masts were constructed of the type in Cardington, Ismailia in Egypt, Montreal in Canada and Karachi in India, each one adding to the success of the desing. Interestingly each mast design was altered for example buildings added in to the base of the mast in Montreal and Karachi designs.

The Ismalia mast was a virtual copy of the Cardington mast layout
The Karachi mast had buildings incorporated in to the base of the mast, but an exposed lift shaft
The Montreal mast had buildings in a classical "Regency" influenced design at the base and enclosed lift shaft. The mast top was painted orange and silver to make spotting the mooring easier to the pilots
The R100 was the only airship to use the Monreal mast.
Mast In Use          
The first ship to use the newly completed mast was the R 33, which can be seen here moored to the mast.
The R101 soon followed in 1929
The R100 also moored to the Cardington mast, here showing her original configuration just after her first flight from Howden construction facility, to Cardington.
The close up on the nose and the access to the ship.
Close up of the mast head. Also can be seen are the searchlight emplacements and the gas hoses for topping up the gas in the ship via the nose.
Decomissioning of the Mast and the life after the mast had gone

The Cardington mast remained a prominent feature of the local area some 13 years after the last airship docked to it, and was decomissioned in 1943 and sold for scrap. The original concrete base still remains to this day, along with the power house. As late as 1983 the pile of clapboard buildings could still be seen, which had once performed the historic role of Customs Office for passengers travelling abroad by airship. The Customs House was only used on three occasions, for the R100's out and return flight, and the R101's departure to Karachi, in 1930.

As part of the AHT Collection and Archive, a girder piece was presented to the Trust by Mr John Benson, who as a child from the age of 2, lived in one of the wooden buildings which was designed as originally been provided as accommodation for the Airship crew. He live on the mooring mast site for 11 years with is mother and father. His father was employed as a cowman by Mr Alex Simpson, farmer at Manor Farm, Cotten End, on which land the mast site stood, who offered him and his family the use of the buildings. Mr Benson decribes life on the site as interesting, as they had the luxury of a flushing toilet, coke boiler and bathroom, the power supply had been disconnected. He remebers the building being backing hot in the summer, and freezing in the hard winters of the late 40's and 50's.

The mast had been demolished before he moved in, however as a connection to the past, the address was "The Bungalow, Mast Road, Cotton End". One of the larger buildings which is still standing on the site, was spruced up and decorated by the Cotton End villagers in June 1953, and used as a venue for a tea party to celebrate the Coronation, as that time there was no village hall. An electric cable was run across the fields from the farm so that the Coronation could be watched on television.


At that times there were many items of the removed mast laying around the site, when the family evenutally moved from the site, they took this girder as a souvenir.

The girder was a bracing member of one of two in the form of a cross, and they can be clearly seen in photo's of the mast. The girder is exactly 6ft in length, two inches wide, and has a stamp of JC&S Ltd.clearly marked twice on the side, with three fastening holes drilled in to it. To our knowledge, apart from the wooden boxes made out of the the lift carriage for sale to benefit the Red Cross, this is the only other surviving peice of the mooring mast.


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