Radlett Aerodrome had
been home of the Handley Page Company for over 50 years,
and had seen the likes of the famous Handley Page Victor,
roar down it's runway. Opened in 1929, many famous aircraft
were produced by the company, sadly the company fell in
to liquidation in 1970, and the site, like many airfields
in the UK, fell disused.
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
The idea was hoped that
it would be a very lucrative revenue stream for the company,
along with the advertising revenue from sponsoring the airship
with company logos, along with further confidence from the
general public as to the safe return of airships for passenger
In 1986 it was decided
that the base at Cardington for operations and assembly
of the UK Airship Industries operations, was not able to
offer the number sightseeing flights over London, as Cardington
was too far to make multiple daily trips a viable option.
The flight operations from Cardington had been hugely popular
for ships to begin their advertising tours, however a base
closer to the Capital were needed.
in Hertfordshire 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 10 week trial operation
was carried out in early 1986 with the use of a Skyship
500, which operated a series of short flights from Leavsedon
Aerodrome near Watford in Hertfordshire.
Following the Leavesdon
trial flights and concept evaluation, a new base for running
the newly launched, "Skycruise" operations was
needed, and would become the first new purpose built "airship
terminal", to be constructed in the UK since 1929.
The Skycruise concept
was to offer, in comparison to an aeroplane, reasonably
low lever sightseeing flights over the landmarks of London.
For the Skycruise London
trips, the skyships would follow the same route as the early
airship pioneers, by following the Midland railway line
down through Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire, in to the
airspace over London.
of flight operations and Terminal Building
Radlett aerodrome was boarded by the same Midland Railway
to the east which had been used to navigate airships down
to London, and transected by the M25 motorway to the south.
The location was far enough away from dense populations,
as with Cardington, not to raise too many objections.
had been concerns with regards to noise pollution from the
Porsche engines on the ships, so a site away from residential
areas was preferred.
Handley Page Aerodrome site had been closed and was currently
being used by Redland Aggregates for aggregate extraction,
however this would not impact the operations of the flight
area on the airfield. One group of people who had
to agree with the use of Radlett as an "airship port"
were the local district councilors.
Planning had to be approved
and there was some local concerns raised with regards to
the noise levels from the ducted engines. However, the team
at Airship Industries were able to convince the district
planners by taking them on a local flight so that they could
not only see but hear the noise, and take in to account
that it would only be an issue on take off and landing.
Not surprisingly they
considered the objection, but were in agreement that the
noise level was acceptable, and approved the plans.
This would mean that
the Skycruise operations could be closer to London for the
sightseeing tours, but also cut down on the duration of
the flights on offer, offering more flights to keep up with
The original Handley
Page workshops, which had been used for the construction
of the Handley Page Victor "V" bomber in the 1950's
and used up to the 1960's, were still available, but had
not been used for about 10 years and fallen in to disrepair.
It was decided that
a new purpose built building be constructed as the Skycruise
"terminal" on the edge of the runway. The terminal
would provide purpose built offices for the staff and crew
members, plus also provide a more modern departure lounge
for the passengers awaiting the Skycruise. The Terapin Company
was contacted to provde the temporary building structure
which was a popular choice of alternative building constuction
in the 1980's. This was to be much larger than the structure
which had been used at the Leaveden Aerodrome site.
plan of the Terminal Building
The new terminal building
was designed to accommodate the following activities:
Check in hall
Flight Crew Offices
Ground Crew restroom
Ground Crew changing room
It was envisaged that
the terminal building could also be used for corporate hospitality
video showing passengers registering in the temrminal and
the Skycruise experience
Season planning and objections
As step forward for
passenger flights came in 8th January 1987 when the SK600
class of ship was awarded full Passenger Transport Certification
by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This meant that the
larger ship, with a larger passenger compliment could be
used for flights.
With this, the new larger
Skyship 600 could be used and carry an average of 10 passengers
per flight throughout the season, although the ship could
carry a maximum of 18 passengers, it would compare to the
average of 5 passengers per flight on the Skyship 500 trial
The flight operations
would be run from 30th March to 16th October, however problems
arose just before the launch of the Skycruise operations
as both Skyship 600-1 and SK 500-02 had been damaged in
a freak storm with winds over 80 mph damaged both ships
on the masts at Cardington, causing both to be accidentally
deflated. The Skyship SK 500-02 was not to be repaired but
frantic repairs were made to the Skyship 600 to be ready
in time to start flight operations.
Repairs were made to
SK 600-1 at Cardington, and a new envelope manufacturered
and delivered. In the meantime the new terminal building
was constructed, using a modular design of portacabin, which
was a popular temporary building solution at the time. The
operations were ready by the first week in May 1987.
600 General arrangement.
On 11th May 1987, the
first London flight was formally launched by the Japanese
Ambassador, Mr. Yamazaki, accompanied by Alan Birchmore
of Airship Industries, as well as representatives from British
Caledonian Airways who were sponsoring the Skyship.
Resplendent in it's
British Caledonian livery, and the presence of the Japanese
ambassador served to promote Airship Industries reputation
500 and 600 passenger layout comparison, showing the increase
in passenger carrying capacity capability of using the Skyship
The flights from Radlett
lasted an hour and a quarter each, allowing for a short
15 minute turnaround for the changing of passengers and
crews if needed.
tight schedule would allow around five flights per day, with
space in the summer months, and longer days, for more evening
flights if required.
The advertised flight
schedule was timetabled as follows
March - 29th May
June - 20 September
September - 16th October
days a week: Monday to Friday
days a week
Price - £125 (£350 today)
Price £ 150 (£430 today)
The 7 day a week plan
was hoped but in reality it would be subject to weather
conditions and full pilot availability. In reality the company
was looking at a sixty percent flight schedule, depending
on weather conditions and light, reducing to a 50 percent
schedule in the autumn and winter months.
Excellency, Mr Yanazaki Unveilling the new terminal and
launching the new Skycruise season for 1987 (11th May 1987)
Coming in to land at Radlett 1987 season with the Fuji Film
and "One day for Life" livery (photo credit: A Lawson)
second half of the summer 1987 season, the sponsorship changed
from British Caledonian to Fuji, and operations ran until
the end of August.
Some of the flight operations
didn't quite go as planned, as there were reports of some
flights occasionally having to be canceled due to the limited
number of airship pilots, splitting their time between both
Radlett and Cardington.
The Cardington flights
which had been operating the previous summers, were limited
to local flights over Bedford.
Peparing for launch, early morning at Radlett 1987 season
with the Fuji Film livery
Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
The Skycruise operations
at Radlett were brought to a close in September of 1987,
as the SK 600-1 had entered in to a sponsorship deal with
German beer maker, Loenbrau, and was to be flown down to
Munich in time for the September Munich Beer Festival. This
meant that the ship be prepared and then flown down to Munich
in time for the festival which ran from 12th to 16th September.
Climbing away at launch. Notice the angle of climb which surprises
many people as how agile Skyships were on launch.
Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
SK600-1 flew up to Cardington,
to be prepared with the new livery, and then down across
the English Channel to Calais and onwards across Europe
to Munich, with overnight stops at Reims and Karlsrule.
However the concept
was repeated using the airships based in Paris, Toronto,
New York, San Fransico and Sydney to provide sightseeing
flights and and also aerial advertising.
The season closed in
early September 1987 as it was decided that the winter months,
with shorter daylight hours and poor weather, would impinge
on profitability with flights from the terminal.
Alas the first season
of Skycruise operations across the globe did not break-even
in pure passenger terms. Operating airships was expensive
in terms of manpower costs, and it was seen that despite
the popularity, the profits would not come from the passenger
numbers, until the numbers of ground crew were reduced,
or seating capacity increased.
The first purpose built
airship terminal building, built since 1929 (photo credit
With the planning for
the 1988 season, Airship Industries were dealt a financial
blow when in February the U.S. Defense budgets were cut,
and thus the canceling of the large U.S. Navy order for
the larger Skyship 5000.
The company then had
to look for alternate additional sources for funding, However
the SK-600-01 returned from a successful mini Skyscruise
operation in Munich, and headed straight for Cardington,
where a advertising contract had been secured from local
brewer, Charles Wells, and the ship would operate local
sponsored and VIP flights from Cardington for the 1988 season.
of the early flights in May 1987 with the British Caledonian
Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
This was followed by
operations in France with the Paris Skycruise operations,
and with the only CAA certified airship, which had obtained
advertising bookings from Konica in Germany, this meant
that the 1988 Skycruise operations could not take place.
The Skycruise Radlett
terminal was therefore closed and returned to the leasing
company Terapin portable buildings.
of the main problems was that despite popularity, passenger
revenue alone never came near covering even part of the
costs which had to be paid by the advertising on the side.
Also resistance from the locals for prolonged series of
flights who regarded it as the "advertisers airship"
produced some negative publicity for the sponsor, which
defeated the point of hiring the airship.
Regional flights were conducted for a week at a time in
various locations but did not have the appeal to the more
popular advertiser as flying over London and the wider audience,
and prestigious PR gained.
Did you fly from Radlett 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.
in to land on the airfield. The square tower of St Albans
Cathedral can be seen in the mist on the horizon and the top
of the railway powerlines can be seen in the forground. A
sight for daily commuters who had a clear view of the airfield.
Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
special thanks to Alastair Reid and Martin Hull of Airship
Industries for thier assistance, personal photos and sharing
their knowledge in compiling this page.
also to Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
for allowing us to use the Radlett Skyship photos and for
capturing the Skyships from Radlett in the 1987 season,
from their excellent photgraphic website.
and Ticket Desk (photo credit Ian Reid)
the bar area (photo
credit Ian Reid)
view of the bar and passenger lounge seating area.
gift shop showing sale of books, photos, gifts and some very
collectable airship models
(photo credit Ian Reid)
of the Skycruise memorabilia available from the gift shop
(Alastair Lawson Collection)