aviation comes of age

the dirigible
the great airships


Ferdinand von Zeppelin
Zeppelin passenger ships
Zeppelin posters
Hindenburg disaster

HMA 1 Mayfly
HMA 23
R 31
R 32
R 33
R 34
R 36
R 38
R 80
R 100
The R101 airship disaster

USS Los Angeles
the Akron
the Macon


The R 100
edited from the Airship Heritage Trust

Launched on 19th July 1921, the R80 was the first truly streamlined British airship.

Length 719.5ft
Diameter 133.5ft
Speed 64mph
Engines 6 x 650hp
Volume 5, 156, 000cft

Following the completion of the R101, the R100 followed closely on being a innovative and modern ship when compared to it's counterparts at the time. The daring decision to move way from the more traditional Zeppelin design lines were shown in the more oval, streamlined and aerodynamic shape of both the R100 and R101.

With the decision to construct two ships, one by the Royal Airship Works and the other by a commercial contractor, the contract for the R100 had been awarded to Vickers, who were seen as one of the best airship constructors considering their history with lighter than air craft. A new subsidiary, the Airship Guarantee Company was set up purely for the construction of the ship. . It was seen by the government that having 2 prototypes built would lead to twice the amount of new ideas and innovation over traditional lines. Both the R100 and R101 teams were the first to build the more aerodynamic airships than the traditional Zeppelin designs. The British designers had always tried to add in the aerodynamic shape to add efficiency, in to the design of the craft compared to contemporary ships. The R 80 being the case in point, being the most aerodynamic ship constructed to date.

With Barnes Wallis using new design techniques assisted by Neville Shute-Norway as his chief calculator, the R100 designed as a unique and efficient craft. Construction of the R100 began at the Howden construction facility in 1927, the ship being designed to only just fit within the existing shed. Construction of the ship was slow due to innovation's being added to the ship, such as rainwater collection devices along the top of the ship. Also the contract for Vickers was a ship to be constructed for a fixed contract price. It had been commented that there was rivalry between the R100 and R101 design teams, fueled by comments made by Nevil Shute-Norway, but resent research discovered is contradicting the these views.

The ship was designed with only 13 longitudinal girders, compared to previous designs of up to 25, and hence the ship was lighter. However one initial discovery of design problems was that the outer cover would ripple in flight, however this did not effect the performance of the ship. Also, there was an initial slight problem with the aerodynamic forces acting on the tail. This had shown up on wind tunnel tests but was dismissed as a scale anomaly.

The original tail design was a very sharp tapering point, but the pressures built up and the tip broke off on one test flight (see flight log). This was later replaced with the more traditional rounded tail.

With the prototype completed the R100 had design features which were to be incorporated within the next generation of ships. The interior passenger space was unique and never been seen in an airship, and was very different from that which was designed for the R101.

Competition was high between the two design teams but it was still seen that both of these ships were prototypes unique. On a global scale, the Imperial Airship scheme was the largest project of it's kind, when in 1929 the only competition was from Germany with the smaller ZL127 "Graf Zeppelin". Not until the Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin II some 7 years later would newly designed commercial passenger airships of this scale would take to the skies.

Interiors - Luxury in flight

A double staircase led down to the interior dining room. The dining and central space had galleries in which passenger could get to the accommodation. Flanked on each side were two large panoramic windows allowing a two tier promenade deck giving the interior a large open and light feel. The interior was different again from the set up of the R101, and the idea being that the design details would be taken from both ships and utilised in the next generation of airship. The R100 could carry 100 passengers in a selection of accommodations, an arrangement of 14 2 berth and 18 4 berth cabins were available.

The Main Lounge & Grand Staircase

The Promenade Decks

Voyage to Canada

The ship was flow from Howden to her new home at the Royal Airship Works, Cardington. After the trial flights and the flights checking the outer cover ripple effect, the ship was tasked with a trip to the Canada, successfully crossing the Atlantic to Montreal to the newly erected mast.

The ship slipped the moorings from the Cardington Mast at 02.48am on the morning of 29th August 1930. The ship flew over the Atlantic and headed down the Newfoundland coast to Montreal. Arriving on 1st August at 05.37am, after a voyage of some 78hours 49 minutes, and 3,364 miles. The crew were deemed hero's for this voyage. The crossing was not as smooth as perceived when flying towards the Canadian coast, the ship encountered a rough storm causing the ripping to some of the outer cover. Temporary repairs were main in flight then the cover was replaced at the mast at Montreal.

The crews enjoyed banquets and receptions in their hour. It was seen that this trip would be the start of many crossings and the start of commercial operations. On 13th August 1930 the R100 was then required to go on a "local" flight where it was received excitedly by all the towns she crossed over. On 16th August 1930 the ship made her return to Cardington and making use of the gulf stream, managed to knock off some 21 hours off the outward bound flight. Arriving on 16th August 1930, at 11.06am, after 2,995 miles and a trip of 57hours 56 minutes.

On her return to Cardington she was then put in to the shed for inspection and all intention and readiness was made for the R101's flight to India, which was anticipated at the end of the year. Because many of the crew members were actually operating on both ships, the majority of the crew were transferred over to the R101.

Final Life of the R100

Not much is ever written about the final days of the R100 following her retirement to the shed in August of 1930, and the crash of the R101. However recent research made by AHT member, Brian Harrison has uncovered some very interesting facts regarding the future of the ship.

The R100 was put back in the hanger on 17th August 1930, and the crew looked upon at the R101 for the next long trip. At this stage of the Imperial Airship scheme, there was only a small group of trained officers to cover both ships. However with the R102 in the planning stage it was seen that more crews would be required and training was underway. However with the destruction of the R101 in October of 1930 a decision was made to halt all future flights.

The R100 was deflated on 11th December 1930 and "hung" in the shed. The outer covers were still under inspection but it was seen to be deteriorating in places. After the R101 enquiry Parliament then had to discuss where the future lay for the R100. In May of 1931 Parliament, and the Government lead by Ramsay McDonald discussed the options and costs of what to do. The Country was coming out of the depression years but still had a long way to go and so there were many financial restrictions. The R100 was seen as very advanced for it's time, and in the lighter than air world, it was a real innovation. So much so that the American Government had offered cheap or even free helium to inflate the ship in return for the British technical experience and data.

It was declared that Helium deposits had been discovered in Canada and so an option was for the sale of the ship to the Canadian Government. There was even suggestion that helium had been found in Ceylon and Sinagpore within the bounds of the British Empire. Canada already had a mast from which the ship could be serviced and this was deemed a reasonable option. The future of the ship and the service was debated for a long of time, with opinions given from many people for and against the project.

The three main options were to :

1. To keep the ship, refurbish the cover and continue with the project, moving on to the R102
2. To reduce the staff numbers from 850 to 300 at the Royal Airship Works, and keep the ship for scientific study until future plans can be made.
3. To scrap the project.

After much long and hard deliberation, the final outcome was that the British Government could not afford to keep the project in place, and nor the staff at Cardington. The world was emerging from a global financial depression and a project of this scale could not find the financial backing from either the private or public sector. The R100 was therefore sold for scrap and work began to have her dismantled on 16th November 1931. The work was finished in February 1932. The interior fixtures and fittings were sold off, and the framework was sold for 450. A presence was however kept at Cardington with some 300 people continued to be employed there. Even though the ship was scrapped, an the sheds and workshops were still kept in place for future plans.