R100
Overview
 
HM Airship R100 was a privately designed and built rigid airship
Airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

 made as part of a two-ship competition to develop new techniques for a projected larger commercial airship for use on British empire routes. The other airship, R101
R101
R101 was one of a pair of British rigid airship completed in 1929 as part of a British government programme to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes within the British Empire. It was designed and built by an Air Ministry-appointed team and was effectively in competition...

, was built by the UK Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

.

One goal was to eventually offer a regular and comfortable trans-Atlantic service, akin to that eventually offered by the German Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was a German built and operated passenger-carrying hydrogen-filled rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Graf or Count in the German nobility. During its operating life,...

.
Encyclopedia
HM Airship R100 was a privately designed and built rigid airship
Airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

 made as part of a two-ship competition to develop new techniques for a projected larger commercial airship for use on British empire routes. The other airship, R101
R101
R101 was one of a pair of British rigid airship completed in 1929 as part of a British government programme to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes within the British Empire. It was designed and built by an Air Ministry-appointed team and was effectively in competition...

, was built by the UK Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

.

One goal was to eventually offer a regular and comfortable trans-Atlantic service, akin to that eventually offered by the German Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was a German built and operated passenger-carrying hydrogen-filled rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Graf or Count in the German nobility. During its operating life,...

. Soon after 1920, Vickers' experts had calculated that the fare on an airship journey might be £45 (around US$215 at the time), compared to a contemporary fare for the journey by ship of £115 (about $550), making the journey quite competitive.

R100 was built by the Airship Guarantee Company, a company created solely for the purpose, as a subsidiary of the armaments firm, Vickers-Armstrongs. The managing director was Cdr Dennis Burney
Charles Dennistoun Burney
Sir Charles Dennistoun Burney, 2nd Baronet was an English aeronautical engineer, private inventor and Conservative Party politician....

, and the design team was led by Barnes Wallis
Barnes Wallis
Sir Barnes Neville Wallis, CBE FRS, RDI, FRAeS , was an English scientist, engineer and inventor. He is best known for inventing the bouncing bomb used by the RAF in Operation Chastise to attack the dams of the Ruhr Valley during World War II...

, then a well-respected airship designer. He later became famous as the designer of the Vickers Wellington
Vickers Wellington
The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engine, long range medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, R. K. Pierson. It was widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War, before being displaced as a...

 and the inventor of the bouncing bomb
Bouncing bomb
A bouncing bomb is a bomb designed specifically to bounce to a target across water in a calculated manner, in order to avoid obstacles such as torpedo nets, and to allow both the bomb's speed on arrival at the target and the timing of its detonation to be pre-determined...

. The design team also included Nevil Shute Norway as senior stress engineer.

Design and development

R100 was constructed at the former RNAS Air Station Howden
RNAS Howden
RNAS Howden was an airship station near the town of Howden south-west of York, UK. Opened on 26 June 1916 during the First World War, to cover the East Coast ports shipping from attacks by German U-boats. From 1916 to 1918 Howden was a Royal Naval Air Service establishment...

 in Yorkshire
Yorkshire
Yorkshire is a historic county of northern England and the largest in the United Kingdom. Because of its great size in comparison to other English counties, functions have been increasingly undertaken over time by its subdivisions, which have also been subject to periodic reform...

, a remote location 3 mi (4.8 km) from Howden and 25 mi (40.2 km) from Hull
Kingston upon Hull
Kingston upon Hull , usually referred to as Hull, is a city and unitary authority area in the ceremonial county of the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. It stands on the River Hull at its junction with the Humber estuary, 25 miles inland from the North Sea. Hull has a resident population of...

. Design work began in 1925 while at the same time the somewhat rundown site was put in order and readied for construction to begin, including installation of a hydrogen-generating plant.

The Airship Guarantee Company faced substantial difficulties. The contract for R100's construction was a fixed price one and it was obvious from very early on that the project would incur a loss, and so economies were made; for instance, only a dozen machine tools were in use for construction of the airship. There were also difficulties in finding skilled workers due to the remoteness of the location, and a large proportion of the workers were local people who had to be trained. Conditions in the unheated airship shed were also poor: the roof leaked, ice formed on the girders in winter, and condensation caused corrosion of the airship's duralumin, so that the girders had to be varnished. This was done so well that when the ship was eventually broken up the structure was in perfect condition.

For three years the actual assembly work was close behind that of the designers, and the progress of the design work was the determining factor in speed of construction. Early in the design process it was realized that the huge airship could be steered by hand without needing servo assistance. When the designers learned that R101 had been fitted with servo motors at a substantial cost in weight and money they thought that they had made a mistake and rechecked their calculations. They ended up by concluding that they had been correct, and in practice it was discovered that the finished airship could be steered by a single helmsman.

Construction

In both R100 and R101, it had been decided to use relatively few longitudinal girders compared to previous ships so that more accurate stress calculations could be made. Even so, the calculations for the transverse frames required hand computation that took two or three months to produce a solution. The thoroughness of the stressing calculations was a consequence of new Air Ministry criteria for the strengths required of airships, formulated in response to the catastrophic structural failure of R38 in 1921. Fewer longitudinal girders, however, meant that there were larger unsupported panels of fabric in the outer cover. Flight trials were to prove that the R100's cover was barely adequate. The cover of R101 was also unsatisfactory, although for different reasons, and a failure in its cover was probably the major cause of its crashing.

Barnes Wallis effectively created the frame of the airship from only 11 standardized components fitted into a non-rectilinear framework. The girders of R100 were formed of three Duralumin
Duralumin
Duralumin is the trade name of one of the earliest types of age-hardenable aluminium alloys. The main alloying constituents are copper, manganese, and magnesium. A commonly used modern equivalent of this alloy type is AA2024, which contains 4.4% copper, 1.5% magnesium, 0.6% manganese and 93.5%...

 tubes formed from helically-rolled and riveted strip, while the transverse frames (polygons made up of girders) were joined together by longitudinal girders. A further consequence of the new rules for stressing was that a new way of harnessing the lifting force of the gasbags had to be found. Wallis's solution to this problem later led to his innovative geodesic airframe fuselage and wing design for the Wellesley
Vickers Wellesley
The Vickers Wellesley was a British 1930s light bomber built by Vickers-Armstrongs at Brooklands near Weybridge, Surrey, for the Royal Air Force...

, Wellington
Vickers Wellington
The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engine, long range medium bomber designed in the mid-1930s at Brooklands in Weybridge, Surrey, by Vickers-Armstrongs' Chief Designer, R. K. Pierson. It was widely used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War, before being displaced as a...

 and Windsor
Vickers Windsor
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Andrews, C.F. and E.B. Morgan. Vickers Aircraft since 1908. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1988. ISBN 0-85177-815-1....

 bombers. A further innovation he introduced was to colour code all the airship's wiring (a technique invented by Wallis and used for the first time on R80
R80
-References:* Manfred Griehl and Joachim Dressel, Zeppelin! The German Airship Story, 1990 ISBN 1-85409-045-3*J.E. Morpurgo, Barnes Wallis - A Biography, Longman, 1972 ISBN 0-582-10360-6...

).

R100 was built suspended from the roof of its shed. The individual transverse frames were assembled horizontally then lifted up and slung from roof-mounted trackways before being slid into position and attached to the adjacent frames using longitudinal members. The ship remained suspended until the gasbags were inflated with hydrogen.

By summer 1929 the ship approached completion and her gasbags were inflated. Her volume was a little over 5000000 cu ft (141,584.2 m³) giving a gross lift of about 156 tons. Her tare
Tare weight
Tare , from the Middle French word tare "wastage in goods, deficiency, imperfection" , from Italian tara, from Arabic tarah, lit. "thing deducted or rejected," from taraha "to reject" weight, sometimes called unladen weight, is the weight of an empty vehicle or container...

 (empty) weight was around 102 tons, leaving 54 tons for fuel, oil, ballast, crew, and passengers. Following inflation of the gasbags, her outer covering of linen
Linen
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather....

 fabric painted with aluminum aircraft dope
Aircraft dope
thumb|right|[[United Kingdom military aircraft serials|2699]] a [[World War I]] [[Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2]] finished in a clear dopeAircraft dope is a plasticised lacquer that is applied to fabric-covered aircraft...

 was put in place, and she was completed in November 1929.

Propulsion

It had originally been intended to design special engines for R100 which would be fuelled by hydrogen and kerosene
Kerosene
Kerosene, sometimes spelled kerosine in scientific and industrial usage, also known as paraffin or paraffin oil in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Ireland and South Africa, is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid. The name is derived from Greek keros...

 but after a year's work it was realized that the engine would not be developed in time and it was decided to fit Beardmore Tornado
Beardmore Tornado
-Further reading:* Gunston, Bill. World Encyclopedia of Aero Engines. Cambridge, England. Patrick Stephens Limited, 1989. ISBN 1-85260-163-9* Gunston, Bill. Development of Piston Aero Engines. Cambridge, England. Patrick Stephens Limited, 2006. ISBN 0-7509-4478-1* Lumsden, Alec. British Piston...

 diesel engines that were being developed for the Air Ministry
Air Ministry
The Air Ministry was a department of the British Government with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964...

 for installation in R101. However at a very early stage the Diesel engines were judged unsuitable due to their weight and other reasons. Wallis finally settled on the use of six reconditioned Rolls-Royce Condor
Rolls-Royce Condor
|-See also:-Bibliography:* Lumsden, Alec. British Piston Engines and their Aircraft. Marlborough, Wiltshire: Airlife Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85310-294-6.-External links:*...

 petrol engines housed in three gondolas even though the fuel, with its lower flash point, was considered in some quarters to be a fire risk. A few months before the R101's first flight, her designer also urged the fitting of petrol engines due to the excessive weight of the proposed diesel engines, but this was refused by the Air Ministry on the grounds that they had been developed from locomotive
Diesel locomotive
A diesel locomotive is a type of railroad locomotive in which the prime mover is a diesel engine, a reciprocating engine operating on the Diesel cycle as invented by Dr. Rudolf Diesel...

 engines especially for R101 and therefore had to be used.

R100's designers had arranged for two of the airship's six engines to be fitted with gearboxes providing a reversing capability to slow her down as she approached a mooring mast, and were amazed to learn that because of the failure of the proposed variable-pitch propellers four of R101's engines had no reversing capability and the fifth engine would only be used for slowing the craft down, at a cost of three tonnes weight including its gondola. Later, two of the engines were made reversible by an adjustment to the camshaft.

First flight

R100 made her maiden flight in the morning of 16 December 1929. After departing Howden, she flew slowly to York then set course for the Government Airship Establishment at Cardington
Cardington, Bedfordshire
Cardington is a village and civil parish in the Borough of Bedford in Bedfordshire, EnglandPart of the ancient hundred of Wixamtree, the settlement is best known in connection with the Cardington airship works founded by Short Brothers during World War I, which later became an RAF training station...

, Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire
Bedfordshire is a ceremonial county of historic origin in England that forms part of the East of England region.It borders Cambridgeshire to the north-east, Northamptonshire to the north, Buckinghamshire to the west and Hertfordshire to the south-east....

, cruising at around 50 mph (22.4 m/s) on four engines, reaching the destination in two hours flight time. At the two huge hangars at Cardington (both of which still survive), both the private enterprise team and the other representing the Air Ministry competed to establish which was the better design, in part via long demonstration flights.

The following day speed trials were performed. The officials at Cardington refused to believe that R100 could be at least 10 mph (4.5 m/s) faster than R101. In fact, during a test on 16 January 1930, R100 achieved a speed of 81 mph (36.2 m/s), making her the fastest airship in the world. A difficulty arose with the outer covering which tended to ripple and flap excessively. Cine films were taken of this phenomenon which occurred due to the fact that there were relatively few longerons in the airframe design which created wide areas of unsupported fabric. This flapping is clearly apparent in the photos accompanying this feature.

Transatlantic Voyage to Canada

R100's contract originally required a final acceptance trial flight of 48 hours duration, together with a demonstration flight to India. The decision to change the specification to petrol engines prompted a change in destination to Canada as it was reasoned that a flight to the tropics with petrol aboard would be too hazardous. It was also decided that the Diesel powered R101 would make the flight to India instead.

Following a final acceptance trial of 54 hours, R100 was formally handed over to the Air Ministry, and a number of modifications were made in preparation for her transatlantic flight. During her last flight the tail fairing had collapsed due to aerodynamic pressures and her pointed tail was modified, to Wallis's considerable displeasure, to a more rounded form, shortening her length by 15 ft (4.6 m).

Following R101's unsatisfactory trials in June 1930, the Cardington engineers tentatively suggested that the long flights to Canada and India might be postponed to 1931 on the grounds that neither of the two airships was fit to make a lengthy flight at this developmental stage. The R100 team responded that their airship was perfectly capable of flying to Canada, and furthermore the Canadian flight was a part of their contract.

R100 duly departed for Canada on 29 July 1930, reaching the Canadian mooring mast
Mooring mast
A mooring mast, or mooring tower, is a structure designed to allow for the docking of an airship outside of an airship hangar or similar structure...

 at the airport
Montréal/St-Hubert Airport
Montréal/Saint-Hubert Airport is located in the Saint-Hubert borough of Longueuil, Quebec. The airport is located east of downtown Montreal....

 in Saint-Hubert
Saint-Hubert, Quebec
Saint-Hubert is a borough in the city of Longueuil, located in the Montérégie region of Quebec, Canada. It had been a separate city prior to January 1, 2002, when it along with several other neighbouring south shore municipalities were merged into Longueuil. According to the Quebec Statistics...

, Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 in 78 hours having covered the great circle route of 3300 mi (5,310.8 km) at an average speed of 42 mph (18.8 m/s). The airship stayed at Montreal for 12 days and over 100,000 people visited the airship each day she was there, and a song was composed by La Bolduc
La Bolduc
Mary Rose-Anna Travers, was a French Canadian singer and musician. She was known as Madame Bolduc or La Bolduc. During the peak of her popularity in the 1930s, she was known as the Queen of Canadian Folksingers. Bolduc is often considered to be Quebec's first singer/songwriter...

 to commemorate, or rather to make fun of, the people's fascination with R100. She also made a 24-hour passenger-carrying flight to Ottawa
Ottawa
Ottawa is the capital of Canada, the second largest city in the Province of Ontario, and the fourth largest city in the country. The city is located on the south bank of the Ottawa River in the eastern portion of Southern Ontario...

, Toronto
Toronto
Toronto is the provincial capital of Ontario and the largest city in Canada. It is located in Southern Ontario on the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario. A relatively modern city, Toronto's history dates back to the late-18th century, when its land was first purchased by the British monarchy from...

, and Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls
The Niagara Falls, located on the Niagara River draining Lake Erie into Lake Ontario, is the collective name for the Horseshoe Falls and the adjacent American Falls along with the comparatively small Bridal Veil Falls, which combined form the highest flow rate of any waterfalls in the world and has...

 while in Canada.

The airship departed on her return flight on 13 August, reaching Cardington after a 57½ hour flight.

Nevil Shute later suggested in his Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer
Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer
Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer is the partial autobiography of the British novelist Nevil Shute. It was first published in 1954. Slide Rule concentrates on Nevil Shute's work in aerospace, ending in 1938 when he left the industry....

that the success of the R100's Canadian flight indirectly led to the R101 disaster. Prior to the transatlantic flight, the Cardington team could suggest that neither airship was ready for a performance of such duration. However when the R100 returned in triumph they had to either make the flight to India or admit defeat - which would have meant discredit with the consequent danger of losing their jobs.

The end of the British airships

The tale of the design of R100 and its claimed superiority to R101 is told in Shute's Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer
Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer
Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer is the partial autobiography of the British novelist Nevil Shute. It was first published in 1954. Slide Rule concentrates on Nevil Shute's work in aerospace, ending in 1938 when he left the industry....

, first published in 1954. Although flawed and not quite as overwhelmingly superior as Nevil Shute implied, R100 represented the best that conventional airship technology in Britain had to offer at the time. R101, on the other hand, suffered in comparison not least because of her many groundbreaking but ultimately problematic innovations, most particularly the weight of her diesel engines. In terms of lifting efficiency, both were inferior to the smaller LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin.

After R101 crashed and burned in France, en route to India on 5 October 1930, the Air Ministry ordered R100 grounded. She was deflated and hung up in her shed for a year whilst three options were considered: a complete refit of R100 and continuation of tests for the eventual construction of R102
R102
|-See also:-References:*...

; static testing of R100 and retention of about 300 staff to keep the programme "ticking over"; or retention of staff and the scrapping of the airship. In November 1931, it was decided to sell R100 for scrap. The entire framework of the ship was flattened by steamrollers and sold for less than £600.

Specifications

External links

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