SS class blimp
SS (Submarine Scout or Sea Scout) class blimps were simple, cheap and easily assembled small non-rigid airship
A blimp, or non-rigid airship, is a floating airship without an internal supporting framework or keel. A non-rigid airship differs from a semi-rigid airship and a rigid airship in that it does not have any rigid structure, neither a complete framework nor a partial keel, to help the airbag...

s that were developed as a matter of some urgency to counter the German U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

 threat to British shipping during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. The class proved to be versatile and effective, with a total of 158 being built in several versions.


Soon after the outbreak of World War I, the threat to British shipping from German submarines became increasingly apparent, with numerous losses occurring during October and November 1914. Then, on 4 February 1915, a communiqué issued by the Imperial German Admiralty
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

 declared that: "All the waters surrounding Great Britain and Ireland, are hereby declared to be a war zone. From February 18 onwards every enemy merchant vessel found within this war zone will be destroyed."

The situation had become critical and the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 recognised that 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...

s would be effective at spotting submarines and useful for Fleet observations, but at that time Britain's airship fleet consisted of just seven craft – four RNAS
Royal Naval Air Service
The Royal Naval Air Service or RNAS was the air arm of the Royal Navy until near the end of the First World War, when it merged with the British Army's Royal Flying Corps to form a new service , the Royal Air Force...

 airships (HMA 17,18,19, and 20), two continental ships and a small Willows
Willows airships
|-See also:...

 training craft – with only four airfields existing that possessed hangars capable of housing them. Consequently, on 28 February the First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord
The First Sea Lord is the professional head of the Royal Navy and the whole Naval Service; it was formerly known as First Naval Lord. He also holds the title of Chief of Naval Staff, and is known by the abbreviations 1SL/CNS...

, Admiral Lord Fisher called a meeting with Commander E A D Masterman
Edward Masterman
Air Commodore Edward Alexander Dimsdale Masterman CB CMG CBE AFC RAF was a senior officer in the Royal Air Force in the first half of the 20th century...

 (Officer Commanding the Naval Airship Section) and representatives from Vickers
Vickers was a famous name in British engineering that existed through many companies from 1828 until 1999.-Early history:Vickers was formed in Sheffield as a steel foundry by the miller Edward Vickers and his father-in-law George Naylor in 1828. Naylor was a partner in the foundry Naylor &...

 and the London-based firm of Airships Limited to discuss the possibilities of creating a fleet of suitable patrol airships, sometimes referred to as "scouts".

Design and development

The type was to have a speed of 40 –, carry a crew of two, 160 lb (72.6 kg) of bombs, wireless
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

 equipment, fuel for eight hours flying, and should be able to reach an altitude of 5000 ft (1,524 m). Most importantly their design should be simple in order to ease production and to facilitate training of the crews; since the new airships, designated the "Submarine Scout" or "Sea Scout" (SS) class, needed to be in the air within weeks rather than months.


The prototype SS craft was created at RNAS Kingsnorth
RNAS Kingsnorth
RNAS Kingsnorth was a First World War Royal Navy air station for seaplanes and airships, mainly operating as an experimental and training station, but also providing anti-submarine patrols...

 on the Hoo Peninsula
Hoo Peninsula
The Hoo Peninsula is a peninsula in England separating the estuaries of the rivers Thames and Medway. It is dominated by a line of sand and clay hills, surrounded by an extensive area of marshland composed of alluvial silt. The name Hoo is the Old English word for spur of land.-History:The Romans...

, and was effectively a B.E.2c aeroplane fuselage and engine minus wings, tailfin and elevators, slung below the disused envelope from airship HMA No. 2 (Willows No. 4)
Willows airships
|-See also:...

 that had been lying deflated at the Royal Aircraft Establishment
Royal Aircraft Establishment
The Royal Aircraft Establishment , was a British research establishment, known by several different names during its history, that eventually came under the aegis of the UK Ministry of Defence , before finally losing its identity in mergers with other institutions.The first site was at Farnborough...

 (RAE), Farnborough Airfield
Farnborough Airfield
Farnborough Airport or TAG London Farnborough Airport is an airport situated in Farnborough, Rushmoor, Hampshire, England...

. It was ready for evaluation trials within a fortnight of approval being granted for the scheme, and on 18 March 1915 the first SS class blimp entered service. The whole process had taken less than three weeks, and voicing his approval, Admiral Fisher made the famous comment: "Now I must have forty!"

The officer commanding the Kingsnorth facility was Wing-Commander N. F. Usborne, who also assisted in the design of the airship. In recognition of his contributions the following comment was made: "Admiral Sueter
Murray Sueter
Sir Murray Fraser Sueter, CB, MP was a Royal Naval officer who was noted as a pioneer of naval aviation and later became a Member of Parliament .-Naval career:...

 desires to place on record his high appreciation of the hard work and devotion to the airship cause displayed by Commander Usborne. Far into the night and the early hours of the morning this scientific officer worked to make these airships a success and due to him in large part their wonderful success was due."

Two private firms, Armstrong Whitworth
Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft
Sir W. G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft Company, or Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, was a British aircraft manufacturer.-History:Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft was established as the Aerial Department of the Sir W. G Armstrong Whitworth & Company engineering group in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1912, and...

 and Airships Ltd., were also invited to submit designs and consequently three versions of the SS class blimp were produced: the SS "B.E.2c", the SS "Armstrong Whitworth" and the SS "Maurice Farman" (thus named because the car designed by Airships Ltd. resembled a Farman aeroplane body).


The envelope of the experimental prototype had a volume of 20500 ft3, but production models used a 60000 ft3 envelope of similar shape that provided a typical gross lift of 4180 lb (1,896 kg), a net lift of 1434 lb (650.5 kg) and a disposable lift of 659 lb (298.9 kg) with full fuel tanks and a crew of two on board. Each of the SS versions used similar envelopes that were composed of four layers: two of rubber-proofed fabric with a layer of rubber between them, and a further rubber layer on the inner, or gas surface. The external surface had five coats of 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...

 applied to it to protect it from the elements and to render the envelope completely gastight. The first two coats were of "Delta dope" (a flexible dope used for the first time in 1913 on the British Army semi-rigid airship
Semi-rigid airship
Semi-rigid airships are airships with a partial framework. These often consist of a rigid, or occasionally, flexible, keel frame along the long axis under the aerodynamic hull envelope. The partial framework can also be located inside the hull...

 Delta), followed by two of aluminium dope and finally one of aluminium varnish. To stiffen the nose of the envelope and to prevent it blowing in, 24 canes were arranged radially from its centre and covered with an aluminium cap.

The envelope contained two ballonet
A Ballonet is a air-filled flexible container that is located inside the envelope of a non-rigid or semi-rigid airship. Such an airship can have one or more ballonets, commonly one fore and one aft...

s of 6375 ft3 each instead of just one as used on the prototype. These were supplied with air from the propeller draught via a scoop and a slanting aluminium tube to the underside of the envelope, and then via horizontal fabric hoses containing non-return fabric valves known as "crab-pots".


The original design featured four fins (or planes) and rudders set radially to the envelope: two horizontal fins, and two below the envelope in an inverted V-tail
In aircraft, a V-tail is an unconventional arrangement of the tail control surfaces that replaces the traditional fin and horizontal surfaces with two surfaces set in a V-shaped configuration when viewed from the front or rear of the aircraft...

 configuration; however, in some cases the two lower fins were replaced with a single central fin that carried a larger rudder. The fins were identical in size and shape, and were constructed of spruce
A spruce is a tree of the genus Picea , a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the Family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal regions of the earth. Spruces are large trees, from tall when mature, and can be distinguished by their whorled branches and conical...

, aluminium, and steel tubing, braced with wire and covered with doped fabric.

SS B.E.2c

Similar to the prototype, the production car was a wingless B.E.2c fuselage stripped of various fittings, and equipped with two ash skids in place of the wheeled undercarriage. Mounted at the front of the car was an air-cooled 75 hp Renault engine driving a 9 ft (2.7 m) diameter four-bladed propeller.

The pilot was seated to the rear of the observer, who also served as the wireless operator. A camera was fitted, while armament consisted of bombs carried in frames suspended about the centre of the undercarriage, and a Lewis Gun
Lewis Gun
The Lewis Gun is a World War I–era light machine gun of American design that was perfected and widely used by the British Empire. It was first used in combat in World War I, and continued in service with a number of armed forces through to the end of the Korean War...

 mounted on a post adjacent to the pilot's seat. The bomb sight and release mechanism were located on the outside of the car on the starboard side of the pilot's position.

SS Maurice Farman

The Airships Ltd. design initially used 60000 ft3, and later 70000 ft3 envelopes. Dual controls were fitted for both the pilot and the observer/wireless operator seated behind him. Occasionally a third seat was fitted to carry a passenger or an engineer. Renault engines were normally fitted, mounted at the rear of the car in pusher configuration
Pusher configuration
In a craft with a pusher configuration the propeller are mounted behind their respective engine. According to Bill Gunston, a "pusher propeller" is one mounted behind engine so that drive shaft is in compression...

, but a Rolls-Royce Hawk
Rolls-Royce Hawk
|-See also:-Bibliography:*Flight 7 May 1954**Lumsden, Alec. British Piston Engines and their Aircraft. Marlborough, Wiltshire: Airlife Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85310-294-6....

 proved effective in one instance. The type was slightly slower than the SS B.E.2c, but the cars were roomier and more comfortable.

SS Armstrong Whitworth

The version fitted with the Armstrong Whitworth F.K.
Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3
-See also:...

 car was similar in many respects to the B.E.2c type, but had a single-skid landing gear with buffers, and required the larger envelope to maintain a reasonable margin of lift. A water-cooled 100 hp Green
Green Engine Co
The Green Engine Co was an early British aero engine manufacturer. It was founded by Gustavus Green in Bexhill to produce engines of his design during the first two decades of the 20th century. Actual manufacturing was carried out at the Aster Engineering Company of Wembley...

 engine was fitted in tractor configuration
Tractor configuration
thumb|right|[[Evektor-Aerotechnik|Aerotechnik EV97A Eurostar]], a tractor configuration aircraft, being pulled into position by its pilot for refuelling....

, and fuel was carried in two aluminium tanks supported in fabric slings suspended from the envelope, saving 100 lb (45.4 kg) in weight compared to the internal tanks fitted to the B.E.2c.

Airship stations

At the same time a number of new air stations were set up as well as a training station at Cranwell
Cranwell is a village situated in the North Kesteven district of Lincolnshire. It is part of the Civil Parish of Cranwell and Byard's Leap and is located 3.95 miles north-north-west of Sleaford and 16.3 miles south-east of the county town of Lincoln...

. The rigid airship
Rigid airship
A rigid airship is a type of airship in which the envelope retained its shape by the use of an internal structural framework rather than by being forced into shape by the pressure of the lifting gas within the envelope as used in blimps and semi-rigid airships.Rigid airships were produced and...

 programme was also gathering momentum, and these stations were later joined by several more that together formed a chain all around the UK coast.


Initially undertaken by the Royal Aircraft Factory
Royal Aircraft Establishment
The Royal Aircraft Establishment , was a British research establishment, known by several different names during its history, that eventually came under the aegis of the UK Ministry of Defence , before finally losing its identity in mergers with other institutions.The first site was at Farnborough...

 at Farnborough, production was soon transferred to Kingsnorth, and in addition shortly afterwards to Vickers' works at Barrow-in-Furness
Barrow-in-Furness is an industrial town and seaport which forms about half the territory of the wider Borough of Barrow-in-Furness in the county of Cumbria, England. It lies north of Liverpool, northwest of Manchester and southwest from the county town of Carlisle...

 and to the Wormwood Scrubs
Wormwood Scrubs
Wormwood Scrubs, known locally as The Scrubs, is an open space located in the north-eastern corner of the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in west London. It is the largest open space in the Borough, at 80 ha , and one of the largest areas of common land in London...

 Naval Air Station in London. However, construction at each of the facilities was hampered by aeroplane orders affecting the supply of envelopes.

In total, some 60 examples of the three versions of SS class blimp were assembled, costing around £2,500 each.

Service history and legacy

During the entire war there was only one instance of a ship being sunk whilst being escorted by an airship. During the final 15 months of the war SS type airships carried out over 10,000 patrols, flying nearly one-and-a-half million miles in more than 50,000 hours. A total of 49 U-boats were sighted, 27 of which were attacked from the air or by ships.

An SS B.E.2c set the current altitude record for a British airship when it reached 10300 ft (3,139.4 m) in the summer of 1916, and the sole Hawk-engined SS Maurice Farman on one occasion carried out an extended patrol of 18 hours 20 minutes. Also in the summer of 1916, an Armstrong Whitworth model coated with black dope carried out night-time operations over France, proving that airships could be of value when operating with military forces over land.

The SS type was further developed with purpose-built cars to create the SSP
SSP class blimp
|-See also:-External links:* *...

 (Pusher), SSZ
SSZ class blimp
|-See also:-External links:*...

 (Zero), SST
SST class blimp
|-See also:-External links:* *...

 (Twin) and SSE
SST class blimp
|-See also:-External links:* *...

 (Experimental SST) types. Demand for the versatile "Sea Scouts" was so great that a grand total of 158 of all versions and variants were constructed, some of which were acquired by France, Italy and the United States.

Although the SS class types proved invaluable, their use was restricted to coastal patrols in reasonably fair weather owing to their low engine power and comparatively small size. For work farther out at sea and in all weathers, three further classes were developed: the Coastal
Coastal class blimp
The Coastal Class were a class of blimp used by the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I. The C class blimp operated by the United States Navy after the war was a completely unrelated design. In total 35 Coastals were built, all at RNAS Kingsnorth, Kent...

, the C*
C-Star class blimp
-References:* London, P. U-Boat Hunters: Cornwall's Air War 1916-19 Dyllansow Truran, Truro. ISBN 1-85022-136-9-External links:*...

 and North Sea
NS class blimp
The British NS class blimps were the largest and last in a succession of non-rigid airship designs that served with the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I; developed from experiences gained with earlier classes to operate off the east coast of Britain on long-range patrols...

-class ships. Each had larger engines and envelopes, carried more crew, and had greater patrol duration than the previous class ships.

Specifications (typical)

Comparative specifications

General characteristics |SS [MF] |SSP |SST
Length 143 in 5 in (43.71 m) 143 in 5 in (43.71 m) 143 in 5 in (43.71 m) 143 in 5 in (43.71 m) 143 in 5 in (43.71 m) 165 ft (50.3 m)
Diameter 27 in 9 in (8.46 m) 30 / 32 ft 32 ft (9.8 m) 30 ft (9.1 m) 30 ft (9.1 m) 35 in 6 in (10.82 m)
Height 43 in 5 in (13.23 m) 43 in 5 in (13.23 m) 43 in 5 in (13.23 m) 43 in 5 in (13.23 m) 46 ft (14 m) 49 ft (14.9 m)
Volume 60000 cu ft (1,699 m³) 60 / 70,000 cu ft 70000 cu ft (1,982.2 m³) 70000 cu ft (1,982.2 m³) 70000 cu ft (1,982.2 m³) 100000 cu ft (2,831.7 m³)
Ballonet 12750 cu ft (361 m³) 12,750 / 19,600 cu ft 19600 cu ft (555 m³) 19600 cu ft (555 m³) 19600 cu ft (555 m³) 19600 cu ft (555 m³)
Gross lift 1.85 t 2.2 t 2.2 t 2.2 t 2.2 t 3.1 t
Disposable lift 0.64 t 0.6 / ~0.8 t 0.7 t 0.7 t 0.6 t 1.0 t
Car length 24 ft (7.3 m) 20 ft (6.1 m) 26 ft (7.9 m) 26 ft (7.9 m) 17 in 6 in (5.33 m) 17 in 6 in (5.33 m)
Engine type Renault
Renault S.A. is a French automaker producing cars, vans, and in the past, autorail vehicles, trucks, tractors, vans and also buses/coaches. Its alliance with Nissan makes it the world's third largest automaker...

Renault Green
Green Engine Co
The Green Engine Co was an early British aero engine manufacturer. It was founded by Gustavus Green in Bexhill to produce engines of his design during the first two decades of the 20th century. Actual manufacturing was carried out at the Aster Engineering Company of Wembley...

Rolls-Royce Hawk
|-See also:-Bibliography:*Flight 7 May 1954**Lumsden, Alec. British Piston Engines and their Aircraft. Marlborough, Wiltshire: Airlife Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-85310-294-6....

Rolls-Royce Rolls-Royce/Sunbeam
Engine power 70 / 75 hp 75 hp 100 hp 75 / 100 hp 75 hp 75 / 100 hp
Fuel capacity 60 gal 64 gal 90 gal 120 gal 120 gal 120 gal
Maximum speed 50 / 52 mph 40 mi/h 45 mi/h 52 mi/h 53 mi/h 57 mi/h
(full speed)
7–8 hours 7–8 hours 12 hours 12 hours 17 hours 17 hours
(half speed)
14–16 hours 14–16 hours 24 hours 24 hours
Rate of climb 700 ft/min 790 ft/min 500 ft/min 500 ft/min 1,200 ft/min 1,200 ft/min

Notes: · [BE] B.E.2c car · [MF] Farman car · [AW] Armstrong Whitworth car

See also

External links

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