"Santos Dumont", named after the iconic airship pioneer,
built and constructed at Cardington with a first flight from
Cardington in 1974. Later the Certificate of Airworthiness granted
in later 1975. With a total flight time 31 hours thye Pilots
Anthony Smith, Jasper Tomlinson, the following pages are from
a recollection of Anthony Smiths pressure airship project
by Jasper Tomlinson with additional notes by our Editor of "Dirigible"
Magazine, Dr Giles Camplin- who was there!. Originally published
in the AHT in house magzine "Dirigible" Edition 68..
had seen Anthony from time to time during my days at Oxford, 1947-50.
He was a returned war hero - probably mainly Royal Air Force clerical
duties - at Balliol and we overlapped. A grandson of A.L. Smith,
an eminent Master of Balliol, Anthony seemed to be related to
practically every seriously brilliantOxford scientist, (Dorothy
Hodgkin OM FRS, founder of X-raycrystallography, his aunt, etc.)
Anthony linked in another way to my family circle in that his
first marriage was to Barbara Newman, who had been a close friend
at Oxford of my sister Jennifer.
begins in the shed
Anthony and I got to know each other well in connection with lighter-than-air
adventures. His writing career included a spell in the early 1960s
as the Daily Telegraph science correspondent at a time when the
centenary of the publication of Jules Vernes Five Weeks
in a Balloon, or, Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three
Englishmenloomed. One of the Englishmen was the (fictional) science
correspondent of the Daily Telegraph.
something was needed, Anthony was up for it. He searched and researched
balloon know-how. Early in the search, in 1961, he went to the
lighter-than-air Royal Air Force facility in the No 1 Airship
Shed at Cardington. In spite of many remnants of balloon flight,
some of which were generously donated to his project, including
load rings, nets, abandoned baskets and the like, all current
knowhow of balloons or ballooning was blankly denied.
for obtaining a balloon pilots licence,however, were rigidly
in place. Somewhat frustrated, Anthony turned his attention to
the Continent where he was able to buy a gas balloon in Belgium
and get flying instruction in Holland.
he shipped the lot to the Island of Zanzibar, christened the balloon
Jambo, [The Swahili word for hello. Ed.] and
arranged, with the help of one of Zanzibars principal English
residents, my fellow hydrologist Basil Bell, a departure for the
heart of Africa, which the prevailing breeze decided would be
Kenya. I think the total of hours aloft during the whole adventure
didnt reach a dozen, but Anthony came out of it with a very
readable book, Throw out Two Hands, material provided by Alan
Root for a television film, and a positive bank balance.
reason for Cardingtons feigned ignorance of current ballooning
activities was believed to be related to a largely unsuccessful
wheeze launch dissident eastern Europeans in gas balloons
on a westerly breeze in order to insert anti-Soviet agents across
the iron curtain. This project was said to have been orchestrated
by the other then current British balloonist, Wing Commander Gerry
Turnbull.[Gerry later confided to me that far from being unsuccessful,
during the Cold War, he had trained and sent several
agents across the Iron Curtain by means of black
balloons. These were launched on moonless nights with a westerly
wind. The project was, and may still be for all I know, highly
secret, but a publically available account of the practicality
of the scheme was published as a book in 1981.* This true story
was the basis for the 1982 Disney film Night Crossing.
However, unlike the East to West flights happy ending, according
to Gerry, his secret West to East reallife drama ended tragically
when all his agents were unmasked and betrayed by that bastard
Kim Philby who defected to the Soviet side in 1963.
first balloon ascent is magic. Do persistent lighterthan- air
travelers get a tad bored? Certainly something of that sort got
to me when I was learning to fly hot air balloons in order to
obtain a Permit to Fly Anthonys airship project, for which
I obtained a Gas Balloon Pilots Licence. The Santos Dumont
was dreamt up out of a wish to do more with balloons than just
enter another competition.
had worked in 1967 with Malcolm Brighton in connection with the
Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang film to create a beautiful replica of
a Lebaudy airship which was a horror to fly. He had previously
been disappointed by a not properly thought out attempt - jointly
with Malcolm Brighton - to make a warm-air dirigible named WASP
[Warm Air-Ship Project].
that project was scrapped, Malcolm, who had enlisted as pilot,
was swept up in an Atlantic crossing attempt with a Roziere style
balloon [A combination of a gas and a hotair balloon.]. This was
at the insistence of Pamela Brown, the sister of the founder of
Kentucky Fried Chicken, and her husband Rodney Anderson.
ill-fated attempt - described by Anthony in his book The Free
Life: The Spirit of Courage (1995) [See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Free_Life]
- after a launch on 20 September 1970 from East Hampton, New York
State, USA, had to ditch in the Atlantic about 600 miles southeast
of Newfoundland. There were no survivors.
- still eager for more but acknowledging reality - decided in
1971 to construct a conventional blimp or pressure airship. It
was to be small enough to be moved about on a sturdy station wagon,
large enough for two passengers and camera gear, and maneuverable
at up to 30 miles per hour. The outcome was G-BAWL, the Santos
Dumont, seventy feet of aluminium-painted cotton fabric, suitable
for hydrogen or helium lifting gas, powered by two 20 hp Wankel
rotary engines fitted with ducted fans attached to a lightweight
plywood gondola. It had internal ballonets of about one fifth
of the volume of the whole envelope.
airships of course, unlike earlier generations of rigid airships,
are kept in shape by maintaining the lifting gas at a suitable
pressure, a few inches of water pressure being about right. Too
much pressure and they rupture, too little and they lose shape
and are impossible to handle in the air. The ballonets, which
are internal air-inflated pockets, can have air pushed in or allowed
to escape by means of a plenum box with some ingenious internal
shutters. The plenum box gets fed with air from a scoop in the
slipstream of one of the propellers.
one ballonet in the nose and one in the tail section, air can
be moved fore or aft to adjust the horizontal trim of the ship.
By continually allowing the total amount of air in the ballonets
to correspond to changes in altitude, the unchanging quantity
of lifting gas is maintained at just the needed pressure. The
higher the flight path, the less the air retained in the ballonets.
By providing one fifth of the total volume as ballonets The Santos
Dumont had an absolute ceiling altitude of about 6000 feet, that
is, one fifth of the extent of the atmosphere.
a couple of years, 1973 and 1974, The Santos Dumont project took
much of Giles and my time. Version 1 was conceived as a
semi-rigid. The framework, mainly of 50 mm diameter 16g aluminium
tube, was put together in a converted indoor Victorian Riding
School in Regents Park thanks to the unfailing good humour
and generosity of Peter Webb, an up-and-coming photographer. This
configuration was tried out at Cardington, not without adventure.
was found wanting before the end of that year. Version II then
was a conventional blimp configuration.
in Regents Park, I constructed from very thin plywood a
gondola. I attached the Wankel engines complete with ducted fans
- which had been neatly acquired by Anthony from a failed mini-hovercraft
project. Giles and I conceived and designed control surfaces
rudders and elevators and together with Giles handiwork
and other help from Michael Price, we had something ready for
the following years flying programme.
available material was put to use. Of some of it I have quite
a clear memory, other items are only a cloudy recollection. The
engine silencer was improvised from a good quality five gallon
can that had been used for bulk supply of lavender oil by a neighbour
in Fitzrovia who supplied lavender scented artificial flowers
to the trade. The three plastic seats were quite standard moulded
products, widely available as stacking chairs [We simply took
the metal legs off. Ed.]. The seat belts were, I seem to
recall, adapted from car seat belts. A sporty hand wheel for the
elevator control, donated by Charles Meisl, had been surplus to
some specialised motorcar.
included a military surplus altimeter; the very essential pressure
indicators for the ballonet air supply pressures and for envelope
gas pressure were adapted fromstandard NHS blood transfusion kits;
the landing gear comprised a wooden sledge cushioned with motor
car tyre inner tubes.
and elevator, throttle and choke, and air plenum box controls
all had to be conveniently placed close to the pilots seat
in the gondola. The fabric design was by Mr L.A. Speed, a retired
chief designer of lighter-than-air barrage balloons
etc., from Cardington. [The gas bag was made of twoply, neoprene-coated
cotton and built by Airborne Industries of Southend-on-Sea, who
made most of the kite balloons then based at Cardington.
regards division of responsibilities, additional fabric work and
management of all aspects of the envelope were done by Giles,
I was project engineer and test pilot, Anthony was project director
and chief pilot. Giles was crew-master for launch and landing.
Anthony also was the one who had to find the money. My labour
was a gift, but Anthony provided board and lodging. Giles got
something as well, but not much, by way of regular pay. The whole
project I was told needed about £10,000 of Anthonys
money to get to completion just about enough in the early
1970s to buy a family house.
who had several similar projects behind him since the African
balloon adventure, was quite confident that, if technically successful,
funding would follow. He had not allowed for the extraordinary
UK conditions that prevailed exactly at the time that we were
able to show success - even satisfying a test pilot from the Civil
Aviation Authority with a two-hour flight demonstrating its handling
event the CAA did not see was this take-off accident that resulted
in a total loss of gas after a gentle collision with a fence post.
Nothing was hurt (apart from our pride) and with a patch, some
glue and another fill of hydrogen from the gas main that ran beneath
the floor of Shed 1 Santos Dumont was flying again a few days
was Ted Heaths 3-day week, resulting from a miners
strike. It was clearly unpatriotic to think of funding something
as frivolous as a blimp at a time when it was seen as an absolute
obligation on us all to suffer. Most of what was achieved as outside
income for the project was the small BBC fee for their film, Mr
Smiths Airship, which they made as two half-hour episodes
followed eventually by a stand-alone 55 minute feature film.
begin with we learnt the hard way. To take-off, the ship accelerated
along the ground with the crew galloping beside, holding slack
in their ropes, until the pilot signaled Let go! Then
Bill Williams (author of Airship Pilot No.28) turned up to watch.
Why dont you just throw her up and then start the
engines? he said, That is what we did in the RNAS.
After that, Up Ship!became the norm and the crews
life was less energetic.
BBC film, Mr Smiths Airship, gives several minutes of views
from the gondola during flight. The two particular flights that
I recollect quite sharply are the demonstration flight for the
CAA and an attempt, captured by the BBC camera man, of Anthony
and then myself hoping to put it through its paces for the benefit
of a Shuttleworth Collection where time flies by
Old Warden flying displayairfield event.
the day before the event, Anthony had flown the Santos Dumont
to Old Warden with the intention of mooring it overnight to the
Bedford RL ex-army lorry we had fitted with a short mooring mast
that was part of our kit. His landing was a barely controlled
accident in a nearby field of Brussels sprouts following a close
encounter with a tree. The Santos Dumont was obliged to return
to Cardington in the calm air very early next morning for minor
but essential repair to bent parts of the elevators.
reckoned it was still just possible to attend at Old Warden by
a midday deadline. I was nominated for this flight, with the BBC
camera man as passenger. It was a fine day, not too breezy. Noticeable
thermals had developed by the middle of the day. It was a challenge
to keep flying on a steady course. Indeed at one point, crossing
a minor escarpment, the Santos Dumont flicked right around to
face back towards Cardington.
Warden was about five bumpy miles from Cardington, allowing, we
reckoned, Giles and our ground crew sufficient time from the launch
at Cardington to get in place for the landing at Old Warden. They
were travelling in the dedicated Ford Cortina, which also had
a short mooring mast sticking up from its roof.
had completely neglected, in the flurry of unexpected activity,
to obtain a gate pass for the ground crew. When they arrived at
the gate the immovable Police Constable persuaded them into a
parking area, waved through everyone in the waiting queue, and
then grudgingly allowed them to enter. [To be fair, with our long
hair, beards and flared jeans we did ook more like a bunch of
hippies than a groundcrew! Ed.]
with about a minute to spare to meet the Old Warden deadline,
I had gone into approach and landing configuration transferring
air from the back ballonet to the front one for a nose-down trim
and was cruising slowly upwind towards a landing point.
I saw the Cortina pass through the entrance gate just before I
made contact with the ground.
wind shifted. It was clear that the Santos Dumont [with a ground
speed of some 20 mph and no brakes] was headed towards three light
aircraft, parked in a line, side-byside, beside some trees at
the airfield boundary. We comprised a weightless ton
of fabric, aluminium tube, engines, ballast, a BBC TV camera and
two persons, about to have a very nasty encounter with the wing
tips of some hugely expensive and rather solid obstacles.
hindsight, I made quite the wrong decision: I put on full asymmetric
power to swerve away. The outcome was a full-on collision with
an ash tree. The camera kept turning and the immediate sequence
shows my glance backwards to ensure that the camera man had not
fallen out. For my friends, the expression on my face is the best
joke in an otherwise rather earnest documentary.
those of you who have a chance to fly a dirigible I will direct
your attention to what would have been the correct decision: chuck
out one or two sandbags, throttle down and float upwards. That
is, convert, on the instant, to balloon flight.
early morning two hour flight with the CAA test pilot was, by
contrast, trouble free. I had scripted out a flight plan:
- pre-flight checks,
- positioning for take-off,
- weighing off and trim adjustment,
- the up ship command to be pushed up off the ground,
- the climb to a specified height,
- straight and level,
- rated turns,
- an intermediate landing,
- a short cross country excursion,
- a smooth landing, culminating in
- a well-earned and convivial breakfast.
all went exceedingly well. Unfortunately the piece of paper with
the flight plan seems to have disappeared. I like to think that
the test pilot was so well impressed that he decidedto retain
it, perhaps for his memoirs.
of the text above was written earlier this year on a visit to
Nigeria when, confined to the back of a deserted office in Kaduna
by riots, strikes and curfews, I decided the moment had
arrived to write my own memoirs Good in Parts (available from
writing some of the preceding paragraphs, I was provoked to make
a Skype call to Anthony. I had recalled my undertaking to assist
- if absolutely necessary - with his then current adventure. He
had completed, with some backing from the Sunday Telegraph, two
thirds of a geriatric Atlantic crossing on a raft made of plastic
water pipes, together with three other mature
folk He had, I was pleased to hear, found alternative crew
to complete the venture.
private pilots licence expired in Kenya in the 1980s when
I decided not to renew it Piloting a Cessna on an evening
return flight to Kisumu, the control tower at Wilson airport requested
me to simply go away. They had decided it was the moment to clear
the zone for a Police Air Wing flight bringing President Moi back
from his Rift Valley farm. Along with three other late returning
aircraft we all, of course, declined. We were then instructed
to hold our positions over a visual marker. That is, all four
of us were told to go to a particular place in the sky - above
a painted pillar that was already invisible and at the
same spot and the same height, to wait, circling in pitch darkness.
By the time we were called in, it was a night landing,
not too difficult if you have ever done them before because, a
bit like riding a bike, it is a knack you dont forget
The time had come to give up private flying.
Santos Dumont Flight Manual, which is too long to accompany this
article (and will be put on the AHT website for those interested),
indicates the amount of detailed work done by Giles and by myself
for Anthonys airship project. This document, apart from
being useful for routine flying, was handed to the Civil Aviation
Authority. They typed it out again and sent it back to Anthony
saying it was his cherished Certificate of Airworthiness.
Nowhere did the CAA document specifically mention certificate
but Anthony was given a (verbal) assurance that that is what it
was. A few years later the CAA said they had never issued a C
of A for the Santos Dumont. The key perpetrator of this cruel
deception was, so it appeared, the expert sent on
many costly visits to Cardington to be taught mainly by myself
and Giles everything he managed to learn about airships. He was,
I believe, subsequently given some sort of award for his matchless
services to the lighter-than-air community. So it goes
last C of A for an airship in Britain had been signed within a
few weeks of the appointment in September 1930 of Hugh Dowding
to the Air Council as Air Member for Supply and Research [AMSR].
He was immediately put under severe pressure to sign off, on the
basis of dodgy optimistic technical reports, the airworthiness
certificate for the new R101 airship. The R101 crashed on 5 October
1930, killing forty-eight of those on board including Lord Thomson,
Secretary of State for Air
on a water resources engineering assignment in Aceh Province,
Sumatra, an accountancy clerk sidled up to my desk and handed
me a slip of paper: Last night I saw you on TV program Mr
Anthony Smith Airship. I am very interesting for your experiment
to add my knowledge would you like to write me about how;
what; when; why; what kind of goals; this airship
experiment is being done Your faithfully, Wisuda.
was my fifteen minutes of fame. The question raised is quite challenging.
Why do this sort of thing? When younger it might have been to
please my parents. Later in life I find I respond to calls for
assistance. Underlying these efforts, alas, is an inextinguishable
need to show how clever I am a basic human urge that produces
all sorts of wickedness, such as Edward Tellers hydrogen
bomb, or, say, LSD and a whole suite of mind-bending chemical
retired, Jasper Tomlinson, MA(Oxon) CEnv MCIWEM AMIMechE, was,
in his professional life, principally a tropical surface water
hydrologist and water resources engineer. He gained an RAF flying
badge and white card instrument rating during National Service,
1950 -1952, and held both a UK and a Kenya private pilot's licence.
He gained a hot air balloon pilot's licence and converted it to
a gas balloon pilot's licence [after] two flights under instruction
with Anthony Smith [below] and one solo flight as a qualified
pilot. The gas balloon licence was a CAA requirement for a permit
to fly the Santos Dumont.