very rare print painting possibly from a brochure advertising
the R 80.
from A Lawson Collection)
1917, Vickers were awarded the contract to build the R37. To build
the ship would need a larger shed than the existing facilities Vickers
had at Barrow, and the construction facilities at all the main construction
sites were full, being used for the production of other ships. Vickers
had applied for permission to build a hanger at Flookborough, larger
than their two existing sheds. They were originally granted permission
and allocated the steel needed, but with the pressures of war this
was later refused due to a shortage of steel. This left Vickers
with no option but to abandon the project, which was then awarded
to Shorts in Cardington. Barnes Wallis and H B Pratt set about designing
a ship which would fit within the existing shed at Warney Island,
which was used for the 23X class ship.
Of course a smaller ship would have less disposable load compared
to the other airship projects which were being undertaken. However
it was agreed to continue with the plans.
Construction of the R80 began in November of 1917. The designs were
to follow that of the Zahn shape, which had been outlined in the
original "Mayfly", HMA 1. Wallis later was convinced that
the design was incorrect and decided on a shape which would only
provide a three percent resistance in streamlining. The initial
idea was that the ship might have been able to form part of the
proposed commercial airship programme and the plans were outlined
in a commercial document in October of 1919. At this stage, build
of the ship was under way but work was progressing slower than anticipated
due to shortages of skilled labour.
The original idea was laid down by Vickers' co-designer, H B Pratt
in his document "Commercial Airships". However Vickers
went a stage further in investigating the feasibility of the R80
as a commercial ship in 1919 when the ship was half completed. Military
use of the ship was unlikely following the disarming of Germany
after the war, but it was envisaged that the ship would be able
to run a city to city service. Similarly, DELAG was planning to
operate from Germany to Stockholm with the LZ120 "Bodensee"
and LZ121 "Nordstern".
this plan never came to fulfillment. In the summer of 1919 it
was decided by the Air Ministry that work should stop as the ship
would have no military value. Work was continued as commercial
use continued to be a viable option. It was then decided that
the ship would continue to be constructed with some military capability
and work continued to the original specification, with gun positions
on the top of the hull and just under the tail.
In April 1920 the outer cover was sewn on to the framework and
by June the ship was complete. On 19th June the ship emerged from
her shed and her first trial flight was commenced. The ship was
damaged as service crew had not alighted from the ship, and due
to some problems with ballast the ship rose too fast on the hot
June day, causing extensive buckling of the framework. R80 was
returned to her shed and repairs commenced.
The ship didn't fly again until early 1921 when she was commissioned
in January and then flown to Howden in Yorkshire on 24th February.
With the post war economy in depression, the costs of keeping
the ship along with the other ships which had been constructed
and stored, made her future look uncertain. The decision whether
to scrap, deflate or store the ship was left up to the Secretary
of State, who was also responsible for the other airships in the
service. However as the R80 was new, a reprieve came in the form
of a request that the ship remain serviceable to allow the US
Navy to train. The US Navy made 4 flights in the ship totaling
some 8 hours 45 minutes between 26th March and 1st June.
The R80 was then flown from Yorkshire to Pulham in Norfolk; this
flight on the 20th September proved to be her last. The ship was
used for destructive tests on components and she was finally dismantled
in 1925 after 4 years, having flown for a total of 73 hours.
R80 had a total weight of 38.25 tons and a disposable lift of
14.85 tons. With her sleek lines carried over to the control car
and engine gondolas, she was the most efficient design of British
airship at the time.