A recently discovered map in the Public Records Office in
Kew showing all the proposed Imperial Air Routes has uncovered
some interesting unknown finds. The map is dated "Air
Routes 1931" but it is suspected that this is a future
proposal of sites, probably issued around August September
1930, prior to the loss of the R101 and when many decision
had been made regarding the next phase of the Airship Programme.
of the locations which was shown was the proposal of a mast
in Keeling Island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but
also close proximity to Sumatra. The mast is in a strategic
location in the Middle of the Indian Ocean, which would
be suitable to service the later ships and in the trade
winds from South Africa to Australia. Part of this route
is already shown in the proposals made in 1926, and the
length of the route would have only been capable by ships
of the R102 class. Nothing more is known of the Keeling
Island mast, and it is unknown whether the Imperial Air
commission stopped off there en route from South Africa
to Australia in 1927. The mast could also service those
airships travelling down from Bombay, Colombo to Perth in
Australia, as it sits on a geographic line directly south
east connecting those locations.
The Keeling Islands is also know as the Cocos Islands, is a small cluster of some twenty seven originally uninhabited island. It wasn't until the 1820's when explorer, John Clunies Ross, settled here and found the islands suitable for harvesting coconut palms. He planted hundreds of plants to establish a business on the islands.
In 1927 the surveyor, Lt Nixon struggled to find a passenger ship that would divert to the isolated archipelago. The ship owners were reluctant due to the fear of running around on potential reefs surrounding the island. Of the islands, the most suited was Ross Island, being some 5 miles long, and over 700 meters wide. The other islands in the chain were deemed too small for the purposes. To make way for the base, and potential mast, the island would have to be cleared, and also the provision of fresh water was essential. Airships were unable to use seawater as ballast due to the corrosive properties. The survey team would overcome this problem by the sinking of wells in the main part of the island as a source of fresh water. In addition to this, and for the quantities needed for commercial airship operation, a sea water condensing plant would also be required to set up.
Another provision for the proposed mast would be for the strengthening of the mast against hurricanes. It was noted that the islands had been previously battered by a hurricane in 1909, with wind speeds recorded of 150mph. Whether as an emergency base or as a permanent base, these sorts of extra requiments would need to be taken in to account. Along with fresh water, a a hydrogen production plan would also need to be able to top up any ship with any vented hydrogen during the voyage. A silicol production plant would also need to be established. A line of supply of coke and other essential consumables could be established from Durban to the Keeling Islands.
Despite seeming remote, the plans for either an emergency base, or permanent main base on the Keeling Ilands would have made a very interesting and unique location. However due to the R101 crash, the plans for the extension of the Imperial Airship scheme, remained thus, just as plans.