AD 1 inside the Cramlington shed. Note the size of the advert
in comparison to the man on the ladder.
Developments AD 1 showing the advertising space on the side
of the envelope.
Airship Development self advert with different message
test flight of the ship, with no advertisement on the envelope
Cramlington shed and you can make out the words Airship
Developments Company Limited
(1 ABC Hornet later Rolls Royce)
with ABC Hornet Engine, reduced to 12,000lb with Rolls Royce
Development Company AD 1
The First Private Airship.
The British Airships Limited Company,
were looking to use the idea of seeing the new lighter than air
craft, as perfect flying billboards for advertising. Prior to
this, airplane pilots would loop the loop leaving a trail of smoke
plumes to spell out a word or phrase, exciting to see but one
disadvantage is that skywriting is short lived. A slower moving
airship would be perfect for getting the message across to those
on the ground. One of the first times an airship had been used
for advertising was the Spencer Brothers of Highbury in London,
whose airship in 1901 had the name of Mellin
emblazoned on the side of the envelope. Mellin being the name
of the principle financial sponsor. After this, advertising
on airships stuck and were seen as perfect "advertising"
vehicles, which is still true to this day.
After the First World War,
RNAS Cramlington was chosen the stand alone operation base located
north east of Cramlington Station, and adjacent to the existing
aerodrome. During the War, a single Coastal class airship shed
was constructed. There was a small hydrogen gas making plant in
a building behind the shed. It was intended to eventually base
four non rigid Submarine Scout Twin airships here. Cramlingtons
coastal shed was unusual as it was pained brown to blend in with
the local countryside. Also unusually there were no windbreaks
fitted to the shed, despite its exposed position
Originally, the station was
not completed by the time of the Armistice but work continued
on the construction of the planned airship shed, which measured
some 300 x 100 x 70 feet on a NE-SW axis that aligned with the
prevailing wind. During it's time in the war, four
Submarine Scout Twin (SST) airships were operational from
the Coastal shed with some twenty officers, and 281 men were stationed
at the airship station. Further airships were to be station here,
however with the armistice, and then following peace treat, the
Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, it was decided the airship
station was no longer used. Like most other airship stations in
Britain it was hastily abandoned, but unusually not auctioned
off or dismantled.
In the early 1920s a company considered using the facilities
to operate an airship service to Norway but nothing came of this
plan. Some of the buildings around the shed, were used as a hostel
for miners. The closing years of that decade saw a revival of
Originally the company went
by the name of British Airships Ltd.; which later changed its
name to the Airship Development Company. It thought it could revive
the fortunes of the small non rigid airships as at the time the
latter part of the 1920's optimism in lighter than air transport
had gathered, with the Imperial Airship Programme. The Airship
Development Company constructed an airship designated the A.D.1
in the airship shed at Cramlington.
The airship was 138 feet
in length and maximum diameter of 38 feet. The ship had a 60,000
cubic feet envelope made by the Reginald Foster Dagnall Company
of Guilford. The airship was based on the SS design. It was powered
by a 100 hp (75 kW) ABC Hornet four-cylinder piston engine mounted
on a three-seater underslung car. The company It recruited former
navy airship pilots who'd previously patrolled the North Sea in
search of enemy submarines. Their expertise was invaluable.
It was advertised as being
suitable for private flying, passenger flights, instruction, advertising
, aerial photography and surveying. The main revenue was anticipated
to come from advertising and for this role it had panels on its
side measuring 76 feet by 24 feet. It was designated the "AD.1"
and registered G-FAAX . When the ship was constructed and inflated,
the it made its first successful flight on, seemingly unlucky,
Friday 13th September 1929 and then followed by an appearance
at the Newcastle Air Pageant held at the Cramlington Aerodrome
on 5th October.
Their first commercial success
was with local supermarket chain Walter Wilson's. The first recorded
flight of it carrying their slogan - "Walter Willson's on
top" was on 31 May, 1930.
The AD.1 flew for five hours over the North East, but captain
Jack Beckford-Ball picked up a two guineas fine for flying too
low over a farm in Ebchester. Newspaper reports at the time said
it frightened a horse which then bolted and injured itself so
badly it was unable to work. For a while the airship was a familiar
sight as it toured around Tyneside, Ashington, Morpeth, Blyth,
Durham, Darlington, Bishop Auckland, West Hartlepool and Sunderland.
However business was slow.
Convincing other companies to advertise wasn't easy. In need of
cash and with winter approaching it was clear the airship would
be best plying its trade over larger populations such as London.
In Autumn 1930 the ship and crew headed south. They found sheltered
moorings in the lee of some trees at a girls' school at East Horsley
A publicity trip around the
Houses of Parliament and over the City of London, and St Paul's
Catherdral which was a particular landmark for airship flights,
proved irresistible but the crew got into difficulties. A cable
snagged, jamming the controls and one of the men had to climb
out of the gondola to try and manually steer the rudder while
the engine started to splutter and threaten to cut out. Despite
this and several other setbacks the company was able to prove
the airship and obtained a contract with a tobacco company to
fly over Belgium, and advertise "Gold Dollar Cigarettes".
For this contract it was decided
that the original ABC Hornet engine was replaced by a 75 hp Rolls-Royce
Unfortunately while flying
in Belgium the airship was destroyed in a storm only 2 days after
the loss of the R101. The ship was lost on 7th October 1930. It
was torn from its moorings and the envelope was ripped by neighbouring
trees. With no income coming in and no prospect of surviving through
to the following summer, the Airship Development Company went
in to liquidation and the company was closed. The salvaged remains
were brought back to the UK and remains later sold at auction
the following year on 18th June 1931.
All of the materials of the
company were sold off, the two envelopes which had cost £1,000
each sold for £22 10s, to be made into dust sheets for furniture,
the engine for £13 10s (the new owner planning to use in
a motor boat) and the Gondola with all instruments fetching £2.
Britain at the time was in deep recession. The airship shed at
Cramlington vacated, never to be used again by airships.
Towards the end of its days,
the airship shed was used by a firm called Concrete Utilities
Ltd ., to make concrete lamp posts. It was eventually demolished
in 1967 having outlived its contemporaries by many years. Most
other airship sheds had in fact disappeared by the outbreak of
World War II.
The AD 1 has to be remembered
as the only privately built and owned non-rigid airship produced
in Britain between the wars and, the only British non-rigid airship
to fly between 1921 and 1951.