in the footsteps of Count Zeppelin and the success of his early
rigid airships, in 1908 the British Government agreed a sum
of £35,000 which "should be allocated to the Admiralty
for the building of a dirigible balloon". This order to
build the first British rigid airship was a direct attempt to
compete with the German airship programme.
Designs were already being
submitted and on 7th May, 1909 the award was given to the Vickers
company. The original contract had been for a ship to be constructed
for £35,000, however Vickers advised that they could construct
the ship for £28,000 without goldbeaters skin gasbags and
varnished skin outer cover. The Admiralty would be required to
provide contractors for this work. Vickers also asked if they
could put up a constructional shed, free of cost to the Crown,
so that they may have a ten year monopoly on airship construction
as they did with the submarine boat agreement they had with the
Crown. On May 7th the contract was awarded, but the 10 year monopoly
clause was refused.
By 1910 the British Government had committed themselves to a similar
path of air-weapon development to that taken by Germany. It was
originally planned that the ship be used for scouting capabilities.
The project to build the first ship had begun, and designated
"HMA No. 1" or more commonly known as "The Mayfly".
The design team was working on something that could match the
current Zeppelins of the time. These could fly 100 miles, carry
a crew of 26, and get to 5,400 feet with an endurance of twelve
and a half hours.
Floating Hanger at Cavendish Dock, Barrow in Furness
Mayfly was built along similar lines to the very early Zeppelins,
but with some major modifications which were remarkable for
the time. Her original design intention was to be an aerial
scout capable of 40 knots for 24 hours, moorable on water
with a ceiling of 1,500 feet, with wireless equipment and
comfort for a crew of 20. The design was 66 feet longer than
her current German contemporary, the LZ-6, and she had a 50%
greater volume. Not only would this have given her a correspondingly
greater lift than the LZ-6, but, because the Mayfly was constructed
with duralumin and not aluminum (which the Germans would not
use for another four years), then further weight savings were
1 Under construction in the shed - notice the ship floating
above the water.
of the HMA No1.
engine cars had been hand crafted out of watertight mahogany,
each carrying one marine racing engine. Each engine drove
a pair of 15 foot diameter wooden propellers, mounted on the
outside of the gondolas, rotating at half engine speed.
in 1909 both on the ship and also on the shed, which was originally
described as a garage. The shed, designed by Vickers, was
built from the wall of Cavendish Dock out to piles driven
into the basin floor. Once this was completed in mid-1910,
the actual construction of HMA No.1 began. The mooring was
to be to a mast, which the British were the first to use as
standard equipment. The Mayfly was the first of the rigid
airships to be fitted out with the mooring equipment in the
nose of the ship. The design of the ship was quite revolutionary
in that it was more streamlined than the contemporary Zeppelins,
and even the No. 9, 23 or 23X class which were to follow.
The shape gave a 40% head resistance compared to existing
Zeppelins. A more streamlined shape was suggested for the
Mayfly, but the Admiralty rejected it and it was not until
the R80 in 1917/18 that a truly streamlined ship was constructed.
delay between design and completion of the ship was due to
the delay in completion of the shed. The shed was to be completed
in August 1909 and the ship delivered two months later, but
in June trouble occurred with driving piles in to the floor
of the dock, and caused the shed completion to be delayed
until June 1910.
of the cabin in the Keel.
In the spring
of 1910 the new crew began training and then moved in to the
shed in September of 1910. On February 13th, 1911 the Mayfly
made her static trials in the shed. The motors were run and
controls operated but outdoor trials could not be completed
until the weather moderated. It was not until March that the
crew were reported ready for launching the great experimental
new design of floating mast was erected some 38ft high and
a "screen" was erected. The mooring was designed
to have a steady pull of some 80 tons, however the maximum
pressure the ship exerted on the mast in a wind of 80mph
was some 4 tons, and hence a large safety margin has been
The ship emerging from the Dock to the floating mast.
of the ship have come to light following the discovery of
the "Handbook for HMA No1" which some of the following
details have been taken :-
crew :- Two crews were used to look after the ship whilst
out, as the work was new. They lived on board the airship
and suffered no discomfort at all although no provision
had been made for cooking or smoking on board. At night
the tempreature of the living space was a little above that
of the outside air, but as the ship proved quite free from
draughs in the keel and the cabin, it was anticipated that
with suitable clothing, no trouble would be experienced
from the cold."
of the Airships Crew :
January 25th 1910
February - At Messrs Short Brothers works, Battersea, receiving
the following instruction in working rubber fabric:-
joints in sheets on the flat
Making joints in sheets on the curve
Making fabric pipes and joins in curve.
Making model gas bags
Sticking channel fabrics to gas bags
March - Instructions in petrol engines at Barrow. Lectures
on parting, running and adjusting 15hp Wolsley motor car
April - Signals. Lectures and instruction in aeronautics
May - Further experience in workin gas bags and outer cover
When the first calculations
on weighing the ship had been made, it was discovered that
she was too heavy, and after removal of fixtures weighing
some three tons, there was hope that the ship would become
drastic surgery on the ship, she was hauled out of her shed
on Monday 22nd May 1911, stern first, by boats attached to
her side. She was gradually swung out of Cavendish Dock and
attached to a mooring pontoon. Whilst she was at the mast,
nine officers remained on board and engine trials were conducted,
although these were cut short due to trouble with the radiators.
On Tuesday May 23rd she withstood winds of 45 mph, and during
the two nights she was out on the lake, searchlights were
played across her so that her actions could be observed. Those
who stayed aboard had quarters in the keel and telephone communication
between the cars. The ship would still not rise so it was
decided to return her to the shed. It was discovered that
whilst in her shed, she floated for some five hours with both
gondolas some 4 feet out of the water! During this time the
engineers were able to perform trimming trials
drawing showning the way the ship was drawn out of the shed.
During her time in the
shed a new system was devised for removing her from the
shed. A series of electric winches would be used to ease
her out, even against a beam wind. By 24th September 1911,
the decision was mate to mover her out of her hanger for
full testing. However, disaster struck in the form of a
sudden forceful beam-side gust causing the ship to lurch,
just clearing the shed but laid her on to her beam ends.
She righted and was them being pivoted so that her nose
would point back out to the dock when there were cracking
sounds amidships and she broke in two. She started to rise
in an inverted "V" formation but t he crew in
the after gondola dived overboard and the stern flew up
in to the air.
The wreck was returned
to the shed the same day. The Court decided that there was
no one to blame of this incident and it would be reasonable
to support the story that the squall was to blame. It was
of such a force that later ships would have also been severely
damaged if they had encountered it under the same tethered
Images of the wrecked ship
was left to rot in her shed, when many decisions and arguments
were made in the Admiralty regarding the future of Naval
Airship operations. However her brief career had supplied
an immense amount of valuable information for British Scientists.
She may not have flown but she was not a dead loss.
From the original handbook, it was discovered that the ship
was required to undertake a series of trials which are very
interesting to see what they had planned for the ship and
rigid airships as a whole :-
FOLLLOWING POINTS HAVE BEEN CONSIDERED IN THE AIRSHIP TRIALS
in air 1 engine and 2 engines
Speed on water 1 engine and 2 engines
Turning circle advance etc
Effect of auxillary rudders and hydroplanes
Locating mine field
Ascertain time and distance traversed in bringing up
from full speed ahead
Lying at bouy
Moored to ship
Moored to bouy
Picking up post
Determing how best to watch a por, count shipping leaving
Dines recording charts to be kept
Vision - trying range at different heights
Practice fixing positions
Run along coastlines an note conspicuous objects etc
Take photo's of anything interesting
Carry out consumption trials
Time to rise to 800 ft
At what angle of depression a gun can be fired from
What amount of recoil is permissable
The maximum stress that could be taken up by the structure.
What gun is recommened for use against hostile airships
What gun is recommented for use against hostile aeroplanes
Gun positions in airship to be selected.
Airship chances against hostile aeroplanes
What gun should be carried for projecting explosives
for blowing up caissions of docks etc.