wasn't until the economy turned, the Imperial Airship Scheme was
decided and it was agreed that the R33 would form part of that
programme. On 2nd April 1925 the Cardington shed doors opened
and the new reconditioned R33 emerged. For more than four years
she had laid in the berth which had been previously occupied by
the ill-fated R38. The changes to her livery were that the RAF
roundels, the red white and blue tail stripes had also been removed,
and only her civil registration G-FAAG was painted on her hull.
During her reconditioning, new modified gas cells had been incorporated
within her and her motors had been modified. She was put on the
newly erected Cardington Mast to have a shakedown of her new equipment.
The ship left Cardington under the command of Flight Lieutenant
Carmichael Irwin, with a crew of 34 and flew to Pulham. The journey
took 4 hours and 45 minutes, and was deemed a success for the
newly conditioned ship. The R33 was then put back on to her old
regime of testing for the National Physics Laboratory. Laminal
flow tests were carried out and results were sent to the technicians
who were in the process of designing the R100 and R101.
Two weeks after her arrival,
on the night of 16th/17th April, the wind had increased to gale
force, and towards dawn the wind was gusting up to some 50mph.
The R33 was moored to the high mast, and weathervaned in the wind.
Only an "anchor watch" was onboard, and in one particularly strong
gust, the R33 was torn from the mast. The ship drifted away from
the mast and water streamed from her bow from the ballast tanks
that had been damaged. The ship, flying backwards, narrowly missed
the doors of airship shed.
number 1 gasbag had of course been punctured and there was a danger
of the fractured light alloy girders deflating the no.2 bag. The
force of the ship tearing away from the mast caused the nose to
buckle inwards, causing a hollow in which the wind and rain battered,
pushing the bow down still further. The ship began to gain height
as the crew slowly started up the Maori engines on watch. In order
to keep the forward damaged girders from puncturing more of the
gasbags, Flight Lieutenant Booth and Coxswain; G "Sky" Hunt has
to assess the damage. They crawled up the ladder to the upper
gun position, and then crawled forward as far as they could along
the top of the hull. It was found possible to prevent further
damage by rigging the deflated gas cell, and the flapping envelope,
as a shield.
As much equipment as possible
was jettisoned from the forward section to bring the ship on to
an even keel. As soon as the plight of the R33 was noticed, attempts
were made to calculate the ship's drift and urgent wireless messages
were sent to the appropriate authorities. HMS Godetia was ordered
to make ready for sea in great haste and was dispatched from Lowestoft
to render assistance in case the R33 floundered in the North Sea.
The local lifeboat was also called out, but nearly swamped in
trying to keep in view of the ship. The weather worsened and the
lifeboat had to turn back as the airship was last seen heading
in to a rainsquall. With her engines running, the R33 was able
to keep her head in the wind but not able to make headway against
the gale. Radio messages were transmitted every 15 minutes to
report on the ship's condition and her position.
How the St Nicolas Magazine
portrayed the breakaway.
After 5 hours since the ship broke away from her mast, the crew
were able to arrest the ships drift, but the wind was still forcing
her nearer the Continent. At 3.45pm she was 45 miles north east
of the Dutch port of Ymuiden. At one stage the ship came perilously
close to the sea and flight Lieutenant Booth gave orders that
everything possible including all surplus was to be thrown overboard,
which included the hammocks, fire extinguishers and parachutes.
Finally the rain stopped and the descent of the R33 was checked.
A window in the weather allowed the R33 to begin to make a slow
The ship was very close to the Dutch coast, and orders were being
given that the ship should land at Cologne where a German crew
was ready to assist. However later in the evening the ship came
to a hover over the Dutch coast, and she stayed there until 5.00am
the next morning. After thanking the various authorities for their
help, the ship began the slow journey west, back home. Eight hours
later the damaged ship made her way over the Suffolk Coast, to
crowds of well-wishers who had lined the shore awaiting her return.
At 1.50pm, the R33 appeared over Pulham and, as expected, there
was no shortage of volunteers to man the trail ropes. The ship
was eased down to the ground and then slowly walked into the shed
where she was berthed next to the R36. King George V later presented
the crew with watches and the coxswain, Sergeant "Sky" Hunt, was
awarded the Air Force Medal, which he insisted be awarded on behalf
of the crew as a whole.
A new nose section was designed by the drawing office staff at
the Royal Airship Works at Cardington and was constructed at Pulham
and spliced into the hull in place of the original during October
1925. The new nose was specially strengthened for mooring experimental
R 33 in the shed showing
with the envelope removed showing the damage
The R33 came out of her shed
following the repairs on 5th October 1925 where she had been since
April. She was to carry out pressure experiments in connection
with the design of the new R101. These experiments involved taking
readings of the pressures exerted on the girders and envelope
during flight. Ten days later the ship took part in a series of
experiments involving the launching of an aeroplane from the ship.
The reasoning had been to provide protection of the ship from
Original experiments had
taken place on the R29. The R33 was fitted out with a large trapeze
in the middle of the hull, to which a small two? winged monoplane
was hooked. The tiny D H 53 Hummingbird had been modified with
a gantry above the forward part of the plane. The first trial
was carried out on the 15th October 1925. The R 33 rose to 3,000
ft. At that altitude, a signal was given and the pilot pulled
the release lever. The mechanism worked perfectly and the Humming
Bird dropped away from under the ship and started it's motor whilst
in a gentle dive. The pilot then flew around the R33 and then
brought the plane back up to the trapeze matching the speed of
the airship. At the critical moment while linking back with the
ship, there was a small hitch and later there was some doubt as
to whether the signal to "re-engage" had been given.
As the plane came in to engage
it knocked into one of the trapeze stay wires and the propeller
was smashed. The pilot then disengaged the suspension gear and
dropped down to glide to the airfield below. This experiment had
noted that the approach of the pilot was incorrect and that the
trapeze should have only been lowered when the plane was approaching
from the stern. Then there would have been a perfect approach
whereby the nose gear would have easily slotted in to place.
A second attempt was made
on 28th October 1925, and again the monoplane snagged on the trapeze,
however the pilot was able to land on the airfield below. On 4th
December the attempt was made again, and this time the plane disengaged
and re-engaged successfully to the ship. This was the last flight
of the R33 for some months as she returned to the shed for deflation
and an overhaul. In the spring of 1926 the Government announced
that the experimental programme using the R33 had come to an end
and the ship was to be shedded at Pulham.
Both the ship and the station
were set to a care and maintenance programme. However it was not
long before the station was open for business again and the R33
was re-launched to take part in further experiments involving
the launching of fighter aircraft and for trials at the newly
erected mast at Cardington. Instead of the little "Humming Bird",
the R33 was equipped with two of the RAF's most powerful fighters,
Gloucester Grebes. The idea being that the craft would not only
be used for defence but also to provide ship- to- shore communications
in the same way that a warship uses its boats.
Gloucester Grebe had a loaded weight of just over one ton. One
of the craft was placed amidships and the other one aft of it,
both on retractable trapezes. The ship took off from Pulham on
21st October 1926 under the overall command of Major Scott, and
Squadron Leader Booth acting as Captain. When the ship reached
2,000 ft the rear mounted Grebe released and cleared the ship,
the second Grebe followed suit and both planes flew around the
"mother ship" and returned to base.
The R33 terminated her flight
at Cardington. Two more Grebes were flown from the ship when the
R33 flew from Cardington to Pulham on the 23rd November.
One of the last tasks for
the R33 was to try out several design structures in connection
with the layout of the new ships.
The R33 was put in to the
Pulham shed in November 1926 for long term storage. She languished
there and after metal fatigue was detected in the framework; she
was forced to be dismantled during 1928.
her 10 years life the R33 survived being struck by lightning,
as well as being set adrift over the North Sea but provided essential
data for the larger ships, the R100 and R101, and also proved
that the aeroplane and airship could work together. This of course,
was later both used by the German and American rigid airships.
The forward part of the control
car of the R33 can be seen at the RAF Museum in Hendon in the
R33 - G F A A G -
1921-1928 : "The Breakaway"
the actual footage of the ship - the breakaway and launching planes