airship with the longest career, and the workhorse of the British
rigid airship service. The R33 had a reputation for being the
luckiest ship in the British rigid fleet
x 240 hp Sunbeam Maori 4 V12
of the components for the R33 and her sister ship R34 had begun
in the summer of 1917, but the actual construction of the ship
in the shed did not commence until the summer of 1918. The ship
had a marked resemblance of the L33 at Little Wigborough, Essex
in September 1916, although the similarity in numbering was purely
coincidental; the R33 has been designated in early 1916 before
the crash. The order for the R 33 had been allocated to the Arstrong-Whitworth
company, and would be built in the Barlow shed based outside of
the village of Barlow in North Yorkshire. Some of the component
features such as the construction of the control car and engine
cars were allowcated to the Elswick workshops at Newcastle-upon-Tyne..
The ship design
was semi-streamlined fore and aft, with a parallel mid-ships section.
Information had been recently gained from the landing almost complete
of the L33 which gave the Admiralty the chance to see Zeppelin
designs and innovations at close hand.The main control car was
positioned well forward on the ship, and on closer inspection
was separated from the engine in the rear of the car by a small
gap. This was designed to stop vibrations from the engine car
being transmitted down to the forward control car, with its two
radio detection finding and wireless instruments. One wireless
transmission set was for a 500 mile range and under, and a second
set capable of sending up to 1,000 miles. Hence, the forward control
car and engine car looks as if it is one combined piece, but serviced
by two ladders into the hull above. The R 33 was fitted with complete
electrical generating equipment and emergency power was provided
by batteries in each car.
Two more power cars were suspended in
the wing positions further aft along the hull and a single engine
aft car was positioned amidships at the rear of the craft. All
five engines were 275 hp, Sunbeam Maori water-cooled petrol units.
The power cars were another technical advancement in airship technology,
which included two gearboxes for each engine, enabling the engines
to be started up and running without the propellers rotating.
The ship carried enough fuel for 48 hours engine running, but
to increase range it was possible to fly the ship on only 3 engines,
giving the ship a speed of some 40 knots with petrol consumption
of one mile a gallon. The petrol was held inside the hull and
fuel flowed from them by gravity to header tanks in the engine
gondolas. The reasoning behind this change of arrangement was
to feed a smoother and more precise fuel supply than the older
arrangements in earlier ships of direct gravity feed.
The radiators in the forward engine gondolas had the flow of air
regulated by the use of movable shutters, however the rear gondolas
had the old type of traditional "elevated" radiator. Twenty main
frames and thirteen longitudinals made the main structure of the
ship. There were 19 gasbags within the hull giving a capacity
of 1,950,000 cubic feet of hydrogen giving a disposable lift of
almost 26 tons. The total construction of the R33 came to £350,000
Witworth had 205 employees at the Barlow site and could provided
presses and construction materials for the the ship order, however
they did not have the fabric shop capabilities and so had to rely
on the Vickers Company to provide the gasbags for the ship.
followed the latest Zeppelin practice, as found in L 33, and were
cut and formed from duralumin sheeting. This new type of girder
was made up of formed channel pieces, held together by stamped
diagonal bracing pieces to form a latticework structure. The bracing
pieces were riveted to the scantlings of the channel pieces in
the form of crosses, riveted firmly in the centre where they crossed.
The girders were triangular in cross-section in the main and intermediate
transverse frames, in the longitudinals, and in other parts where
convenient. There were 19 gasbags made of high quality single-ply
cotton fabric, rubber proofed on the inner surface and lined with
one layer of goldbeater's skin. The whole inner surface was then
varnished. Each bag was contoured to fit in the bays between the
transverse frames and over the top of the bottom keel corridor.
Through the centre of each bag was threaded the axial cable which
passed through a sleeve with special glands at each end to prevent
leakage of gas. Situated near the bottom of each bag was an automatic
gas valve that discharged into an exhaust shaft
between each pair of bags, except for bag No 1 which had a shaft
of its own. Eight of these shafts led to the top of the hull but
the two foremost ones discharged lower down on either side of
the hull so that gas did not escape near the forward top gun platform
After almost 9 months in construction,
the R 33 was launched on 6th March 1919. Getting the R 33 out
of the shed Armstrong Whitworth Barlow shed illustrates one of
the difficulties of airship operations. The Barlow shed doors
were 100ft high and 75ft wide, weighing some 175 tons each. It
took 40 men thrity minutes to winch open the four sections of
doors. Another 400 men were temporarily employed to walk the R
33 out of the shed.
As soon as her test flights
were over she was delivered to Pulham Airship Station. The ship
had been designated as a long-range rigid scout ship to have operations
over the North Sea. During the period from 18th June 1919, to
14th October 1920, the R33 carried out 23 flights totalling a
flying time of over 237 hours. One of her tasks during 1919 was
to fly over London and the main cities to publicise the sale of
Victory Bonds One flight from Pulham to south Wales and back was
recorded in having taken 25 hours.
of the R 33
Frame base plus first few frames complete.
Jan 1918 Six
frames on supports.
Frame base supports and more completed frames.
18.02.1918 Uniform load test on 5" intermediate long
girder, fail at 70lbs per ft run
uniform load test, 95lbs per ft run 15" long girder
Uniform load test, 15lbs per ft run 10" long girder.
Uniform load test, 130lbs per ft run 5" long girder.
Uniform load test on 10" long girder, fail at 35lbs
per ft run
1918 Freestanding rings.
1918 Frame base supports and more completed frames.
Interior cross girders.
July 1918 Girls
working on upper virticle fin.
Port fin, vertical fin and stern tip.
Forward car, Barlow.
cars, Elswick Works.
car, Elswich works.
and rear car section.
From and rear car section.
1918 Engine car beside ship.
Fixing cover strips.
Forward and central cover strips in place
Girls working on upper vertical fin.
26.10.1918 Aft frames.
three quarters fitted.
Aft gun pit.
with gas bags inflating.
Dec 1919: Just
tail covers hanging.
Tail fins completed.
The forward part of the control
car of the R33 can be seen at the RAF Museum in Hendon in the