the Barrow Shed: cradles ready for the erection of
the R80 frame. The nearly completed R26 can be see to
the left of the shed. When the R26 was complete, more
space would be available for the R80 construction.
The R26 shown top is of the R23 Class which was just being
completed in the Vickers' Walney Island shed in December
1917, to a traditional Admiralty design. Work was started
on the R80 at the same time, and the change in approach
and design shape is clearly seen.
workers assembling the girders for the framework
hull section completed before winching in to position
shot of the R80 shed and construction of the main rings
showing the service trunking to the upper hull
keel walkway at base of the main hull showing water ballast
of the internal keel walkway looking towards the stern.
framework of the forward control and engine car framework
showing the aerodynamic shape and design.
from the rear of one of the two rear wing machinery or engine
cars, again showing the tapered streamline design.
view of the airship being inflated with the gasbags half
full and the work attaching the outer cover to the framework
under construction. Notice the streamlined control car and
engine car under construction on the floor of the shed.
view of the control car, with the unique fully glazed front
and side windows for the steering and height coxwains positions.
rearwards in the control car towards the engine bay.
shot of the unique control car, the streamline design showing
completed R80 emerging from the Barrow shed
fully emerges from her shed, 19th July 1920.
80 see here on her first flight
view showing the truly streamlined ship
Emerges from her shed. Note the crew member standing on
the gun-platform on the top of the ship.
Down: R80 flying over Duke Street in Barrow in Furness,
her streamlined shape showing to the full (Photo copyright
Marin Hughes of Barrow in Furness)
very rare print painting possibly from a brochure advertising
the R 80.
from A Lawson Collection)
In 1917, in the
third year of the First World War, Vickers Limited, who were already
an experienced airship manufacturer building rigid airships for
the British Government, were awarded the contract to build the
R37. To build the ship of that design, would need a larger
shed than the existing facilities Vickers had at their existing
base at Barrow-in-Furness on the Cumbrian coast.
facilities at all their main construction sites were full, being
used for the production of other ships which were being raced
through production during the war. Vickers had applied for Permission
to build a shed at Flookburgh, across the bay from their Barrow
facility, on the shores of Morecambe Bay, a shed larger than their
two existing sheds. They were originally granted Permission and
allocated the steel needed.
Work started on the Flookburgh site in March of 1917, with some
buildings commenced, and by July, some of the steel had arrived,
and erection of the shed commenced. Original designs for the shed
were larger than anything that had been completed before, and
with the idea that airship designs would get larger and bigger,
to accommodate this plan, at some 900ft long and 150ft high, the
proposed shed was much larger than their existing shed at Walney
Island, and indeed the rigid sheds at Howden, Pulham and Cardington.
However with the pressures of war this was later cancelled, and
plans refused due to a shortage of steel. This left Vickers with
no option but to abandon the project for the Flookburgh shed,
and also the contract to build the R37, which was then awarded
to the Shorts Brothers Company and constructional facility at
Cardington whom later commenced construction of the ship.
With the limitations put upon
them, and now no new shed available, Vickers asked the Admiralty
for permission to build a ship of their own design. Permission
was granted by a busy Admiralty, to design a ship with the same
dimensions of the existing dimensions of the existing R23 Class
ship. The idea of a streamlined shape had originally been outlined
in their earlier design of the HMA.
1 known as "The Mayfly", but with the constructional
difficulties associated with the formation of curved duralumin
member had lead to a rejection of the original design proposal,
and the adoption of Zham shaped parallel sided hull approved.
The Zham shape had been proposed by the American Professor of
Mechanics, Albert Zham, who claimed that it could give on 40%
of the resistance of the zeppelin shape. These claims were based
on experiments with models at the National Physics Laboratory
and on evaluations by F D Reynolds of the Vickers Airship Department.
Without the new larger shed, a smaller ship would have less disposable
load compared to the other airship current Admiralty projects
which were proposed and under construction in the UK. However
it was agreed to continue with revised plans. The new design had
been created in an outline in 1916 by the then Vickers chief designer,
Barnes Wallis. He was convinced that the Zahn shape of the earlier
ships was wrong, and that the National Physical Laboratory had
been mislead in their conclusions by the use of models that were
too small to give consistently accurate results. Wallis reworked
Reynolds's numbers and produced a design that offered only 3%
resistance of a flat plate of the same diameter, against the 16%
of the R26, another Vickers designed ship which was nearing completion
in the Walney Island shed.
The specification for a streamlined ship of some 1,200,000 cubic
feet was submitted on 14th November 1917, and being approved on
21st November 1917. The Vickers design team of Barnes Wallis and
H B Pratt set about designing a ship which would fit within the
existing shed, which had been used to build the 23X class ships.
The R80 was designed to be a weapon of war, with an armament of
three 2 pounder guns, rifled guns positioned on the top, and under
the tail of the ship. Provision was also made for the ship to
carry bomb racks, with the armament to be provided by the Admiralty.
Vickers produced an illustrated
booklet which summarised their lighter than air activities during
the hostilities. The description of the R80, then under construction
was described as follows:
R80 design we have embodied the results of our experiences and
knowledge gained by the design of the R9 and R23 Classes, with
the additional advantage of being able to include such details
of the German ships as appeared to be of real value and superior
to our own practice.
have consequently produced in R80 a rigid airship of only 1,200,000
cubic feet capacity that will give a performance in speed and
endurance equal to that of the largest rigid airships built by
the Germans of 2,000,000 cubic feet capacity.
having being transferred to Messrs Short Bros., we were without
further work to proceed with on completion of R26. Flookburgh
shed and aerodrome being stopped, we were restricted to a size
of airship that could be built in Walney shed.
therefore prepared designs for an airship of the largest possible
size that could be built there, and embodied in this design all
the best features obtained from the German 35 class and also the
improvement suggested by our experience of the airships of R9
and R23 classes designed by us.
we were given a free hand in the design without unnecessary restrictions
as to strength, such as were imposed on us in 23 class vessels,
we have produced a vessel which for it's size is considerably
more efficient than any other Rigid Airship both in weight and
order for one ship to this design was placed with us in November
1917 and it is anticipated that this airship will be ready for
trials in 1919.
airship has been designed entirely by Vickers Limited and was
put in hand at the request of the British Admiralty with the objective
of producing a rigid airship of 1,250,000 cubic feet capacity
that would give the same performance as a Navy Patrol Airship
as the latest types of vessels of 2,000,000 cubic feet capacity.
research and a length series of experiments were carried out in
connection with the design of Vickers' special light alloy "Duralumin"
girders and other structural members for this ship, and with the
information and results obtained, we were enabled to design the
hull structure on a scientific basis to attain the utmost possible
economy in weight, whilst giving the same strength as in the larger
type of airships under all conditions of service. A special study
was also made of the design of all other features of the ship.
airship will give the same performance as the existing airships
of 2,000,000 cubic feet capacity at a first cost of only 75% and
a cost of operation of 60% of that of the larger airship.
Features of the design:
The shape of the hull, which is based on
the results of all of the best types of airships know, and also
on a lengthy series of model experiments, is considered to be
the most perfect known streamline shape, enabling the ship to
attain it's speed with the least possible power.
addition to the general improvement in the design of the hull
structure referred to above, many detailed improvements have been
introduced in the design of the girders, joints and the system
hull is provided with bow mooring attachments on the Vickers Patent
Principle which enables the ship to be moored out from a mooring
tower in such a manner that it is free to turn in any direction
and lie with the wind, thus permitting the vessel to be moored
out safely under the most severe weather conditions.
The gasbags in the airship are made
under a new system, patented by Vickers Limited, which enables
them to be constructed of the lightest possible weight whilst
at the same time giving extremely good gas holding properties.
Special consideration has been given to
the design of all control gear for steering and controlling gas
discharge, etc. and the results of over five years experience
in design and working have been taken advantage of in R80 designs,
the most important feature of which is that all controls are carried
from the car up to the hull in an accessible shaft, giving them
complete protection from the weather and rendering all parts of
the control gear accessible during flight, a feature which has
not been evident in any of the other airships yet built.
Four cars are attached to the hull viz:
Control Car and Machinery Car, which are flexibly connected
together to form one streamlined body.
wing cars for machinery only, attached on opposite sides of
Control Car is of sufficient size to contain all the navigating
controls and instruments and the navigating crew, with provision
to give sufficient room and convenience for their comfort.
The wireless system is also fitted in this car.
Machinery Car carries two engines arranged en echelon driving
directly one propeller at the after end. The driving gear
is also arranged as to enable the propeller to be driven by
either one or both of the engines.
Wing Cars each contain one engine driving direct a propeller
at the aft end and at engine speed without a reduction gear.
Reverse gear in fitted to these propeller drives for use when
the ship is landing.
most careful consideration has been given to the design of
the cars and by making them of a perfect streamline shape,
the head resistance is cut down to a minimum, whilst the same
time the engineer crew are provided with a degree of comfort
and convenience not hitherto attained.
structural system on which cars are designed also enables
the weight to be cut down to a minimum, whilst giving greater
strength and rigidity of structure than the usual design.
special type of buffer bag and buoyant covering, which is
the subject of a Vickers' Patent, is fitted to the forward
car and also to each of the machinery cars. These buffer bags
are of such a nature as to enable the airship to float on
the water and they also give considerable cushion effect in
absorbing the shock when landing on the ground.
nose of the car is well provided with windows so as to give
exceptionally good all round vision for the navigating officers.
INSTALLATION- The airship is fitted
with four Wolseley Maybach engines of 240 nominal BHP each.
This design is developed from the German Maybach engine, of
which Vickers Limited obtained the manufacturing rights before
the war. The engine has been specially developed for airship
work, and combines a high degree of reliability with the lowest
petrol consumption of any known aero engine, features which,
together with the ability to run continuously for long periods,
are essential characteristics for airship propulsion.
transmission machinery, designed by Vickers Limited, has been
based on our experience in previous airships, and gives the
best possible performance consistent with absolute security
from failure and breakdowns. The gears have been designed
on the results of a long series of experiments on the strength
and endurance of gear teeth running under the conditions prevailing
in an airship.
other improved features in the machinery installation have
been embodied in this airship, including a new system of radiators
working in slides which can be drawn into the car out of the
air stream when the engines are not running.
Constrution of the R80 began in November of 1917, and frame
erection began in April 1918, progress being slower than anticipated
due to a shortage of skilled labour. There was no lighting in
the Barrow erecting shed, and the doors were kept open for light,
which was often challenging during the winter months when the
daylight hours were much shorter. Bad weather also hampered
the speed of construction.
To complete the design,
some 600 drawings, 1,600,000 parts of 21,0000 varieties using
some 20 miles of duralumin alloy metal, both angled and channel
for the framework, 53 miles of wire and 30,000 square yards
of fabric were used.
As the R26 was nearing completion,
Vickers approached the Admiralty with regards to a second ship
of the 80 class. The Director of the Air Department approved
the R81 on 21st March 1918 and suggested the number of airships
being built elsewhere be reduced to one, while the most suitable
of the other manufacturers in the UK be switched to producing
the non rigid SS Twin airship model, which was urgently needed
to counteract the submarine threat. However the Director of
the Air Department could not authorise construction of the new
ship, this would be down to the Government Cabinet matter if
the Board approved. Matters dragged on as the Director of the
Air Department has less status than in the days before the Air
Ministry was created.
On 30th May, 1918 Vickers
wrote to the Admiralty saying that they only had the R80 under
construction and no follow up orders. As the R80 was due for
completion for the end of November , workers would have to soon
be laid off, and they may not be able to restate skilled workers
at a later date. Vickers suggested that larger ships were needed,
they could manufacture parts at Barrow, and then have then shipped
to the other constructor's sites, such and Pulham or Howden
for assembly. To this they received a rushed reply from the
Deputy-Controller of Airship Production advising that no order
was given for the R81, and that the mast which they were constructing
at Barrow, be rushed to Pulham so that trials with the No.24
airship could begin.
Wallis and colleagues continued to produce a variety of improvements
to increase the performance of the ship. In September 1918,
the machinery specification was changed to accommodate an improved
Admiralty propellor. The proposed electrical system was changed
four times in three months, and finally the machinery specification
was cancelled again and the redesigned replacement was not determined
until March 1919.
The initial idea was that
the ship might have been able to form part of the proposed commercial
airship programme and the plans were outlined in a commercial
document in October of 1919. At this stage, building of the
airship was under way but work was progressing slower than anticipated
due to shortages of skilled labour.
With the war coming to an end and the Armistice signed in November
1918, by the summer of 1919 it was decided by the Air Ministry
that work should stop as the ship would have no military value.
Vickers Ltd. continued construction as commercial use continued
to be a viable option possible viable option. It was then decided
that the ship would continue to be constructed with some military
capability and work continued to the original specification,
with gun positions on the top of the hull and just under the
In April 1920 the outer
cover was sewn on to the framework and by June the ship was
completed, powered by 4 x Wolseley built Maybach engines.
Commercial Programme of R
The original idea was laid down by Vickers' co-designer, H B
Pratt in his document "Commercial Airships". However
Vickers went a stage further in investigating the feasibility
of the R80 as a commercial ship in 1919 when the ship was half
completed. Military use of the ship was unlikely following the
armistice and the disarming of Germany in the years after the
war, however it was envisaged that the ship would be able to
run a international city to city service. Similarly, DELAG,
Germany's first airline, was planning to operate from Germany
to Stockholm with the LZ120 "Bodensee" and LZ121 "Nordstern".
DELAG had already made a success of using airships for passenger
trips, but later expanded the reliability of airships with scheduled
services between Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Berlin. Pratt even
suggested that the R80 be used for aerial tours of the Great
War battlefields and cemeteries - however this plan never came
to fulfilment. More
details of the plan can be found
On 19th July 1920 the ship
emerged from her Walney Island shed in blazing sunlight to an
expectant crowd. The first full view of her streamlined shape
could be appreciated. With the first emergence of the ship,
the R80 sustained some damaged as service crew had been slow
in alighting from the ship, and due to some problems with starting
the engines. The ship sat in the blazing June sun, the gas pressure
built up, and the automatic valves opened as the gas pressure
increased, however as the ship was stationery there was no through
ventilation and the central keel corridor filled with hydrogen
After engine checks and ballast weights, she was launched and
and her first trial flight was commenced. As soon as the ship
cast off, the R80 shot up at 1,000 ft a minute, to the height
of 4,000ft. This imposed severe strain on rear girders and the
structure at frame 28 bent. Once returned to the ground, the
R80 was returned to her shed and significant repairs commenced.
The frames holding the
ballast bags had to be straightened before the R80 could fly
again, and the test flight showed that the outer cover was also
too loose. However, on the positive side, the lift of the ship
was nearly two tons better than the design specifications anticipated.
A disposable lift of 14.85 tons and a weight of 38.25 tons,
made the R80, the most efficient British airship of the time.
During the time which the R80 was returned to the shed for repairs,
bow mooring gear was added to the nose of the ship.
First Flight" over the
Walney Island Sheds by Keith Goldsmith 2020 (copyright)
In the post war years, the Government was looking to re-evaluate
all aspects of military spending and look to recover the financial
costs which had burdened the Government. This meant there was
active role for the R80 to fulfil at this stage. The R80 remained
in the Vickers Walney Island Shed, and didn't fly again until
early 1921 when the decision was made and she was finally commissioned
in January 1921. It was noted on a trial flight that the bow
mooring gear had upset her trim, and then required the permanent
carriage of a ton of ballast, aft. After these modifications
and changes, the R80 was then flown to the airship base in
Howden in Yorkshire on 24th February.
However the Controller
of General and Civil Aviation announced on 11th February that
the ship was not required. With the post war economy in depression,
the costs of keeping the ship along with the other ships which
had been constructed and stored, made the R80's future look
very uncertain. The decision whether to scrap, deflate or store
the ship was left up to the Secretary of State, who was also
responsible for the other airships in the service. Since the
R80 was new, a reprieve came in the form of a request that the
ship remain serviceable to allow a US detachment to come and
train on airships. At the time a contract had been awarded to
Shorts Brothers of Cardington, and the Government had agreed
to sell the newly competed R38 to the American Government. As
part of the contract, it was agreed that crew training would
be given to a detachment of American servicemen, based at Howden,
and a ship was needed for rigid airship training purposes.
The US crew had use of the ship for three months to familiarize
themselves with a rigid airship.
The US Navy made 4 flights
in the ship totalling some 8 hours 45 minutes between 26th March
and 1st June 1921.
Life at Pulham
When the R38 was finally completed by Shorts Brothers, and after
her initial trial fligthts at Cardington, and flown up to Howden
in July 1921 the US crew would move their training from the
the R80, to the new ship. The R80 was therefore no longer required
at Howden and her future was uncertain. It was then decided
that the ship be used for experiments and moved to Pulham, which
was seen as the main experimental base in the UK for rigid airships.
The R80 was then flown from Yorkshire to
Pulham in Norfolk; this flight on the 20th September 1921
proved to be her last. On this flight the R80 was loaded with
all of the commanding officers livestock, which was to be flown
to Pulham. Tragically on It was 24th August 1921 that the R38
broke in two during low level turning trial tests, over the
Humber Estuary killing 44 of her British and American crew members.
After this time it was decided that as part of the post R38
programme, that the R80 be used for destructive tests on components.
The R80 stayed at Pulham for a further 3 years inside the shed,
and was finally dismantled in 1925 after 4 years in service,
having flown for a total of 73 hours.
With her sleek lines carried
over to the control car and engine gondolas, she was the most
efficient design of British airship at the time. By many standards
the R80 would have been seen as a much better test bed prototype
for the later ultra-streamlined ships of the R100 and R101 class
than the ships which were later used, namely the R33 and R36
based at Pulham.