very rare print painting possibly from a brochure advertising
the R 80.
from A Lawson Collection)
1917, in the third year of the First World War, Vickers were awarded
the contract to build the R37. To build the ship would need a larger
shed than the existing facilities Vickers had at their existing
base at Barrow in Furness on the Cumbrian coast. The construction
facilities at all their main construction sites were full, being
used for the production of other ships. Vickers had applied for
permission to build a shed at Flookborough, larger than their two
existing sheds. They were originally granted permission and allocated
the steel needed. However with the pressures of war this was later
refused due to a shortage of steel. This left Vickers with no option
but to abandon the project, which was then awarded to Shorts at
Cardington. Barnes Wallis and H B Pratt set about designing a ship
which would fit within the existing Vickers shed at Walney Island,
which had been used to build the 23X class ship.
Without the new larger shed, a smaller ship would have less disposable
load compared to the other airship projects which were proposed.
However it was agreed to continue with revised plans.
Construction of the R80 began in November of 1917. Originally, the
designs were to follow that of the Zahn shape, which had been outlined
in the original "Mayfly", HMA 1. Barnes Wallis later was
convinced that the design was inefficient and decided on a more
streamlined shape which would only provide a three percent resistance,
compared to a flat disc of the same diameter. 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.
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 city to city service. Similarly,
DELAG was planning to operate from Germany to Stockholm with the
LZ120 "Bodensee" and LZ121 "Nordstern". Pratt
even suggested that the R80 be used for aerial tours of the Great
War battlefields and cemeteries - however this plan never came to
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 consruction as commercial use continued to be a
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 tail.
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. On 19th June the ship emerged from her shed and
her first trial flight was commenced. The ship was damaged as
service crew had not alighted from the ship, and due to some problems
with ballast the ship rose too fast on the hot June day, the gasbags
expanded faster than the valves would allow hydrogen gas to be
vented, causing extensive buckling of the framework. R80 was returned
to her shed and significant repairs commenced.
The R80 didn't fly again until early 1921 when she was commissioned
in January and then flown to Howden in Yorkshire on 24th February.
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 her future look 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 the US Navy
airship crews to train. The US Navy made 4 flights in the ship
totalling some 8 hours 45 minutes between 26th March and 1st June
The R80 was then flown from Yorkshire to Pulham in Norfolk; this
flight on the 20th September 1921 proved to be her last. The ship
was used for destructive tests on components and she was finally
dismantled in 1925 after 4 years in service, having flown only
for a total of 73 hours.
R80 had a total weight of 38.25 tons and a disposable lift of
14.85 tons. 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.