Airship Heritage Trust
Click here to return home 

R 80

Launched on 19th July 1921, the R80 was the first truly streamlined British airship.

R 80 Statistics:
Length 535ft
Diameter 70ft
Speed 70mph

4 x 230hp

Volume 1,200,000cft


R80 Plan of ship
R 80 Plan of Gondola

R 80 Commercial variant

R80 under construction. Notice the sreamlined control car and engine car under construction on the floor of the shed.
Forward view of the control car, with the unique fully glazed front and side windows for the steering and height coxains positions.
Looking rearwards in the control car towards the engine bay.
Exterior shot of the unique control car, the streamline design showing clearly.
The completed R80.
R80 fully emerges from her shed, 19th June 1920.
R 80 see here on her first flight
Side view showing the truly streamlined ship
R80 Emergest from her shed. Note the crewmemeber standing on the gun-platform on the top of the ship.
A very rare print painting possibly from a brochure advertising the R 80.
(Reproduced from A Lawson Collection)

In 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.

Work started on the Flookborough site in March of 1917, with some buildings commenced, and by July, some of the steel had arrived, and errection of the shed commenced. Original designs for the shed were larger than anything that had been completed before, at some 900ft long and 150ft high. 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, which was then awarded to Shorts at Cardington who later commenced construction of the R37.

With the limitations put upon them, and now no new shed available, Vickers asked the Admiralty for permisssion to build a ship of thier own design. Permission was granted by a busy Admiralty. The specification for a streamlined ship of some 1,200,000 cft 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 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, and frame errection begain in April 1918, progress being slower than anticiapted due to a shortage of skilled labour, and as there was no lighting in the Barrow erecting shed, and the doors were kept open for light, bad weather lead to futher delays. 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.

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 threee 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.

Commercial Programme of R 80

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 fulfilment.

In 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. On the first emergence of the ship, the ship sustained somedamaged 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 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 keel corridor filled with hydrogen gas.

As soon as the ship cast off, it 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. The frames holding the ballast bags had to be straightened before the ship could fly again, and the test flight showed that the outer cover was also to loose. On the possitive side, the lift of the ship was nearly two tons better than the anticipated. A disposable weight of 14.85 tons and wa weight of 38.25 tons, made the R80, the most efficient British airship of the time.

Once returned to the ground, the 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. 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 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 1921.

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 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.


Related ships: R100 R80 Commercial Varient,

Copyright © 2020 Airship Heritage Trust. All Rights Reserved. Copying and/or redistributing of any files is illegal under international copyright law. AHT is not responsible for the content of external sites.