under construction. Notice the sreamlined 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 coxains positions.
rearwards in the control car towards the engine bay.
shot of the unique control car, the streamline design showing
fully emerges from her shed, 19th June 1920.
80 see here on her first flight
view showing the truly streamlined ship
Emergest from her shed. Note the crewmemeber standing on
the gun-platform on the top of the ship.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
returned to the ground, the R80 was returned to her shed and significant
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.
her sleek lines carried over to the control car and engine gondolas,
she was the most efficient design of British airship at the time.