November 1915, in the
mid point of the First World War, the Lord Commissioners
of the Admiralty decided that Air Department should centralise
its pilot, airship crew, and balloonist training programmes
combined in to a single establishment.
Prior to this date,
all training and instruction had been split various RNAS
sites across the country. Because of this de-centralised
approach, the results were often varied and didnt
produce the numbers of pilots required.
Prior to to the war,
the site had been extensively surveyed, and chosen for its
accessibility to London and many other parts of England.
A branch line was laid from the mainline at Sleaford, some
5 miles away, and used to move construction materials to
The line was laid so quickly that the sleepers were laid
directly on the ground. The first trains were running to
the site, by early March 1916. The tracks were later re-laid
properly and a passenger station was opened in the heart
of RNAS Cranwell.
Construction of the
accommodation huts, and the aerodrome started in December
1915, although severe weather hindered progress. The first
plane landed in January 1916 and the station was officially
commissioned in March 1916.
The original airship shed was completed in November, The
shed was a portable Submarine Scout shed which had to be
rebuilt after being blown over in a gale. A Coastal shed
was later build by airship shed contractor Sir William Arroll
& Co, completed in December 1916. The third and last
shed was the largest rigid shed to be completed, and this
as constructed by Francis Morton and Co., using 1,915 tonnes
of steel. The rigid shed was completed in June 1917.
A second shed was planned to be erected, however this was
cancelled in May 1917.
The first airship was
delivered to RNAS Cranfield at the end of 1916, however
the first pupils didnt arrive until May 1917. The
training of pilots ran for nine weeks, however it was often
longer as bad weather often hampered flying.
Training covered many
aspects of airship flying and operation, not just piloting
and navigation, but also rigging, weather and seamanship.
RNAS Cranwell, was not
a operational base but a training base, and so many of the
flights from the base were short training flights. In the
short time, just over a year by the time of the Armistice
in November 1918, some seventy five pilots had been trained.
The RNAS Cranwell, was renamed RAF Cranwell on 1st April
1918 when the RAF was created from the armed services.
Despite being assigned
to the RAF, the RNAS aeroplanes and airships came under
the newly formed authority, however the actual airship station
remained the property remained the the property of the Admiralty.
Compared to other RNAS stations, when demobilisation occurred
and the rapid contraction of the airship service in 1919,
the last airship didnt leave RAF Cranwell until 1921.
The sheds and hydrogen plant were demolished over the next
Despite the loss of
its lighter than air connection, RAF Cranwell remains
as a RAF Training College on the same aerodrome site as
surveyed in November 1915.