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Airship Sheds
United Kingdom: Radlett


Country: United Kingdom
Location:
Radlett - Hertfordshire
Location
Facilities
Actual
Proposed
Airship Terminal
Airship Terminal

Radlett Aerodrome had been home of the Handley Page Company for over 50 years, and had seen the likes of the famous Handley Page Victor, roar down it's runway. Opened in 1929, many famous aircraft were produced by the company, sadly the company fell in to liquidation in 1970, and the site, like many airfields in the UK, fell disused.

 

Airship Industries had always looked to use skyships as a multi role aircraft, and that included it's evaluation as passenger transport, and were able to obtain a Civil Aviation Authority approval for licensing the Skyship 500, and later the Skyship 600 model airship, not only as flying billboards, but to offer passenger flights.

The idea was hoped that it would be a very lucrative revenue stream for the company, along with the advertising revenue from sponsoring the airship with company logos, along with further confidence from the general public as to the safe return of airships for passenger carrying trips.

 

Documents

In 1986 it was decided that the base at Cardington for operations and assembly of the UK Airship Industries operations, was not able to offer the number sightseeing flights over London, as Cardington was too far to make multiple daily trips a viable option. The flight operations from Cardington had been hugely popular for ships to begin their advertising tours, however a base closer to the Capital were needed.

Leavesdon Areodrome in Hertfordshire had been pointed out as a potential base by Operations Manager, Martin Hull, who had known that Goodyear had used the airfield sight in the early 1970's for it's Europa flights over London.

A 10 week trial operation was carried out in early 1986 with the use of a Skyship 500, which operated a series of short flights from Leavsedon Aerodrome near Watford in Hertfordshire.

 

 

 
 

Following the Leavesdon trial flights and concept evaluation, a new base for running the newly launched, "Skycruise" operations was needed, and would become the first new purpose built "airship terminal", to be constructed in the UK since 1929.

The Skycruise concept was to offer, in comparison to an aeroplane, reasonably low lever sightseeing flights over the landmarks of London.

For the Skycruise London trips, the skyships would follow the same route as the early airship pioneers, by following the Midland railway line down through Bedfordshire, and Hertfordshire, in to the airspace over London.

Location of flight operations and Terminal Building

Skycruise 1987

The Radlett aerodrome was boarded by the same Midland Railway to the east which had been used to navigate airships down to London, and transected by the M25 motorway to the south. The location was far enough away from dense populations, as with Cardington, not to raise too many objections.

There had been concerns with regards to noise pollution from the Porsche engines on the ships, so a site away from residential areas was preferred.

The Handley Page Aerodrome site had been closed and was currently being used by Redland Aggregates for aggregate extraction, however this would not impact the operations of the flight area on the airfield. One group of people who had to agree with the use of Radlett as an "airship port" were the local district councilors.

Planning had to be approved and there was some local concerns raised with regards to the noise levels from the ducted engines. However, the team at Airship Industries were able to convince the district planners by taking them on a local flight so that they could not only see but hear the noise, and take in to account that it would only be an issue on take off and landing.

Not surprisingly they considered the objection, but were in agreement that the noise level was acceptable, and approved the plans.

Terminal Location

This would mean that the Skycruise operations could be closer to London for the sightseeing tours, but also cut down on the duration of the flights on offer, offering more flights to keep up with demand.

The original Handley Page workshops, which had been used for the construction of the Handley Page Victor "V" bomber in the 1950's and used up to the 1960's, were still available, but had not been used for about 10 years and fallen in to disrepair.

It was decided that a new purpose built building be constructed as the Skycruise "terminal" on the edge of the runway. The terminal would provide purpose built offices for the staff and crew members, plus also provide a more modern departure lounge for the passengers awaiting the Skycruise. The Terapin Company was contacted to provde the temporary building structure which was a popular choice of alternative building constuction in the 1980's. This was to be much larger than the structure which had been used at the Leaveden Aerodrome site.

The plan of the Terminal Building

The Terminal

 

The new terminal building was designed to accommodate the following activities:

Check in hall
Reception/Bar
Restaurant
Merchandising shop
Kitchen
Flight Crew Offices
Ground Crew restroom
Ground Crew changing room
Toilets

It was envisaged that the terminal building could also be used for corporate hospitality events.

 
 
Contemporary video showing passengers registering in the temrminal and the Skycruise experience
1987 Season planning and objections

As step forward for passenger flights came in 8th January 1987 when the SK600 class of ship was awarded full Passenger Transport Certification by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This meant that the larger ship, with a larger passenger compliment could be used for flights.

With this, the new larger Skyship 600 could be used and carry an average of 10 passengers per flight throughout the season, although the ship could carry a maximum of 18 passengers, it would compare to the average of 5 passengers per flight on the Skyship 500 trial operation.

The flight operations would be run from 30th March to 16th October, however problems arose just before the launch of the Skycruise operations as both Skyship 600-1 and SK 500-02 had been damaged in a freak storm with winds over 80 mph damaged both ships on the masts at Cardington, causing both to be accidentally deflated. The Skyship SK 500-02 was not to be repaired but frantic repairs were made to the Skyship 600 to be ready in time to start flight operations.

Repairs were made to SK 600-1 at Cardington, and a new envelope manufacturered and delivered. In the meantime the new terminal building was constructed, using a modular design of portacabin, which was a popular temporary building solution at the time. The operations were ready by the first week in May 1987.

Skyship 600 General arrangement. Inaugural Flight

On 11th May 1987, the first London flight was formally launched by the Japanese Ambassador, Mr. Yamazaki, accompanied by Alan Birchmore of Airship Industries, as well as representatives from British Caledonian Airways who were sponsoring the Skyship.

Resplendent in it's British Caledonian livery, and the presence of the Japanese ambassador served to promote Airship Industries reputation overseas.

Skyship 500 and 600 passenger layout comparison, showing the increase in passenger carrying capacity capability of using the Skyship 600.

The flights from Radlett lasted an hour and a quarter each, allowing for a short 15 minute turnaround for the changing of passengers and crews if needed.

 
 
   
Photo Gallery
The tight schedule would allow around five flights per day, with space in the summer months, and longer days, for more evening flights if required.

 

 

The advertised flight schedule was timetabled as follows

Flight
Off Peak Season
Peak Season
30th March - 29th May
1 June - 20 September
21st September - 16th October
5 days a week: Monday to Friday
7 days a week
Ticket Price - £125 (£350 today)
Ticket Price £ 150 (£430 today)
1st
10:00
09:30
2nd
11:30
11:00
3rd
13:30
13:00
4th
15:00
14:30
5th
16:30
18:00
6th
19:30

The 7 day a week plan was hoped but in reality it would be subject to weather conditions and full pilot availability. In reality the company was looking at a sixty percent flight schedule, depending on weather conditions and light, reducing to a 50 percent schedule in the autumn and winter months.

His Excellency, Mr Yanazaki Unveilling the new terminal and launching the new Skycruise season for 1987 (11th May 1987)
G-SKSC Coming in to land at Radlett 1987 season with the Fuji Film and "One day for Life" livery (photo credit: A Lawson) The second half of the summer 1987 season, the sponsorship changed from British Caledonian to Fuji, and operations ran until the end of August.

 

Some of the flight operations didn't quite go as planned, as there were reports of some flights occasionally having to be canceled due to the limited number of airship pilots, splitting their time between both Radlett and Cardington.

The Cardington flights which had been operating the previous summers, were limited to local flights over Bedford.

G-SKSC Peparing for launch, early morning at Radlett 1987 season with the Fuji Film livery
(copyright Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
Season Finale

 

 

The Skycruise operations at Radlett were brought to a close in September of 1987, as the SK 600-1 had entered in to a sponsorship deal with German beer maker, Loenbrau, and was to be flown down to Munich in time for the September Munich Beer Festival. This meant that the ship be prepared and then flown down to Munich in time for the festival which ran from 12th to 16th September.

 

G-SKSC Climbing away at launch. Notice the angle of climb which surprises many people as how agile Skyships were on launch.
(copyright Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)

SK600-1 flew up to Cardington, to be prepared with the new livery, and then down across the English Channel to Calais and onwards across Europe to Munich, with overnight stops at Reims and Karlsrule.

   

 

 

 

However the concept was repeated using the airships based in Paris, Toronto, New York, San Fransico and Sydney to provide sightseeing flights and and also aerial advertising.

The season closed in early September 1987 as it was decided that the winter months, with shorter daylight hours and poor weather, would impinge on profitability with flights from the terminal.

Alas the first season of Skycruise operations across the globe did not break-even in pure passenger terms. Operating airships was expensive in terms of manpower costs, and it was seen that despite the popularity, the profits would not come from the passenger numbers, until the numbers of ground crew were reduced, or seating capacity increased.

The first purpose built airship terminal building, built since 1929 (photo credit Ian Reid)

With the planning for the 1988 season, Airship Industries were dealt a financial blow when in February the U.S. Defense budgets were cut, and thus the canceling of the large U.S. Navy order for the larger Skyship 5000.

The company then had to look for alternate additional sources for funding, However the SK-600-01 returned from a successful mini Skyscruise operation in Munich, and headed straight for Cardington, where a advertising contract had been secured from local brewer, Charles Wells, and the ship would operate local sponsored and VIP flights from Cardington for the 1988 season.

One of the early flights in May 1987 with the British Caledonian sponsorship.
(copyright Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)

This was followed by operations in France with the Paris Skycruise operations, and with the only CAA certified airship, which had obtained advertising bookings from Konica in Germany, this meant that the 1988 Skycruise operations could not take place.

The Skycruise Radlett terminal was therefore closed and returned to the leasing company Terapin portable buildings.

One of the main problems was that despite popularity, passenger revenue alone never came near covering even part of the costs which had to be paid by the advertising on the side.

Also resistance from the locals for prolonged series of flights who regarded it as the "advertisers airship" produced some negative publicity for the sponsor, which defeated the point of hiring the airship.

Regional flights were conducted for a week at a time in various locations but did not have the appeal to the more popular advertiser as flying over London and the wider audience, and prestigious PR gained.

Did you fly from Radlett in an airship? What was it like?

The Skycruise flights and operations were very popular and many flights were taken over London. Do you have an memories or photos you wouldl like to share and add to this page. Please contact us with details.

Coming in to land on the airfield. The square tower of St Albans Cathedral can be seen in the mist on the horizon and the top of the railway powerlines can be seen in the forground. A sight for daily commuters who had a clear view of the airfield.
(copyright Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk)
Aknowledgement and Thanks

With special thanks to Alastair Reid and Martin Hull of Airship Industries for thier assistance, personal photos and sharing their knowledge in compiling this page.

Thanks also to Ian Griggs and Phil Keirle of Landscape Images (Landimages.co.uk) for allowing us to use the Radlett Skyship photos and for capturing the Skyships from Radlett in the 1987 season, from their excellent photgraphic website.

Reception and Ticket Desk (photo credit Ian Reid)  
 
Inside, the bar area (photo credit Ian Reid)  
Another view of the bar and passenger lounge seating area.

 

 

 

The gift shop showing sale of books, photos, gifts and some very collectable airship models (photo credit Ian Reid)

 

 

 
Some of the Skycruise memorabilia available from the gift shop (Alastair Lawson Collection)  
 
 

 

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