Newsletter 22
Autumn 2008
Updated on 11N2008
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

BAE Systems Facts
Conrad Southey 'Peter' John
Dunsfold Development
Eggheads News
Forgotten Aircrew
Hawk News
Hawkers Build At Kingston
Hunter 'Flying Club'
Hunter News
Hurricane News
Joint Force Harrier
Lighter-Than-Air VTOL
More about the P.1129
P.1127 to Harrier
RAF Club Camm Memorial
Red Arrows Petition
Sea fury News
Sopwith's First Designer
Wings & Wheels
    On October 8th Brian Hussey, supported by Don Williams, talked about airships and their history. Although not professionally involved with airships Brian has a keen interest in the subject and is active in the Airship Heritage Trust, concerned with history, and the Airship Association involved with current and future developments.
    Brian started by referring to the Jesuit, Father Francesco de Lana, who in 1670 proposed an aerial ship supported by four evacuated spheres and propelled by a sail. The first manned free-flight, in November 1783, was in a hot-air balloon made by the Montgolfier brothers and flown, for 25 minutes near Paris, by Francois Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes. It was believed that it was smoke that gave lift so wet straw and animal carcasses were burned as fuel.
    Soon hydrogen took over from hot air as the lifting medium and in January 1785 Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr John Jeffries flew across the English Channel from Dover to Calais having to jettison ballast and equipment to make it.
Lighter-Than-Air VTOL - Airships

    The powered dirigible, or steerable, airship emerged  in  the 19th century (Henri Giffard was the first with a steam powered machine in September 1852) and in October 1901 Alberto Santos-Dumont won a 6,000 prize for a flight round the Eiffel Tower in his No.6 airship. By 1903 he was the sensation of Paris using his diminutive No.9 airship as personal transport. Brian showed a charming slide of the airship parked outside a sidewalk cafe whilst Santos-Dumont had some refreshments!
    In the UK airships were soon used to advertise products such as Bovril, and for political purposes when two suffragettes flew over the Houses of Parliament in an airship bearing the slogan 'Votes for Women.'
    These early airships were of the non-rigid type, without an internal framework, which relied on gas pressure to maintain their shape, so they could bend or sag if the pressure dropped. The invention of the ballonet, separate air chambers within the gas envelope which were kept inflated by ram air from the propeller slipstream, solved the problem. In the First World War (WWI) the Royal Naval Air Service operated 220 non-rigid 'blimps' on anti-submarine patrols.
    Wealthy and aristocratic Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin had ideas for big airships consisting of a rigid girder frame containing gas cells and covered in fabric. His factory was at Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, south Germany, where he built an enormous floating hangar from which his airships emerged on pontoons, the first flying in 1900.
   During WWI, from January 1915, Zeppelins bombed England in 53 raids causing 557 civilian deaths. British propaganda called them "baby killers" although the effect of the raids was mainly psychological. Initially effective, the campaign was a failure, Zeppelins being shot down from 1916, and was stopped in April 1918. Such machines were some 540 ft long (Blackpool Tower is 500 ft), cruised at 58 mph and had a range of 2,700 miles.
    In July 1919 the British R-34 made the first airship crossing of the Atlantic from East Fortune to New York, returning three days later. On arrival the Captain parachuted down to direct the inexperienced ground crew and on being asked what he thought of the USA replied, "Hard." Two stowaways, Valentine and Whopsy, a cat, became celebrities in the USA.  In August 1921 the R-38 broke up and crashed into the Humber. The R-100 and R-101 of 1929 were the prototypes of what was to be a fleet of passenger airships to fly Empire air routes to Canada, India, Australia, South Africa etc. They were, of course, rigids, with a framework of Duralumin covered in five acres of fabric painted with dope containing aluminium powder to reflect the heat from the sun. The gas cells (17 in the R-101) were linen lined with 'gold beaters' skin, ox intestine wall material, which was gas-tight, light, strong and most importantly in view of the hydrogen contents, did not produce sparks if torn.
    In July and August 1930, the R-100, built by Vickers, made a successful return flight to Canada, but the R-101, built at the Government factory at Cardington, crashed and burned at Beauvais on the way to India. There were only six survivors amongst the 54 people on board. The dead included the Secretary of State for Air and the Director of Civil Aviation. Subsequently the British airship programme was abandoned and the R-100 scrapped.
    In the USA the Navy operated three large helium filled dirigibles for long range reconnaissance. Built by the Goodyear Zeppelin Corp, the USS Shenandoah was flown in 1923, and the later Akron and the Macon in the 1930s. For protection up to five Curtiss F9C-2 Sparrowhawk biplane fighters were carried in a 'hangar' within the hulls of Akron and Macon. They were launched from a 'trapeze' on which the fighters were lowered through the floor into the airstream. Retrieval was by the pilot aiming a probe on a pylon above the upper wing into a loop on the 'trapeze'. All three airships were lost due to weather after which the large rigid airship was abandoned in America. However, the US Navy continued to use non-rigid Goodyear reconnaissance 'blimps' throughout the second World War and up to 1962. Some of these 'blimps' had large early-warning radars inside the inert helium-filled envelopes.
    Meanwhile in Germany the Zeppelin factory continued to produce giant airships, the LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin being very successful making 144 Atlantic crossings as well as a round-the-world flight in August 1929. The LZ-129 Hindenburg, the world's largest airship (804 ft long, 135 ft max diameter) flew in March 1936. It carried 50 passengers in great luxury there even being an aluminium framed grand piano in the lounge. The control car had two wheels, one for the steering coxswain and one for the height coxswain. The Hindenburg made the first of ten Atlantic crossing in May but a year later was destroyed by fire when docking with its British designed 200 ft high mooring and replenishment mast at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Of the 97 people on board, 62 survived. The cause was never determined; theories include static discharge and sabotage. The Zeppelins used hydrogen because helium was produced in the USA who would not export the 'strategic' material to Nazi Germany. This was the end of the giant dirigible airship era and the Hindenburg's sister-ship, Graf Zeppelin II, the last of the line, was withdrawn.
    Moving on to today, Brian said that there are 30 non-rigid airships in service being used for sight-seeing, photography, publicity etc. As for large machines, there had been proposals from Germany, the USA, South Africa and the Netherlands but none were built due to lack of demand. The Skycat hybrid airship-aeroplane, a twin hulled design using aerodynamic lift and suck-down/hover cushion landing gear has flown as a small scale demonstrator, the Skykitten. The Pentagon was attracted to this concept which was to carry a complete fighting unit of 1,000 armed men with three months supplies of food and ammunition. The small Zeppelin NT (new technology) semi-rigid airship has flown successfully for sight-seeing. Like the Harrier it uses vectored thrust, but from swivelling propellers, for lift and propulsion, the basic aircraft being neutrally buoyant. It has thrusters (reaction controls) for low speed control.
    Brian concluded by saying that the airship concept was attractive in many ways but had yet to find a profitable commercial niche. After a long question time and a well deserved vote of thanks Members had the opportunity to look at a wonderful collection of large period photographs, drawings and paintings whilst putting even more questions to Brian and Don.