Despite Barrow in Furness being more associated with Ships and Submarines nowadays, at the turn of the last century its engineering skill could have taken an entirely different path as it became one of the major centres for aviation, and in particular the airship.
On this page we explore what might have been....
The main types of airship are non-rigid, semi-rigid and rigid:
- Non-rigid airships are often called 'blimps' and rely on internal pressure to maintain their shape.
- Semi-rigid airships maintain the envelope shape by internal pressure, but have some form of supporting structure, such as a fixed keel, attached to it.
- Rigid airships have an outer structural framework that maintains the shape and carries all structural loads, while the lifting gas is contained in one or more internal gasbags or cells.
Balloons, Airships or Aeroplanes
In modern times, Barrow in Furness is now more synonymous with shipbuilding and submarines. The rich history and innovations of these yards have made them famous around the world.
However, at the turn of the 20th century if political and industrial decisions had taken a different turn, we might have seen the Cumbrian coastal town better known for a completely different reason – aviation and aircraft manufacturing.
- 1908 - Captain R.H.S. Bacon R.N., Director of Naval Ordnance and Torpedoes, submitting proposals to establish a Royal Naval Air Service, with airships being built at Barrow by Vickers Limited who were already renowned for their proven innovative capabilities.
- 1909 - The Committee of Imperial Defence recommendation to HM Government that £35,000 should be allocated the 1909-10 Naval Estimates for building an airship of the rigid type.
First Naval Air Service
A Massive Shed for a Massive Project
Start - Stop - Start
R100 and R101 - The beginning of the end for military airships
When the Air Ministry eventually formulated the Imperial Airship scheme in 1924, it called for two airships capable of crossing the Atlantic. In 1925, orders were placed competitively with Vickers Limited and the Ministry's own Royal Airship Company based at Cardington.
The division of the order was a deliberate act to obtain the best design from both companies. Although built to the same specification and hence broadly similar with a length of over 700ft and a capacity of 5,000,000 cubic feet, Wallis’s R.100 and the Government R.101 were very different in the detail of their construction.