aviation comes of age

the dirigible
the great airships


Ferdinand von Zeppelin
Zeppelin passenger ships
Zeppelin posters
Hindenburg disaster

HMA 1 Mayfly
HMA 23
R 31
R 32
R 33
R 34
R 36
R 38
R 80
R 100
The R101 airship disaster

USS Los Angeles
the Akron
the Macon


The R 80
edited from the Airship Heritage Trust

Launched on 19th July 1921, the R80 was the first truly streamlined British airship.

Length 535ft
Diameter 70ft
Speed 70mph
Engines 4 x 230hp
Volume 1, 200, 000cft

In 1917 Vickers were awarded the contract to build the R37. The design of the ship would mean that the new ship would need a larger shed than the existing facilities Vickers had at Barrow, and the construction facilities at all of the main construction sites were full, being used for the production of other ships. Vickers had applied for permission and a large quantity of steel for the building of a large hanger at Flookborough, larger than their existing two sheds. This originally was agreed but with the pressures of war, this was later refused due to a shortage of steel. This lead no option to abandon the project, which was awarded to Shorts in Cardington, and for Barnes Wallis and H B Pratt to design a ship which would fit within the existing shed at Warney Island, which was used for the 23X class ship.

This of course would have the disadvantage that the ship would be smaller and hence have less disposable load, compared to the other airship projects which were being undertaken. However it was agreed to continue with the plans.

The R80 began construction in November of 1917. The designs were to follow that of the Zahn shape, which had originally been outlined in the original "Mayfly", HMA 1. Barnes later was convinced that the design was incorrect and decided on a shape which would only provide a 3% resistance in streamlining. 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 when the ship was under way but work was progressing slower than anticipated due to a shortage of skilled labour.

The original idea was laid down by Vickers co designer, H B Pratt in his document called "Commercial Airships" however Vickers went a stage further in fully reviewing the use of the R80 as a commercial ship in 1919 when the ship was half completed and the military use of the ship be in question following the disarming of Germany after the war. It was envisaged that the ship would be able to run a similar city service as DELAG was beginning to plan operating with the LZ120"Bodensee" and LZ121 "Nordstern" from Germany to Stockholm.

However this plan never came to fulfilment. In the summer of 1919 it was decided by the Air Ministry that work should stop as the ship would have no military value however work was continued as the commercial option continued to be a viable option. It was decided that the ship would continue to be constructed with some military usage and work continued to the original specification and two gun positions on the top of the hull, and just under the tail were installed.

In April 1920 the outer cover was sewn on to the framework and by June the ship was complete. On the 19th June the ship emerged from her shed and the trial flight was commenced. The ship was damaged on the first trial flight as service crew had not alighted from the ship and due to some problems with ballast, the ship rose too fast on the hot June day, and caused extensive buckling of the framework. The ship was returned to her shed and repairs commenced.

The ship didn't fly again until early 1921 when she was commissioned in January and then flown to Howden in Yorkshire on 24th February. With the post war economy and time of the depression, the costs of keeping the ship, along with the other ships which had been constructed and stored, the future looked uncertain. The decision to scrap the deflate and store the ship was left up to the Secretary of State who was also responsible for the other airships in the service. However as the R80 was new, the reprieve came in the form of a request that the ship remain serviceable to allow the US Navy to complete training. The US Navy made 4 flights in the ship totalling some 8 hours 45 minutes between 26th March 1921 and 1st June.

The R80 was then requested to be flown from Yorkshire to Pulham in Norfolk, this flight on the 20th September was proved to be her last. The ship was used for destructive tests on components. She was finally dismantled after 4 years in 1925 having flown for a total of 73 hours.

The R80 has a total weight of 38.25 tons, but a disposable lift of 14.85 tons. With her sleek lines carried over on to the control car and engine gondolas, it meant that she was the most efficient design of British airship at the time.