Little Bits of History

Not Rigid Airship

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 24, 2014
Broken airship

Broken airship

September 24, 1911: His Majesty’s Airship No. 1 doesn’t take off. Designed and built by Vickers, Sons and Maxim in Cumbria, England for the British Royal Navy, the ship was the first rigid airship built in the country. It was to compete with the dominance of the German airship program. The ship was called Mayfly by the noncommissioned naval crew assigned to her. Public records show her designation as HMA Hermione because the naval contingent was stationed at Barrow aboard HMS Hermione, the ship assigned as the airship’s tender. Her story began three years earlier when the Royal Navy decided to venture into rigid airships in response to Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin’s success.

It was decided the Navy could afford £35,000 for the venture but Vickers said they could build the ship for just £28,000, not including the gas-bags and outer covers, which the Admiralty would acquire through private contractors. Vickers would also build a construction shed at their own expense but they would then have a ten year monopoly on airship construction. This was similar to the deal they had brokered with the Crown for submarine construction. Vickers got the contract, but the ten year monopoly line item was refused.

Mayfly was intended to be an aerial scout. There were some differences in the designs between the British and German models. Mayfly was 66 feet longer than LZ 6 with 50% greater volume. The Zeppelins of the time had a useful load of 10,000 pounds and could fly at 37 mph. Vickers’s ship was intended to be moorable on water, carry radio equipment, and have a cruising speed of 46 mph while carrying a crew of 20 comfortably. The mooring was to be via a mast and the Mayfly was the first ship to have the mooring equipment in the nose of the ship. Experimental sections were built and wood seemed preferable for the frame, but the Navy wished it to be made entirely of metal and when duralumin became available, it became the method of choice.

Trials had been held and the airship had been in and out of the Cavendish Dock building. The crew had practiced maneuvers both with getting the ship out of the hanger and with handling in the air. Previous static trials had proved successful. On this day, the Mayfly was being moved from the shed as high winds were blowing. Just as the nose cleared the hangar door, a gust caused the ship to roll onto her beam end and break in two pieces. The crew abandoned ship and there were no fatalities as the wreck was returned to the shed the same day and never flown. Winston Churchill took over as First Lord of the Admiralty in October 1911 and preferred heavier-than-air aircraft. The airship idea was forever grounded.

Altogether, compared with other navies, the British aeroplane service has started very well… I have a less satisfactory account to give of airships. – Winston Churchill

The ‘May-fly’ broke three years ago, and nothing further has been done. In non-rigid airships, Germany has seventeen, and against that we have two very inferior ones and two on order, but we are not doing anything in this respect. – Bolton Eyres-Monsell

The mishap which destroyed theMay-fly, or the Won’t Fly, as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious set-back to the development of Admiralty policy in airships. – Winston Churchill

Two crews were used to look after the ship whilst out, as the work was new. They lived on board the airship and suffered no discomfort at all although no provision had been made for cooking or smoking on board. – from the Handbook for HMA No. 1

Also on this day: Powerful Serve; Best Backhand – In 1938, John Donald Budge became the first tennis player to win the Grand Slam of tennis.
Majestic 12 – In 1947, Harry S Truman did not form a secret society.
Devil’s Tower – In 1906, this landmark was declared a National Monument.
Byzantine – In 1180, Manuel I Komnenos died.

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