Imperial Airship Scheme

Imperial Airship Scheme

The United Kingdom's Imperial Airship Scheme was first known as the Burney Scheme, after Sir Dennistoun Burney, who in 1921 proposed to Vickers, Ltd. the construction of commercial airships for establishing airline services between England and the colonies of the British Empire. The Admiralty became involved because it saw the scheme as a means of continuing airship technology and operational experience at modest cost via subsidies, just as it subsidized British passenger ships.

Following the election of the MacDonald government in 1924, the Burney Scheme was rejected and replaced by its own. The Imperial Airship Scheme would feature competitive designs from a Vickers subsidiary, the Airship Guarantee Co., and the Royal Airship Works.

Vickers was to build the R100 and the Royal Airship Works at Cardington, Bedfordshire, would build the R101. The two ships soon were labelled the "Capitalist" ship (R100) and the "Socialist" ship (R101).

The men responsible for directing their design were Sir Barnes Wallis and Lt./Col. V. C. Richmond. Neville Shute Norway was chief calculator on R100, while Sir Harold Roxbee Cox was not only responsible for the engineering but also aerodynamics of the R101.

The R100 was a generally conservative design, with certain parts – for example, gas valves – bought from the Zeppelin company, and used aeroplane engines. The R101 was a very innovative design with novel and often radical changes in structure, gas bag wiring, gas valves, and engines.

Both were delayed, the R100 by the poor construction facilities at Howden, and labour troubles; the R101 by the myriad of technical and developmental problems arising from the great many innovative systems and design features.

Both airships were overweight, the R101 badly so, and neither was in fact capable of performing the designed service which would have had to await newer, larger designs.

The gathering world depression was underway when the two airships were completing their tests in 1930. R101 had to be cut in half and have a new gas cell added to increase lift if it was to have any chance of flying to India. R100 did complete a round trip to Canada.

R101 was dispatched on a flight to India under marginal conditions, and with a hastily issued Certificate of Airworthiness and crashed soon after on a stormy night in France. The exact cause is still a matter of dispute amongst airship enthusiasts and historians to this day.

Following the crash all support for the Imperial Airship Scheme evaporated and the programme was ended. The R100 was broken up.

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