Howden Airship Station

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Howden Airship Station (OS grid reference SE748330) was the location for the manufacture of the R100 airship designed by Sir Barnes Wallis. The airship station closed in 1930 and there is now little evidence of the airship activities that once took place there.

The Airship Station first opened in 1916. Its twin-bayed hangar consisted of twin sheds, built in 1919 and each measuring 229m long, 55m wide and 43m high.

Barnes Wallis had worked for Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness on an earlier airship, the R80. In1923, still working for Vickers, he conceived the idea of large-scale rigid frame airships, but couldn't put theory into practice until the R100 project came along. He also worked on ideas for mooring masts that would allow huge airships to moor safely, facing into the wind and moving as the wind shifted.

The R100 was to be designed and built at Howden by the Airship Guarantee Company, which employed Wallis. It was a privately-funded Vickers company and the UK government was the client.

One of the twin bays of the hangar became, in effect, a template for the construction of the R100. The airship's enormous frames, twelve-sided in cross section, joined by longitudinal ribs running the length of the craft were hoisted into position and suspended from rails in the roof space of the hangar. Here they remained until construction was complete. Airbags were then inflated using hydrogen gas brought into the hangar via pipelines under the floor. Generation equipment housed in ancillary buildings supplied the hydrogen. Thus the hangar became an integral part of the design methodology.

The R100 measured 216m long and 41m in diameter and there was only 1m clearance between the airship and the hangar walls. To leave the bulding, it was floated out through sliding doors. As there was no mooring mast at Howden, it had to return to the hangar after each flight (or be moored to the ground using a tetrhedral arrangement of guying cables). So the hangar was both the means to construct the R100 as well as its home.

Barnes Wallis' assistant engineer (1926-9) was Nevil Shute Norway (who went on to publish novels to great acclaim under the name Nevil Shute).

The R100 made a successful flight to Montreal and back in 1930.

When Barnes Wallis left the project to work for Vickers Aviation, Norway became Chief Engineer at Howden and took part in most of the flights. He stayed at Howden when the R100 moved to Cardington in 1929, the base of the govenment's planned wider airship operations.

In October 1930, following the abandonment of the whole airship project, Howden Airship Station closed and was allowed to fall into disrepair. Little remains today.

Click the following link to visit the The Barnes Wallis Foundation.

Airship in its hanger