Launching the Blimp "EUROPA"

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The Good Year Blimp "Europa" moored to a portable mast at Cardington. Cardington is in Bedfordshire, about an hour North of London. I had been invited to the launch, which I recorded on film.


In the background, the two huge sheds built during  WW I (1914-18)


The Europa is an advertising blimp and carries a lighting display which can be seen here on the envelope. An on-board computer can control the animated display. It often carries TV cameras for various events.

It offers a very stable platform and such a blimp was used at the London Olympic Games. Note the single wheel castering undercarriage. While the airship is at the mooring mast if the wind changes, the ship rolls around on its' single wheel offering the least resistance to the wind, rather like a ship at its mooring. The handrail below the gondola is for the ground crew to launch and retrieve the machine.

The two engines facing as they would while flying. They can be tilted to face down during take-off, thus adding to the lift.   

The hull is really a giant gasbag filled with helium. The atmospheric pressure changes with altitude and temperature and the hull must be kept under pressure, otherwise the whole thing would fold and collapse.

Note the two tubes, these are wind scoops which direct some of the propellor slipstream into ballonets in the hull.
These ballonets (small balloons) are filled with air and transfer pressure to the helium without mixing with it.
  Letting air in or out of the ballonets is a simple way of keeping the helium at the desired pressure, yet without losing any of the expensive  gas.


 As well as the main ballonet, there is one at the nose and another at the tail.
 Blowing air from one to the other adjusts the vertical trim.
   Here's a closer view of a wind scoop. On the ground, when the engines are not operating, it is still necessary to provide pressure in the hull. The scoop has been here fitted with a yellow baffle with a built in electric blower.
    This is removed before flight.

Mooring masts took many years to develop. Many airships were damaged or destroyed getting them in or out of sheds (hangers) because of wind. It proved much safer to land at the mast, then later when conditions were calm, walk the airship into the shed.

Spending a long time on the mast can mean fabric damage from ultra-violet light.

Note the ribs on the nose of the ship. These are needed to provide a strong mooring point.

When the ship is in motion they prevent the nose from caving in.  Note the steps up the mast.

 The lower fin and rudder with various stays and control wires.

Two handling lines for the ground crew are visible.


  I took some of these photographs from the remains of the old  wooden mooring mast where the R.100 and R.101 used to be moored.

  In 1930, on its maiden voyage to India, the crew and passengers climbed into the R.101's nose via this mast. After crossing to France the R.101 crashed. Only 6 survived out of 53.

Here the ship is being walked clear of the mast and about to be launched. 

Launching was quite unusual. Six men held the gondola by the lower railing. Being almost neutrally buoyant, they were able to lift the whole airship, then throw it down hard on the ground. The sprung nose wheel bounced it back up higher, and the tilted propellers were put into gear.


  Here, the ship has climbed almost vertically and turned back towards the hangars. The 185 ft ship then made a circuit over the 8oo ft hanger.

A week or so after this launching, the Europa broke loose from its mooring mast and unmanned, drifted away before bouncing off a few houses and breaking their chimney pots.
It eventually deflated but was repaired to fly again.

The Good Year crew fold up the portable mast and drive to the airships next landing spot.

The "Europa" was constructed in USA, then assembled and inflated in the R.101s' old shed. 

These are spare parts for another Good Year blimp. Fuel tanks in the foreground, an engine at the rear.

A rack of balloon baskets near the hangar door.
  They were used with the barrage balloons for testing parachutes, and initial training of parachute jumpers.

This may seem primitive, however winding a balloon up and down on a winch is much cheaper than flying a fixed wing aircraft.

Looking almost 800 ft towards the entrance of the main shed. It is 110 ft high.
  People and vehicles are just visible outside the door.
  One ex-WW-II barrage balloon is tied down in the foreground. It is filled with hydrogen. Another is in the distance.
  The fabric hanging loose from it is the deflated fin and tail. 
After the Europa airship had departed, a barrage balloon was brought out. It is controlled by a winch on the back of a truck.
The  trilobed fin and tail is inflated by the wind, and a wind scoop can be seen on the lower fin. The scoop below the nose inflates a ballonet to prevent the nose caving in from strong winds.
During the war they were filled with hydrogen and moored above cities, ships etc. The suspended cables made it difficult for German dive-bombers.

Another WW II barrage balloon near the shed entrance.

The Europa completed it's circuit and on it's maiden flight, headed off South towards London. As I returned by train, I could see it keeping pace with us most of the way.

At the rear of the sheds is the gas storage area with its' service crane.
  On the right, the red hydrogen cylinders (probably for the barrage balloons), on the left the helium used in the Good Year Blimp.
Gas lines run underground along the floor of the sheds.