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Airship Club Bournemouth
The "Bournemouth" was constructed by the Airship Club launched in 1951. As part of the club, Lord Ventry, Squadron Leader T.P. York-Moore and a small group of enthusiasts wanted to prove that airships could still return after the closure of the British Airship programme in 1932.
Plans were drawn up at Lord Ventry’s Poole home, Lindsay Hall. The little band founded the Airship Club of Great Britain, which they established at Wharncliffe Road, Boscombe. Their premises were formally opened early in 1951 by the Mayor of Bournemouth, Councillor Sydney Thompson. Numerous airship notables lent their support, including former Farnborough superintendent and engineer Major-General Sir John Capper, who had held the first British airship pilot’s licence ever issued. Past head of the Zeppelin company, Dr Hugo Eckener, also joined the club, together with several old airship hands.
The project was funded largely by private enthusiasm, however the Bournemout Corporation made a substantial grant from it's "Festival of Britain" funds to assist with the completion of the craft and for it's first flight. This is how the British south coast resort managed to have an airship named after it. The idea being that the completed ship would play a part in the local celebrations of the Festival of Britain year.
The first airship built in Britain since 1929, the Airship Club built their airship using a gas-bag converted from an old barrage balloon left over from the war. Acquired from the Air Ministry, it set them back £25. The finished airship’s length was just over a hundred feet. Hydrogen was used to inflate her gas-bag and provide lift; although helium was a far safer, non-inflammable gas, none was available. To power the craft through the skies a seventy horse-power Salmson engine from the 1930s was found, and with this it was hoped to achieve a flat-out speed of 35 mph. Suspended beneath the gas-bag by steel cables, the gondola in which pilot and passengers would travel was built from aircraft-gauge steel tube, with a covering of light alloy sheet and clear perspex. The engine was positioned at the rear, a small fuel tank sat on the roof, and four intrepid flyers could be carried.
Although the craft was constructed at Hurn Airport, her hangar there was not available long-term. Drawing on his experience, though, Lord Ventry assured a curious reporter from Flight Magazine that his airship could be safely picketed outside, ideally among trees to protect her from the wind. The plan for Bournemouth, as the craft had been christened, was that she be kept inflated and out-of-doors during all spells of operational activity – and for the flying Lord, this would be as often as possible. Assured by Lord Ventry that an airship is quite amenable to being tethered in the open, and that, with the aid of a protective screen of trees, a small non-rigid can safely ride out a 70 mph gale if properly picketed.
There was some confusion over who was actually allowed to pilot Bournemouth. The Ministry of Civil Aviation was clear on the qualifications for a full airship pilot’s licence, but unsure of the form a provisional licence should take. By 1950 trained airship flyers were very few; as things stood, just a handful of people would be permitted to take charge of Bournemouth, excluding most of the enthusiasts who had helped build her. Meanwhile the government’s Air Registration Board was pondering the safety requirements she should meet, and how to issue a Certificate of Airworthiness for an airship.
The ship was constructed at Cardington, and by mid-1951 the craft was complete, her engine tested in the Hurn workshop, the name and Bournemouth’s coat of arms painted on her gasbag. For flight trials, though, somewhere quieter than Hurn’s airspace was needed. Bournemouth was transported to an old hangar built especially for airships on an RAF base at Cardington in Bedfordshire. It was intended to bring her back to Bournemouth once tests were complete and various sites were considered as potential homes, among them King’s Park, where iron mooring stakes were set into the ground.
Red tape resolved, the airship received her Ministry registration, G-AMJH, which was painted on her fin. Two more helpers joined: engineers Arthur Bell and Joe Binks, both of whom had survived the 1930 R101 airship disaster. On 21 May, Empire Day, Bournemouth was inflated and it was hoped that the inaugural flight would be in time for Festival of Britain celebrations the following month. But the Salmson engine overheated and it was 19 July before a first flight was made.
Lord Ventry was unable to ascend that day. With three crewmen he climbed aboard, but the machine refused to rise from the ground – he was simply too heavy. He removed duffle-coat and jacket and emptied his pockets but there was no improvement. Very reluctantly the Lord vacated his gondola, replaced by a slimmer man. He joined a small group of her builders who watched as Bournemouth made a decorous circuit of Cardington’s perimeter and returned safely.
The third flight was not overly successful as the ship crash landed on the hanger roof when a guy rope snagged when coming in to land. With Thomas York-Moore in command, Bournemouth crashed into a field near Cardington after suffering engine overheating and steering failure.
Lord Ventry examines Bournemouth’s Salmson engine
Having a gross lift 3,060lb and useful lift of 13,000lb, the Bournemouth managed three flights in 1951 and then put in for repairs and a chance for the improvements for stability following the crash landing. A further eight flights were managed in 1952. It was found that the first set of steering planes were too small and made her unstable and she had a top plane on the first two testing flights of in 1951, however this was removed. In 1952 a larger set of de Havilland planes were fitted and made the ship quiet controllable. Only eleven flights were made through lack of funds, the last flight made on 16th August 1952, Battle of Britain Day.
The first flight was shown in newsreels around the world and featured in many newspapers of the day. But Bournemouth’s flight had exposed tail-heaviness, together with steering problems. Following modifications, a second flight on 28 July was commanded by Thomas York-Moore. But again the engine grew too hot and to make matters worse, the steering-wheel mechanism failed. Bournemouth came down unexpectedly in a field near her hangar, but nobody was hurt. Adjusted once again, on 17 August she flew with Lord Ventry for the first time. After a 35-minute tour around the local area she returned to Cardington, although one crewman was hurt during her landing, which involved crashing onto the roof of the station’s gymnasium.
Following that episode Bournemouth was deflated. But repairs and more alterations were made and a Certificate of Airworthiness finally obtained. An ex-Bournemouth Royal Blue motor coach arrived, its job to provide a base for a mast to which the airship could moor.
Winter weather interrupted but from spring 1952 several more flights took place. Dogged by incidents, an autumn accident on the ground caused permanent damage to Bournemouth’s gas-bag, which had to be scrapped. By then the Airship Club’s funds were low, and it was decided to wind up the scheme.
Engine: Salmson, 60hp
Length: 108 ft
Diameter: 27 ft
Volume: 45,000 cu.ft
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