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H.M. Balloon Factory Baby / Beta

 

 HMA-Baby-01
Beta, Farnborough 1910
 
An Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was formed in 1909, and a small dirigible, the Baby, was completed and flown. At the end of the year the Balloon School was made a separate establishment with Capper at its head, and the Factory became a civilian unit, although still under War Office direction.
 
Launched in May 1909 the 22,000 cu.ft Baby was a more carefully conceived design incorporating some of the more advanced features seen in contemporary continental airships. In its original form the craft was 84 ft in length and 24 ft diameter, with bulbous air-filled fins at the stern. Unlike the earlier Gamma airship, Baby was fitted with an internal ballonet. Power initially came from to inadequate 8 hp Buchet petrol engines, these engines having previously been installed in an early version of the Dunne tail-less biplane.
 
After initial testing the air-filled fins were replaced with more suitable flat section steering planes, while a 25 hp REP engine was installed to provide more power. After this, and following a series of trials that highlighted poor controllability, she was further taken in hand during the winter. Emerging in the spring of 1910 in a reconstructed form and now known as Beta, her length had been increased to 116 ft with a capacity of 35,000 ft, giving her a gross lift of just over 1 ton together with a greatly improved all-round performance.
 
A further change of engine, a 35 hp four cylinder, water cooled Green engine, completed the conversion, giving an endurance of five hours with a crew of three.
 
This small craft was considered the first successful British airship, on one occasion staying aloft for eight hours. She made several flights of note, including flying over London at night in early experiments to determine the best means of defence. Beta was also the first airship to be fitted with a wireless apparatus, being used in early 1911 for experiments succeeding in sending and receiving messages at a distance of over 30 miles.
 
The airship Baby had been rebuilt and improved into the larger Beta, and followed by the progressively larger Gamma and Delta.

 

 HMBall-Baby-02
Army Airship Baby - Original configuration of 1909
Dashed outline indicates 1910 enlargement to 104 ft and capacity to 35,000 cu.ft
 

During the army manoeuvres of 1910 HMA Beta and recently completed Gamma were employed in evaluating their potential use to the army in warfare: in extended flights over Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire ad Wiltshire flying reconnaissance sorties; scouting for attacking and defending forces for a period of two months.
 
The airship was supported in the field by the old existing balloon gas train and workshop, drawn by a steam traction engine to provide a mobile base.
 
During the period of the manoeuvres Beta had to be deflated on only one occasion.
 
In 1912 Beta again underwent further modification, with her envelope being split lengthwise to accommodate an additional longitudinal gore. This increased her diameter to 28 ft and lengthened to 135 ft overall. The swivelling propellers were retained whereas the engine was once more changed, this time to a 45 hp Clerget, increasing the top speed to 35 mph.
 
Beta was also used in early mooring mast trials; using a mast designed by Commander Masterman RN at Farnborough, known as the ‘high mast’ system, whereby the airship floated free of the ground attached to the mast at the nose, using weighted rollers to keep the stern of the ship in trim as it vaned in the wind.
 
As Beta II she continued to give good service, taking part in the army war games on Salisbury Plain before the war and being involved in the early parachute experiments carried out from her by General E.M.Maitland.
In January 1914 the navy took over the lighter-than-air operations from the army, with Beta II becoming HMA No.17 and initially used to familiarise naval personel with airship handling.
 
With the outbreak of war HMA No.17 was for a short time sent to France. Based near Dunkirk, she made several night flights during January 1915 over the German lines and was on artillery-spotting duties before such activities were deemed too dangerous.
 
Subsequently, HMA No.17 was used for training at RNAS Kingsnorth before finally being deleted in mid-1916.
 
1909 Baby
Engine: 2 x Buchet, 8 hp
Capacity: 21,000 ft
Length: 84 ft
Diameter: 26 ft
Height: 38 ft
Gross lift: 0.62 ton
Useful lift: 400 lb
Speed: 20 mph
Endurance: 3 hr
Crew: 3
 
1910 Baby
Engine: REP, 25 hp
Capacity: 35,000 ft
Length: 104 ft
 
1910 Baby
Engine: Green, 35 hp
Length: 110 ft
Capacity: 35,000 ft
Endurance: 5 hr
Crew: 3
 
1912 Beta II
Engine: Clerget, 45 hp
Capacity: 50,000 ft
Length: 116 ft
Width: 28 ft
Height: 40 ft
Gross lift: 1.22 ton
Useful lift: 0.40 ton
Speed: 32 mph
Endurance: 8 hr
Crew: 3
 
 HMBall-Baby-03

 

 

 

 

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An Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was formed in 1909, and a small dirigible, the Baby, was completed and flown. At the end of the year the Balloon School was made a separate establishment with Capper at its head, and the Factory became a civilian unit, although still under War Office direction.

 

The airship Baby had been rebuilt and improved into the larger Beta, and followed by the progressively larger Gamma and Delta.

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