Tuesday 28 July 2020

Airship's 'glorious' history project goes online

Airship's 'glorious' history project goes online

We haven't had a decent airship-inspired story on Eclectic Ephemera for a while - not since I restarted the blog at any rate - so this article from one of the historic homes of lighter-than-air flight is a welcome one in all respects.

The history of airships has been rather unfairly overshadowed - even after 83 years - by the image of the Hindenburg falling in flames over Lakehurst, New Jersey, while British interest in lighter-than-air travel had - until recently - ended when the R.101 crashed into a hill near Beauvais in France during bad weather on the night of the 5th October 1930, killing 48 of the 55 people on board (including the Minister for Aviation and staunch airship supporter Lord Thomson of Cardington).  Since then the airship has existed mainly as the non-rigid "blimp" variety best known as the type used by Goodyear and still built today by the Zeppelin company in what was once Germany's airship centre - Friedrichshafen.

Cardington Sheds, Bedfordshire.

Bedford Creative Arts receives over £100k funding for Cardington 'Airship Dreams' project

Now, judging by this latest news, the story of airships in Britain looks to have been given a much-needed boost thanks to an exhibition due to be set up in the former home town of the R.101 and its ilk - Bedford, where the giant sheds at nearby Cardington Airfield that once housed these incredible liners of the skies still stand (thanks to their Grade II listed status) and continue to be used in the development of modern airships like the remarkable-looking Airlander 10.  Arranged by local arts charity Bedford Creative Arts and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Arts Council England and the Bedford-based Harpur Trust, the excellent-sounding Airship Dreams project has as its aim the celebration of all things airship and that extraordinary craft's enduring link to the town of Bedford.

R.101 departing Bedford on its ill-fated maiden flight to India, October 1930. 

I'm particularly pleased with the positive nature of this exhibition, not only in not allowing coronavirus to get in the way of putting it on (as with many a physical exhibition turned digital in some ways Covid has done it a favour by forcing it online where it will hopefully find a wider audience and provide interesting and interactive displays) but also for the approach it is taking in focussing on the innovation and forward thinking of the time, the hopes and dreams that this fantastic technology must have engendered and the pride the people of Bedford would have felt having the development of it right on their doorstep.  As with all local history projects the desire to get the modern people of Bedford involved through family recollections or retained memorabilia is a splendid way to engage the townsfolk, generate a new sense of civic pride and an appreciation of heritage while adding a personal level to the exhibits.  I'm utterly impressed with the attitudes of the curators and exhibitors, in fact, as well as the thoroughly commendable aims of the project in general and am delighted to see once again that local schools are to benefit from related workshops.  I can do no better than repeat the quote from the Airship Dreams website, which really struck a chord with me:

 “Only when men sense the waning of a civilization, do they suddenly become interested in its history and, probing, become aware of the force and uniqueness of the ideas it has fostered.  Hegel said that the owl of Wisdom appears only at twilight.” Dr Julie Bacon

Photos remember 90 years since R100’s maiden overseas voyage

With the coming of this exhibition - in part marking the 90th anniversary of the R.100 and R.101's maiden flights - and the continued development of the airship concept for the 21st century, not to mention the possibility of a R.101-based film in the works, the history of this marvellous method of travel will hopefully be enlarged far beyond the current narrow and half-forgotten remembrances, reaching new audiences and inspiring the next generation of engineers who may well end up working on future lighter-than-air machines, the renaissance of which continues apace.  I for one will be keeping a close eye on Airship Dreams and look forward to immersing myself in their no doubt fascinating exhibits.


  1. Very interesting project. I'm too young to have ever seen one of the great airships, only ever saw the Goodyear blimp. I like the lighter than air ships and hope some day someone builds a large Zeppelin size one solar powered. There is a huge surface area for solar cells and with modern electronics controlled motors I think they'd be fantastic.

    1. I've never even been fortunate enough to see the Goodyear blimp - the modern Zeppelins seem limited to Germany and the Airlander is still in development and only flew briefly from Cardington a few years ago. Hopefully it and similar projects will get going soon and we'll be able to see airships taking to the skies again one day. The solar panels idea is a good one - I know there have been such suggestions in relation to airships designed for use in the upper atmosphere (and on other planets!) - https://eclecticephemera.blogspot.com/2015/01/space-zeppelins-of-future.html

  2. Thanks for providing all of these good links (although Sita the Community Champion's pep is rather much for first thing in the morning, hahah!) I've been enjoying your back edition of Zeppelin posts and watched the terrific 1929 Graf Zeppelin documentary you linked some years ago the other day and have sent it along the line, to the pleasure both Mr P and another aviation aficionado in my life. What fabulous footage!

    1. Thanks Pipestrello - yes I'm all for enthusiasm for one's subject (and heaven knows I can wax lyrical on airships with the best of them) but Sita does take it to the next level somewhat! I'm glad you've been enjoying my previous zeppelin posts; as it happens I watched the Graf Zeppelin documentary yesterday as well, to commemorate the 91st anniversary of its around-the-world flight. I had great joy in revisiting the jaw-dropping footage (less so the "doomed love story" that was shoe-horned in) and am delighted to note that others have enjoyed it too.


Don't just sit there, type something! I enjoy reading all friendly and positive comments.


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