This dictates the design and size considerations of an airship. The simple fact is that the size of the ship is dependent on the size of the shed it is built in - Today, the two Cardington Sheds can be seen dominating the skyline for many miles around.
How did a small village some 5 miles from the centre of Bedford come to be the centre of Airship operations and excellence?
The story starts with the Shorts Brothers Engineering Company. Having won a contract for the construction of an airship in 1916, the original design team had set up offices in a private house in Hampstead, London. In September of 1916 they decided to move to Bedford, choosing this market town for its sufficiency of high grade light engineering works and its population of about 35,000.
The man who headed up the enterprise for the Shorts Company was a young man by the name of Claude Lipscomb. At 29, Claude had already served his apprenticeship at Woolwich Arsenal but had joined Shorts at the outbreak of the war in 1914 in the new aviation world.
Claude set up his first drawing office in a loft of the coach repair shop in Bedford. Having been attacked by Zeppelin Raiders that September and with the threat of the new Super Zeppelins, agreement was reached to develop their own ships. With its gentle prevailing wind, the site of farmland south east of Bedford and the site of Cardington was chosen.
Proposals were framed as to what was needed in the way of resources to actually build airships of this scale. When the proposal was reviewed, it was realised that it could take an act of Parliament to release the thousands of tons of steel to construct the hanger alone!
The shed was the biggest to be built in Britain at that time. It was to provide a minimum of space for two ships under one cantilever roof. The dimensions were such that it would be possible to build ships that at that time would in no way be inferior to the biggest Zeppelins. Additional steel was needed for the enormous windbreaks which were set up at both ends of the shed. These screens, as long as the shed itself, were designed to protect an airship during the time it was being manoeuvred in to and out of the sheds from either end.
The first ship to come out of the Cardington airship facility was the R31. The ship was commissioned only 5 days before the Armistice on 11th November 1918. The shed was an impressive construction and design project.
Today it is easy to forget that it was hand designed and hand built. Cardington became one of the World's best airship facilities. Due to the economic depression of the post war years, the Airship station was closed in 1921 after the construction of the R38 and the scrapping of the R37.
However the station was reopened in 1924 following the announcement of the Imperial Airship Service and the undertaking of the construction of, amongst others, the R101. For communications, a wireless station and Cardington control tower was constructed in 1928 behind the Administration block.
The huge airship mast was constructed for the civil programme in 1926. 202 feet high and 70 feet in diameter at the base, the tower was the first ever cantilever mooring mast to be built. It was demolished in 1943 to help the war effort.
Discussions in Parliament following the crash of the R101 in October 1930 led to the Committee on National Expenditure's final decision to dismantle the R100 in shed no.2. In 1931, the Station was nearly closed, with only a skeleton maintenance staff of some 44 people remaining. However work soon resumed with resurrection of the old World War One national defence system of barrage balloons as a deterrent to the German Bombers.
With the threat of war looming at the end of the 1930s Cardington was back in business with the development and creation off thousands of kite balloons. Every balloon had to be large enough to carry a couple of miles of steel cable and required a trained crew who could monitor the balloon 24 hours a day. Also required for each was a winch and motor transport. Preparation for meeting this demand started in November 1936 when the station became known as Royal Airforce Station Cardington. At its peak Cardington was producing some 26 balloons a week. Simultaneously the station was a training centre and by 1943 some 10,000 balloon operators and a further 12,000 driver/operators had been trained.
It's still here. The site is almost as it was constructed and planned back in 1916. It is also intended that airship activity of a kind will return in the form of the new AHT Museum to be situated at Cardington, returning many of the original artefacts.
Airships have also returned to Cardington in the form of ATG Group who are developing the AT 10 airship and the huge SKYCAT. Prototypes can be seen on occasion flying from shed number 1 where the R101 was constructed.
Following the collapse of ATG, the future of shed 1 remains uncertain. Shed 2, was sold to Warner Brothers and used as film set for the film "Batman Begins". This shed remains up for sale by the film company.