Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,480 pages of information and 245,913 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

School of Ballooning

From Graces Guide

The School of Ballooning was a training and test centre for British Army experiments with airships and eventually led to the formation of the Royal Aircraft Factory in 1911.


1862. Captain F. Beaumont, who had served with Thaddeus Lowe’s Balloon Corps in the American Civil War, and Captain G. E. Grover[1] advocated the formation of a balloon unit within the British Army after having observed the use of balloons by the Confederates in the American Civil War.

1863 The British Army took interest in ballooning when Henry Coxwell was commissioned to perform a series of ascents at Aldershot and Woolwich. The demonstration showed how captive balloons could be used for reconnaissance, signalling and the dropping of bombs on an enemy.

1865 The Army decides not to pursue the development of balloons during 'times of profound peace'.

1870 The Balloon Committee consisted of Captain Beaumont, Captain Glover and Sir Frederick Abel (the Chemist to the War Department). Later, Glover was replaced by Major Scratchley and Beaumont replaced by Charles M. Watson.

1873 A proposal for two balloons and the hydrogen making equipment for an expedition to Ashanti but it was abandoned.

1874 The sub-committee on balloons, consisting of Major Beaumont R.E. MP, Professor Abel, Lieut-Colonel P. H. Scratchley RE, inspector of Works, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, conducted trials of a method of inflating a balloon on the battlefield[2]

1878. Colonel J. L. B. Templer, an expert in the sport of free-ballooning was commissioned to build a balloon for service use. He was to be assisted by H. P. Lee and a team from the Royal Engineers at Woolwich Arsenal was provided. This first balloon was the Pioneer.

1879. The Balloon Equipment Store was formed at the Royal Engineers' Woolwich Depot.

1879 By the end of the year the unit had five balloons in service.

In 1880 Military balloon training was initiated at Aldershot by Captain Templer and Captain H. Elsdale.

In 1880 and in 1882, the Balloon Section participated in the Aldershot manoeuvres. The Section's participation was judged to have been very successful.

1882. The School of Ballooning and the Balloon Equipment Store were moved to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. Captain Templer was in charge of the small factory producing balloons and hydrogen.

1882. Hydrogen started to be transported under pressure in steel tubes and the design of these was by Lieutenants J. P. L. MacDonald and F. C. Trollope.

1883. Captain Templer completes a balloon using goldbeater's skin with the help of the Weinling family. This balloon was the 10,000 cubic feet Heron. He also completed with the help of John Edward Capper the 5,600 cubic feet Sapper made from silk treated with linseed oil but the goldbeater's skin proved superior.

1884. The school had standardised on the following types of balloons:-

  • F Class of 5,600 cubic feet (not used in service)
  • S Class of 7,000 cubic feet.
  • T Class of 10,000 cubic feet.

1885. Balloon detachments were used in the Bechaunaland expedition under Major Elsdale and lieutenant Trollope; and also in the Red Sea operations in the eastern Sudan under Major Templer and Lieutenant R. J. H. L. Mackenzie.

Up to 1889 Major Lee, Major Elsdale and Major Watson (1888) served in turn as the commanding officer in charge of ballooning. They were succeeded by H. B. Jones (1890) and then B. R. Ward

1892. The School moved to Stanhope Lines, Aldershot when a balloon section and depot were formed as permanent units of the Royal Engineers establishment. This School was sometimes known as the Balloon Factory.

1894. A man-lifting kite section was added to the school with equipment designed by Captain B. F. S. Baden-Powell (brother of Robert Baden-Powell).

1894 November. The longest free run in a military balloon was achieved by H. B. Jones and H. C. Prichard in a flight of 152 miles from Aldershot to Louth.

1897. The name School of Ballooning was formalised on the 1st April and it was taken from the control of Aldershot Command and Colonel J. L. B. Templer was put in charge.

1899. The section became active in the Boer War. Templer leaves for South Africa as Director of Road Transport.

Under J. P. L. MacDonald the Acting Superintendent the School of Ballooning developed:-

  • A (Albion) Class of 13,000 cubic feet
  • B Class of 11,500 cubic feet.

1901 Early in the year Templer returned as Superintendent.

1904 June. Tests on man-lifting kites developed by Samuel Cody.

1905 Moved to Farnborough.

1905 Cody designs a kite-glider and this is tested at Farnborough.

1906 May. Templer retired at age 60 and Colonel John Capper took up command of the Balloon School. During his time in command, Capper contributed to the development of Britain's military airships.

1906 Cody's kite is purchased and he is engaged as Chief Instructor. Lieutenant R. V. Doherty Howell was detailed for the testing and suffered many crashes. Lieutenant P. W. L. Broke-Smith broke the altitude record in an ascent to 3,000 feet.

1906 June. John William Dunne arrived.

1906 December. The wind-tunnel was completed and operated by Captain A. D. Carden.

1906 December. Purchase of an Antoinette 50-hp V8 engine for use in an airship.

1907 Colonel Capper initiated experiments with wireless with Lieutenant Ll. Evans R.E. and Lieutenant C. J. Aston.

1907 May. Lieutenants T. E. Martin-Leake and W. T. M. Caulfeild on a free balloon run are drowned off Bridport.

1907 September 10th. Nulli Secundus was first flown. The first successful public flight of a British airship took place in October over London, piloted by Capper.

1908 April 1st. School of Ballooning renamed as H. M. Balloon Factory.

1909 August. The Balloon Factory was separated from the Balloon School.

1911 April 1st. The Balloon School was renamed as the Air Battalion of the Corps of Royal Engineers.

List of Models

Note: From 1908 the School of Ballooning was renamed as the Royal Aircraft Factory but for the sake of continuity all the Airships are listed here

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] British Balloon Museum and Library
  2. The Times Sept. 5, 1874
  • [2] Wikipedia
  • The Royal Aircraft Factory by Paul R. Hare. ISBN. 0-85177-843-7
  • The History of Early British Aeronautics by P. W. L. Broke-Smith