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Willows Airships

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The Willows airships were a series of pioneering non-rigid airships designed and built in Wales by Ernest Thompson Willows.

The first airship Willows No. 1 flew in 1905 and the last the Willows No. 5 in 1913.

Willows No. 1 first flown for 85 minutes by the Nineteen-year old Willows from East Moors, Cardiff in Wales on 5 August 1905 the No. 1 was a small semi-rigid of 12,600 cubic feet. The 74 ft long and 18 ft diameter envelope was made from silk and it had a framework gondola suspended beneath the envelope. At the rear of the framework was a twin-cylinder 7 hp Peugot motor-cycle engine fitted with a two-bladed 10 ft pusher propeller. The Willow No. 1 undertook six flights with the longest lasting two hours.

Willows No. 2 first flew on 26 November 1909. No. 2 was 86 ft long and 22 ft diameter with a 29,000 cubic feet volume. On 4 June 1910 Willows landed the No. 2 outside of Cardiff City Hall and flew back to his shed at East Moors.

On 11 July 1910 it flew from Cheltenham to Cardiff and the following month on the 6 August flew from Cardiff to London. The 122 mile flight was a record for a cross-country flight in Britain and Willows was the first aviator to cross the Bristol Channel in a powered aircraft. The No. 2 was powered by a JAP 30 hp air-cooled V8 engine and had two swivelling propellers mounted either side of the suspended car. It was also fitted with a rudder for directional control.

Willows No.3: Willows No. 2 was re-built and lengthened to 120 ft with a diameter of 40 ft and a volume of 32,000 cubic feet. It retained the same JAP engine which powered two 6 ft propellers. As the Willows No. 3 it first flew on 29 October 1910 over White City in London, England. Willows re-named his airship the City of Cardiff and on the 4 November 1910 left from Wormwood Scrubs for France.

It was the first airship to cross the English Channel at night and the first from England to France. The journey was not without problems including dropping the maps over the side during the night and problems with the envelope caused the airship to land at Corbehem near Douai at two o'clock in the morning. With the help of a local french aviator Louis Breguet the airship was repaired and arrived at Paris on 28 December 1910. He celebrated new-years eve with a flight around the Eiffel Tower.

Willows No. 4: The next Willows airship the Willows No.4 (His Majesty's Naval Airship No. 2) was slightly smaller but more streamlined then the No. 3. Completed in 1912 it had a 24,000 cubic feet capacity and a length of 110 ft and a diameter of 20 ft. The envelope had a keel on with was mounted a 35 hp Anzani engine driving two four-bladed stearable propellers. Below the keel was suspeded a two-man gondola.

After rejection by the Army, No. 4 was bought for £1,050 in September 1912 by the Admiralty and it became His Majesty's Naval Airship No. 2.

In 1913 it was given a larger capacity envelope of 39,000 cu feet.

By 1914 the original gondola was replaced a three-seat version with dual controls but it only made one-flight in the three-seat configuration. The envelope of this airship was used as the prototype for the very successful SS class blimp which was used for anti U-boat activities in World War One.

Willows No. 5: Following the sale of No. 4 Willows established a spherical gas balloon school at Welsh Harp, Hendon. During this time he developed a new airship the Willows No. 5 with a rubberised fabric and a volume of 50,000 cubic feet. First flown on 27 November 1913 the 130 ft No. 5 had a gondola which could carry four people. It made a number of flights from Hendon over central London in February 1914.

1918 The Willows Aircraft Company set up the Willows Balloon Factory in Westgate Street, Cardiff, in an old skating rink, It produced balloons for barrage balloon purposes but demand dried up with the end of the war and the factory closed in 1919.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  • [1] Wikipedia
  • GGAT 130: The Sinews of War: South East Wales Industry and The First World War, 2015, by Johnny Crawford