Egos and Aeronautics: A tale of two Airships
John Swinfield describes the bizarre politics behind the British government’s attempt to launch a pair of airships in the 1920s and how a project that might have boosted national pride ended in tragedy and failure.
A hundred years ago this year the British Admiralty tried to take to the skies by asking the armaments supplier Vickers to build Britain’s first military airship: HMA NO 1 Mayfly. Sadly, it never did. ‘Won’t fly’, as it was swiftly dubbed, broke its back as it was being manhandled out of its shed at Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, for what would have been its maiden voyage. It was an inauspicious start to Britain’s faltering and sometimes calamitous immersion in matters lighter-than-air. More successful airships – used primarily as reconnaissance vessels and having a distinguished role in the Great War as submarine spotters and as convoy escorts – were later developed in Britain. Years after the Mayfly debacle the government sanctioned the building of two much more ambitious vessels.