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H3461 Model airship, 1929 British airship R101 G-FAAW with mooring mast, wood / metal, displayed around Australia by Shell Oil Company of Australasia Ltd, 1929-1930, maker unknown, c. 1929. Click to enlarge.

Model of 1929 British airship R101 G-FAAW

  • 1929-1930
This scale model represents the 732 ft (223.1 m) British airship R101 and mooring mast built in England at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington, north of London, in Bedfordshire, in 1928-29. It was developed for the Imperial Air Scheme to provide a passenger and mail service between Britain and her colonies including Canada, Egypt, India, Australia and New Zealand. The project had been instigated in 1924 under the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, and was to improve communication with the Empire. It involved the construction of two airships: R100, to be designed and built by a specially established Vickers subsidiary, the Airship Guarantee Company, and R101 at Cardington.

Between 1927 and 1929 C.B. Oliver, an engineer with the Shell Oil Company, was in Australia speaking to various groups about the wonderful opportunities provided by airships in the development of commercial aviation. He had been an air navigator in England on board the 1919 British airship R33 when she broke away from her mooring mast at RAF Pulham, Norfolk, in a gale in 1925. He claimed that airship passengers could travel around the world in 20 days in craft that were safer than aeroplanes. The flight by airship from Britain to Australia could be undertaken in only 10 days as opposed to 28 days by steam ship. The airships would be as comfortable as seagoing ships with a lounge, dining saloon, promenade, smoke room, state cabins and bathrooms for 100 to 120 passengers and crew of 45 but without the disadvantages of sea-sickness. The Australian press were very excited at the prospect of such a service as the use of heavier-than-air aircraft over long distances to Australia was then still impractical.

A hangar and mooring mast were located at Cardington, while further masts were erected at St Hubert, Canada and Ismailia in Egypt. As well as this a hangar, mast and hydrogen plant to refuel the airships were constructed in present day Pakistan, at Karachi (then British India). In 1930 Karachi was the initial terminus for the colonial route with further masts to be located at Perth, Melbourne and Wellington on the planned extension of the route to Australia and New Zealand in the early 1930s. In 1928 Group Captain P. Fellowes had made a survey of mast sites in the Commonwealth with Australia to pay the cost of their construction.

None of the Australian infrastructure was actually begun, as tragically R101 crashed in France during her maiden overseas voyage on 5 October 1930, killing 48 of the 54 people on board. Among the passengers was Lord Thomson who had initiated the Scheme. The crash ended the airship programme and was one of the worst airship disasters of the 1930s. Air routes between Britain and Australia were instead pioneered by Imperial Airways and QANTAS, starting in 1934, initially using flying boats but after World War II, land-based aircraft.

The model was donated to the Museum in late 1930 only a few weeks before the loss of the full-size airship. It is not known who made the model but it was donated by the Shell Oil Company of Australasia Ltd (Shell were supplying the full-size R101 with fuel). The model had been used by Shell at various displays and royal shows around Australia to demonstrate the use of petroleum for modern transport applications and may have been commissioned by them to illustrate and promote the potential of airship travel to the Australian public and government.

Margaret Simpson, Curator
April 2019


Object No.


Object Statement

Model airship, 1929 British airship R101 G-FAAW with mooring mast, wood / metal, displayed around Australia by Shell Oil Company of Australasia Ltd, 1929-1930, maker unknown, c. 1929

Physical Description

Airship model and mooring tower, scale 1 foot : 100 feet. Airship has ovoid shaped body, painted silver with small fins at rear and black lettering. Mooring tower is conical, lattice metal.


No marks.



205 mm



  • 1929-1930


As the use of heavier-than-air aircraft over long distances was considered impractical, back in 1921, A.H. Ashbolt, the Agent-General for Tasmania, proposed the creation of an Imperial Airship Company to link countries in the British Empire while attending the Imperial Conference being held in London in 1921. Although the idea was received favourably, no decision was made. One company, Vickers Ltd, proposed the development of a large commercial airship the following year to provide a passenger service. This proposal was also favourably reviewed by a British government committee, but no action was taken. After further investigation and several changes of government, a new scheme was adopted in 1924 under the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson. The Imperial Airship Scheme involved the construction of two airships: one, R100, to be designed and built by a specially established Vickers subsidiary, the Airship Guarantee Company, and the other, R101, by the Royal Airship Works at Cardington.

R100 was designed by Barnes Wallis, with Nevil Shute Norway as Chief Calculator, responsible for all the stress calculations. Writing under the name of Nevil Shute, Norway later became a successful novelist, and also wrote a memoir, "Slide Rule: Autobiography of an Engineer" which gives an account of the airship development program. He later admitted that his book had been unduly critical of the R101. Design of R101 was under the direction of Lt. Col. V.C. Richmond with Michael Rope as his assistant and Harold Roxbee Cox as chief calculator.

Although construction of R101 was initially scheduled for mid-1925, construction of both airships was delayed until 1927 and neither flew until 1929. Progress on R100 was hampered by lack of resources due to the fixed price contract. R101 was delayed by extensive research prior to construction. Both were overweight. R101 had a smaller gas capacity due to its innovative structural design in which the transverse ring-frames occupied a larger proportion of the interior. The solution was to add an extra bay. Luxury accommodation for passengers was planned, including passenger cabins, a dining room, lounge room, promenade decks and even an asbestos-lined smoking room.

In August 1930, R100 made the journey to North America, visiting Quebec, Montreal and Toronto, attracting huge crowds. The transatlantic flight to Canada took 78 hours, the return flight was completed in less than 58 hours.

At the end of June 1929 work started on lengthening R101 and the airship made the first of several short local flights on 14 October. This was followed by others for testing and publicity purposes. Attempts were made to rectify problems encountered, including lift, by reducing weight, deterioration of the fabric covering by covering tears with reinforcing bands and holes in the gas bags. Two engines were replaced by modified engines which could also run in reverse. Previously four were used for forward propulsion while the fifth was solely for reverse thrust when mooring.

The Air Ministry had scheduled the flight to India to coincide with the Imperial Conference to be held in London in October 1930 to generate publicity and support for the airship programme. A single trial flight lasting just under 17 hours was undertaken in near ideal weather conditions but due to the failure of the oil cooler in one engine, was not carried out at full speed.

Despite reservations expressed by some involved, on 2 October a Certificate of Airworthiness was hastily issued and two days later R101 set off in light rain to make its proving flight to India. The weather deteriorated as the airship left England and after seven hours in the air it crashed and caught fire near Beauvais in northern France, killing 48 of the 54 aboard. Among those who lost their lives were Lord Thomson and V.C. Richmond as well as two Australians who had joined the crew: First Officer, Noel Grabowsky Atherstone, the only British airman to have sunk a German submarine from an airship in World War I and who had moved to Victoria to be a pig farmer, and Melburnian, William Palstra, who had been awarded the Military Cross during the war and had been working in London as a liaison officer for the RAAF.

The bodies were returned to England and taken to Cardigan village for burial in a common grave after a memorial service was held in London at St Paul's Cathedral. Nearly 90,000 people had queued to pay their respects while the bodies lay in state in Westminster Hall.

An official enquiry was held immediately which concluded that it was 'impossible to avoid the conclusion that the R101 should not have started for India on the evening of 4th October if it had not been that matters of public policy were considered as making it highly desirable that she should do so'. No blame was attributed and the exact cause of the crash is still a matter of dispute. The desire of all involved to achieve the flight to India before the conclusion of the 1930 Imperial Conference (at which decisions would be taken on the future of the airship program) led to a premature flight in adverse weather conditions.

A monument was later erected at Cardigan and in 1933 a memorial was unveiled near the crash site outside Alonne in France. A commemorative plaque to the victims was placed in St Stephen's Hall at the Palace of Westminster in 2014.

The Zeppelin company (makers of the ill-fated Hindenburg airship which caught fire in 1937) purchased five tons of duralumin from the wreckage. R100 was grounded immediately after the crash of its competitor. In the following year Cabinet decided to abandon British airship development, although the Royal Airship Works at Cardington were to keep a watching brief on overseas developments. R100 was sold for scrap and broken up.


Judith Campbell, MAAS volunteer, under the supervision of Margaret Simpson, Curator,

January 2019

Principal events regarding the development, construction and history of the full-size R101.

Nov 1924 - drawing and design ideas on R101 were released
June 1928 - construction began
July 1929 - inflation began
Sept 1929 - lift and trim test.
Oct 1929 - moved to the Cardington tower
Oct 14 1929 - maiden flight
Oct 4 1930 - leaves for India
Oct 5 1930 Crashed in the French countryside : 48 people killed, 6 survivors.

Built at the Royal Airship Works at Cardington.
Designer - Lt Col V C Richmond
Shape H R Cox
Mechanical and detail design - J D Morth of Boulton & Paul of Norwich
Parachute wiring of the gasbags - S Ldr F M Rope
Stress work - Prof. J F Baker, Dr A G Pugsley & T S D Collins and H R Cox
In all 21 companies were connected with her construction.

L - 724' - 220.67m
W - 131'8" - 40.13m
H - 140' - 42.67m

By Aug 1930 new alterations had been completed : removal of surplus equipment, enlargement of gas bag wiring and the insertion of a new bay amidships, thereby lengthening her to 777' 236.83m



This scale model of the R101 airship and mast was displayed in September 1929 in the Shell pavilion at Melbourne's Royal Show. The Shell company were promoting the airship as they were supplying the fuel for R101, the first airship to be petrol powered.

The model attached to its mooring mast was also shown at the Sydney Motor Show in January 1930 held by the Motor Traders' Association followed a few weeks later in February in the window of the New South Wales Government Tourist Bureau in Martin Place opposite the General Post Office. Just before it was donated to the Museum in September 1930 it had been taken to South Australia to display at the Royal Adelaide Show at Wayville.

It is based on the rigid airship designed by Major G H Scott and Lieutenant Colonel V C Richmond for the Imperial Airship Scheme, England, 1929.


Credit Line

Gift of Shell Company of Aust Ltd, 1930

Acquisition Date

17 November 1930

Cite this Object


Model of 1929 British airship R101 G-FAAW 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 28 February 2021, <https://ma.as/237134>


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