Report - - Cardington Hangars, Bedford - January 2012 | Military Sites | 28DaysLater.co.uk

Report - Cardington Hangars, Bedford - January 2012


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Cardington Hangars, Bedford - January 2012

Visited with fishbrain

This one was a bit of an accident. After getting our approach to the site all wrong, we skipped over some fences and made our way into the massive Shed 1. It was quiet, not a soul around... or so we thought. Having made our way down to the blimp at the end of the hall, we abruptly noticed 3 men working in and around the cabin adjacent... it was time to deploy all our stealth ninja skills - hiding behind pillars and skulking in the shadows, we 'casually' exited the massive hangar before we could even have a look at getting to the top.



The colossal Number 1 Shed is the only airship hangar from the period up to1918 to survive in situ in Europe (the similar Number 2 Shed was re-sited from Norfolk). It has been only partially used for many years and is in need of complete repair and refurbishment as the cladding is failing.

Cardington became one of the major British sites involved in the development of airships when Short Brothers bought land there to build airships for the Admiralty. They constructed a 700-foot-long (210 m) airship shed (the No. 1 Shed) in 1915 to enable them to build two rigid airships, the R-31 and the R-32. Some 800 people worked there in 1917, most of them travelled daily from Bedford. Shorts also built a housing estate, opposite the site, which they named Shortstown.

The airships site was nationalised in April 1919, becoming known as the Royal Airship Works.

In preparation for the R101 project the No 1 shed was extended between October 1924 and March 1926; its roof was raised by 35 feet and its length increased to 812 feet. The No. 2 shed (Southern shed), which had originally been located at RNAS Pulham, Norfolk, was dismantled in 1928 and re-erected at Cardington.

After the crash of the R101, in October 1930, all work stopped in Britain on airships. Cardington then became a storage station.
In 1936/1937 Cardington started building barrage balloons; and it became the No 1 RAF Balloon Training Unit.

For both airships and barrage balloons, Cardington manufactured its own hydrogen, in the Gas Factory, using the steam reforming process. In 1948 the Gas Factory became 279 MU (Maintenance Unit), RAF Cardington; and then, in 1955, 217 MU. 217 MU, RAF Cardington, produced all the gases used by the Royal Air Force until its closure in April 2000; including gas cylinder filling and maintenance.

Large enough to house 2 Wembley stadiums, these hangars remain the largest in Western Europe.



The two airship sheds ceased being part of the RAF Cardington site in the late 1940s and they were put to other uses. The fence was moved, so they were outside the main RAF Cardington site. Hangar 1 was used by the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) to operate balloons on behalf of the Met Office carrying instruments to measure conditions in the atmosphere. The balloons were also used in parachute development (although they were unmanned - using a heavy dead weight) much of this work was carried out in secret.

In the 1950s, during the time of National Service, RAF Cardington was the reception unit, where thousands of conscripts went to be issued with their kit. The Paratroop Regiment were stationed there as one of the hangers housed the balloons from which trainees made their first drops. In 1954 RAF Maitenance Command used Shed No.1 for their rehearsals for the Royal Tournament.

From 1970, No. 2 shed was used by the Fire Research Station for large-scale fire tests in sheltered conditions which could not be carried out at their site in Borehamwood, Herts. Such tests included work on sprinklers in high-rack storage, department stores and other locations, gas explosions (following the Ronan Point disaster of 1969), and reconstructions of notable fires including the Manchester Woolworth's fire of 1979.

In 1972 the Fire Research Station was merged with the Building Research Station to form the Building Research Establishment (BRE) and in the 1980s onwards some of BRE's work in non-fire areas was done in the hanger until around 2001; this included multi-storey steel, concrete and wooden buildings which were constructed and then destructively tested within the huge space available. This shed was completely reclad for BRE in the 1990s by the Property Services Agency and its contractors and thus was looked after in comparison with the other shed.

The buildings tests were mentioned during the course of the BBC series "The Conspiracy Files" as evidence in the controversy surrounding the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 on 11 September 2001.

A company called Airship Industries tried to revive the fortunes of the airship industry in the other shed in the 1980s,[citation needed] but the efforts ended in failure. The site is currently being used for the development of a new design of airship, the Skycat, by the company Hybrid Air Vehicles.


In 1993 planning permission was granted for construction of theatrical stagings and the site was used for rehearsals by musicians including Paul McCartney Band on the Run: 25th Anniversary Edition, U2, Rod Stewart, Take That and AC/DC.

In 1968 some scenes for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang were filmed at Cardington Sheds.[10] Also during the 1960s, much of the film Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines was shot in the vicinity of the village. In 1971 the sheds appeared in the First World War war film Zeppelin starring Michael York.

Shed 2 has recently been leased to Warner Bros. and is used as a studio for film and television productions. Director Christopher Nolan has used this location to film scenes for three of his movies; scenes from Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and Inception were filmed in Shed 2. Christopher Nolan is expected to return to this location during the summer of 2011 to film scenes for his third Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.

The film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was filmed at Cardington in 2004.

Rihanna filmed parts of her music video for 'Shut up and drive' there.



In early 2011, two Goodyear Blimps (Spirit of Safety I and Spirit of Safety II) were refurbished in Shed 1, prior to their deployment on an European tour promoting road safety.




Thanks for viewing,

:Not Worthy

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