NULLI SECUNDUS I
In 1902 Colonel James Lethbridge Brooke Templer, the Superintendent of Her Majesty’s Balloon Factory at Aldershot and the Chief Designer of military balloons decided it was time Britain had a military airship. Although work on her began at this time, a shortage of funds, the initial lack of an airship shed and, subsequently, the removal of the Balloon Factory from Aldershot to Farnborough, extended the construction period and she did not complete until 1907. By this time Templer had retired and his post as Superintendent of the Balloon Factory had been taken by Colonel John Edward Capper. S.F. Cody had been incorporated onto the team working on the airship and in his own words ‘I did some work on the framework, but did not design it. I bought the engine for the Government. I designed the engine bed, the supports and the device for transmitting the power from the engine to the fore-shafts. In fact, the entire power producing section of the airship is of my own design, and a great deal of it was made at the forge, lathe and bench with my own hands. I designed all the aeroplanes or wings by which the ship is steered.’
The airship’s envelope was 120 (possibly 122) feet in length, 26 feet in diameter and had a capacity of 55,000 (possibly 56,000) cubic feet. It was made of goldbeaters skin (produced from the gut of an ox) which was not only exceptionally strong and flexible but also very light. The average size of each piece of skin used was approximately 24 inches long and 10 inches wide and twelve layers were needed to reach the required strength. Four silk bands 4 feet wide were placed over the brown coloured envelope to support the undercarriage and a net was spread over all to prevent the bands slipping. The gondola was 35 feet long by 3.5 feet wide and had its sides covered by fabric. To start the engine that drove her twin bladed, paddle shaped, aluminium propellers, a wheel was attached to the crankshaft at the rear of the engine. Cody was said to have been the only man with the strength to turn it at a sufficient speed to create the required spark for ignition.
Nulli Secundus made her fist public appearance on the morning
of the 10 September 1907 before a large crowd that had gathered at Farnborough
to watch her maiden flight. At this time she had two sets of diamond
shaped ‘aeroplanes’, one set forward and one set aft. There
was a large rudder at the rear and a very large pair of ‘kite wings’ amidships. The
airship was walked to Farnborough Common by sappers of the royal Engineers. Colonel
Capper, Captain King (Chief Instructor of Ballooning) and Cody were on board. The
airship rose to a height of 150 feet but remained attached to ropes that
held her to the ground and was then lowered again. This drill was repeated
several times before the engine was started and she proceeded to fly about
15m.p.h. with the sappers still holding onto her ropes and running hard to
stay with her. The airship was set free but was compelled to make a
premature descent because her Antoinette engine stopped and she began drifting
towards some trees. Cody shouted through a megaphone to the sappers
who then rushed for the ropes and towed her back to the shed.
Her second trial took place that afternoon after her wings amidships had been removed. Colonel Capper, Cody and McWade were on board. The airship flew for only a few minutes before the engine again stopped but she landed with minimum damage.
When the airship emerged on the 30 September, a large tail plane had been added plus a rear elevator and the rear set of ‘aeroplanes’ had been moved forward. Colonel Capper and Cody were aboard for a trip of roughly twelve miles.
At 4.30pm on the 3 October, Colonel Capper, Cody and King took off for a further flight but a trail rope fouled the propellers and bent the blades. After a quick repair she took off again for another flight over the local area.
On the 5 October the Nulli Secundus set off for London with just Colonel Capper and Cody aboard. Huge crowds watched the airship’s progress towards London and to help gain their attention Cody sounded a powerful siren that had been fitted to the gondola to signal to the soldiers below. Once London was reached Capper made a point of flying over Buckingham Palace, presumably to be seen by the Royal Family, over the War Office, round the dome of St. Paul’s before heading for Clapham Common. It was, however, impossible to land there because of the vast crowd that had gathered and she was forced to fly on to the Crystal Palace where her record breaking journey of 3 hours 20 minutes ended. Here the tethered and inflated airship was so badly blown about by heavy winds that the decision was taken to split the envelope in an attempt to save her. Unfortunately her under structure had already been damaged and she was deflated and transported back to Farnborough and never flew again in her original form. She was resurrected as the Nulli Secundus II.
NULLI SECUNDUS II
The only major item from the Nulli Secundus I that was used in the, inappropriately named, Nulli Secundus II was the envelope, most of the other features being of modified design. A silk covering replaced the netting that had been used on the previous airship and the frame work under the envelope was enclosed by, and suspended on, additional silk sheeting. The four saddle bands were narrower and no longer supported the under structure.
There was one large front elevator, two rear rudders and a series of kite shape ‘fins’ either side of the envelope. The car was open and balanced on a triangular arrangement that made it difficult to get in and out of. Cody did not appear to be very much involved with this airship, his time, presumably, being spent working on his aeroplane.
On 24 July 1908, with Captain King, Captain Carden and Lieutenant Westland on board the Nulli Secundus II made an unsuccessful attempt at flight. The failure resulted from a guide rope getting caught in, and bending, one of the propellers. On the third attempt a flight was achieved but ended when the propeller driving belt came off its pulleys.
The damage to the airship was repaired and on Friday 14 August the airship again took to the air with Colonel Capper, McWade and Cody on board. The flight lasted for only 15 minutes and ended when a petrol pipe burst. The following day she took off for her last flight when it was said ‘she pitched and tossed like some demented creature.’ This time a water pipe burst and damage was also incurred when landing. The Nulli Secundus II did not attempt any further flights.