When did airships last fly over Bedford town centre?
Well, soon the answer will be “on Sunday”!
This Sunday, January 23, 2022, the team from Team Airship101 will fly their thermal airship from Santa Pod to Cardington, reminiscent of the halcyon days when Bedford was the home of airships. Local residents are being encouraged to come out and greet the team with a wave as they fly over the town.
The flight is a celebration of the final weeks of the Airships Dreams Escaping Gravity exhibition on display at The Higgins Bedford. The exhibition was commissioned by Bedford Creative Arts (BCA) and The Higgins to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the last flight of the R101 airship from Cardington on October 4, 1930.
Sadly, due to Covid-19 the exhibition was delayed and launched belatedly on July 10, 2021. The exhibition originally featured a new immersive digital artwork, alongside a community co-curated exhibition of memories, stories and artefacts relating to Bedford’s airship heritage and the Cardington Sheds.
The artwork has now been packed away ready for national touring, but the community co-curated exhibition is open until March 23, 2022.
The process of inviting the community to share their memories for the exhibition has uncovered a huge number of new stories about residents and their relatives alongside many tales of the workers who toiled in the Cardington Sheds over many years.
It has revealed the treasures of some local collectors of airship history such as Den Burchmore (former Curator for the Airship Heritage Trust whose private collection is recreated in the exhibition) but also collectors of airships themselves such as Bobby Frankham.
Bobby recently purchased the Airship101 and has restored it. It’s now ready to fly regularly. After completing its test flights its first longer flight will be across Bedford making it the first airship to fly over the town for many years.
Bobby said: “Eight years ago I was asked, with a few select others from the Lemmings Paramotor Club, to fly at the Isle of Sheppey. It was for the unveiling of a statue of the Short brothers who made the first powered flight in England in 1909.
“A spitfire was also doing a display, I was so excited and thought it don’t get much better than this! Until now…I’ve been asked to fly my airship over the centre of Bedford to celebrate the Airships Dreams Escaping Gravity.
“I hope to fly over Shortstown and Cardington where the R101 airship was built. It needed 400 ground crew and 42 crew on board. My airship is not so big just 120,000cu.ft. compared to 5,000,000cu.ft. but it all needs putting back in a bag at the end before we go to the pub. Anyone who helps put the airship back in the bag a few times and is there to the end, I will try and give a little flight to.”
Elaine Midgley, Director of Bedford Creative Arts said: “When we first started the project we had dreamed of flying an airship over Bedford town centre and recreating some of the iconic photographs and memories that had been shared by residents who remember the days when seeing skyships and blimps on the horizon at Cardington was a common sight.
“We’re glad that the Airship101 is now able to fly and grateful to Bobby and his team for offering to do a flight for us. We really hope residents enjoy watching it fly and come out to wave Bobby on and take their own photographs and make new memories of an airship over Bedford.”
The airship is due to fly over Bedford town centre and past Cardington between 12-2pm on Sunday, subject to good weather.
You can follow the flight on social media. Videos and photographs taken from the ground and from the airship gondola will be available on BCA’s YouTube Channel and social media channels from Monday.