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1/600 HM Airship No 1, Mayfly. Scratchbuild

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Should this be here?  Or should it be in maritime?  She's an airship after all and she never properly flew but ended up in a watery grave when she broke up being moved out of its hangar in 1911 for her maiden flight.  But I think this is probably more appropriate.  If the MODs disagree, very happy to move the thread to wherever people think more appropriate.


By way of background, this started in the recent FAA GB when I foolishly thought I could do 2 models in one GB.  I usually struggle to complete one (as I proved this time around, finishing a 1/48 Lynx HAS 3SGM with 3 hrs to spare after a 2 week extension).  So the first part of the build log can be found here:


For those who are unfamiliar with the early days of Naval Aviation, Mayfly, or to give her her correct name, His Majesty's Airship No. 1, was the UK's first rigid airship.  She was commissioned from Messrs Vickers and Sons Ltd in Barrow in 1909 by the Admiralty who wanted a long range scout to operate with the Fleet.  Based around the designs of the German Zeppelins, she incorporated several supposed improvements which would offer greater range although some of these would prove to be her downfall.  From the outset the programme ran into problems and it took Vickers over a year to construct a shed over its Cavendish Dock in which to build HMA No 1 when it should have been less than 2 months.  Thus it was not until May 1911 that she was ready to be moved out of the shed to commence initial trials tethered to a 38 ft mast.  Almost immediately the team and Vickers and their Admiralty overseers realised that HMA 1 was too heavy and that significant design changes would be needed to enable her to get airborne; the engineers calculated that around 3 tons would need to be removed.  One of the major design changes that resulted from this was to remove the strengthening keel against the advice of one of the senior designers at Vickers who resigned in protest.


Under considerable pressure from the Admiralty, HMA No 1 was next moved out of the shed on 11 Sep 1911 in marginal weather conditions.  When half way out she was caught by a gust of wind, rotated through 90 degrees around her longitudinal centreline but as she righted, the lack of longitudinal rigidity caused by the lack of keel meant that she broke her back.  There are also conflicting reports that the accident was caused by poor handling by the ground crew though the official BOI blamed the weather conditions only.


Captain (later Rear Admiral) Murray Sueter, known by some as the father of naval aviation, wanted to repair her and continue the trials but there was little appetite in the Admiralty where the Navy had a new First Lord, Winston Churchill, who was not a fan of airships and refused any further investment; Thus HMA 1 was left to rot in the shed where she had been built.  However, valuable lessons were learned which were incorporated in later British airship designs.


This model is 3D printed using an Elegoo Mars resin printer with the various sections being drawn in Fusion 360 CAD software.  When I realised 3 months ago that if I was going to finish anything in the GB, I needed to concentrate on one only, I had printed all of the hull sections, glued them together (with a few mishaps) and added the keel.  She then received a couple of coats of Halford rattle can primer and a couple of coats of topcoat.


There is much debate about her colour but the fount of knowledge of all things airship, @Martian, assured me she would have been natural linen which accords with one contemporaneous report but disagrees with another which said that she was silver on top.  Given that I can see not no difference in colour from top to bottom other than that which would be caused by shadow, I am going with the natural linen look though having painted the topcoat, I am convinced that the colour is too yellow.  I do need to repaint to reflect the slightly lighter colours around the frames and the one darker area on top just forward of midships (see bottom photo)




Over in the GB thread I reported that I had misplaced the gondolas that I had printed.  Well the beauty of 3D printing parts is if you do lose them, they are straightforward enough to reprint so that is what I have done.  Always make some spares just in case so I have 4 gondolas, now primed and ready for first coat of topcoat.




My plan is to portray her as she was on the mast in May 1911 as shown in this photo:



Unfortunately I appear to have fitted the keel about 6 mm too far aft, which in turn will impact on the space for the rear gondola in relation to the cruciform tail surfaces.  So I shall have to somehow get that off without breaking it.  It will also make it easier to paint it in a duralumin colour prior to using thin tissue to replicate its silk covering.


Thanks for watching

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Despite best efforts, I failed to remove the keel.  For once, the CA adhesive I use was actually working and although I did manage to loosen a few short sections. I also broke a good few more and quickly realised that there was no way that I was going to get the central longitudinal spare off without breaking it.  So I will have to accept that it is fitted one frame too far aft.


Therefore, having made that decision, I got on with repainting the silk covering, starting with a very light coat to represent where it was stretched over the airship frames.  This was a mix of three parts Vallejo white 70.951 to one part Vallejo beige 70.917.


After masking the frames, I then sprayed the area amidships and a couple of panels on the stbd side aft that the photos show as darker.  This was two parts Vallejo white to two parts Vallejo beige to one part Vallejo London grey 70.836.  And then finally those areas were masked and I sprayed the main linen colour three parts Vallejo beige to two parts Vallejo white to one part Vallejo sky grey 70.989.  I have little doubt that the WW1 aircraft purists will say that it is incorrect, but to my untrained eye (I came second to bottom in my only full year in art at grammar school and was gutted that I didn't come last!) it looks about right for those natural linen aircraft that have seen at places like Shuttleworth.  nd in my defence, there are no colour photos of Mayfly to compare it against.


Next up was to paint the keel.  There was no way that I could mask in side the framework so this had to be done with a hairy stick which meant that Alclad was out of the question; instead I used Tamiya flat aluminium.  Not much of this will show because I have yet to add the silk covering which will be made from tissue paper.




Now the observant amongst you may have spotted something in that photo that is not quite right.  What is that all good tradesmen say?  Measure twice and cut once.  In modelling speak perhaps that should also be dry fit twice and cement once.  I've started to add the cruciform tail pieces.  These are cut from 90 gsm paper on which I had printed the outlines taken from the plans on this website.  Once cut out I then added the frames from 0.5 mm strips of the same paper.  After painting, I then dry-fitted each and applies PVA glue to the first and applied it.  It was only when i came to add the next, some 6 hours later after the first had set that I realised my deliberate error.  Have you spotted it?




Yes, the whole section is facing the wrong way.  However, there were some good things to come from this:

  1.  I'd only used PVA glue and not CA so that I could, with care, get it off without damage,
  2.  It proved that PVA glue would hold it in place perpendicular to the frame underneath it with just an edge to face connection;
  3.  I spotted it - and corrected it, before I had secured all four in place.

After a bit of a clean up to get rid of the old adhesive it was refitted the correct way around




Which also means that the frames are now perpendicular to the airship centre line.  Just another few hours to wait until has set sufficiently so that I can fit the next one.  In the meantime, I have been trying to draw the propellers in CAD, given that my scratchbuilding skills may be quite good, but there is no way that I can carve 3 identical propellers.




It's not perfect by a long way and there are many on here who are way better than me at 3D CAD, but it will do, I think, given that each propeller is only 7 mm diameter.


Thanks for watching


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Interesting, looking forward to seeing it finished. 


They were asking for  trouble calling it Mayfly. Apart from the pun, Mayflies only last for one day which is exactly what happened to the airship.

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On 09/12/2023 at 15:21, noelh said:

They were asking for  trouble calling it Mayfly. Apart from the pun, Mayflies only last for one day which is exactly what happened to the airship.

Of course, the Admiralty never formally called her Mayfly.  Her official title was always his Majesty's Airship No 1, it was simply matelot humour which nicknamed her Mayfly and it stuck, especially after Winston Churchill, who as the First lord of the Admiralty, said in Parliament on 23 March 1913, "The mishap which destroyed the May-fly, or the Won't Fly, as it would be more accurate to call it, at Barrow, was a very serious set-back to the development of Admiralty policy in airships" (Hansard).  At least a six-legged Mayfly gets airborne at least once which was more than HMA No 1 ever did.


Work has continued.


Firstly the cruciform tail surfaces are now fitted.




Not perfect, but good enough for government work as is often said.  I was expecting to see some sort of bracing wires between the cruciforms but nothing obvious in any of the photos I have.


And the linen has now been added to either side of the keel:




I've also added the support bars for the control surfaces from 0.2 mm Albion Alloys nickel rod.  No photos as yet as I am waiting the the CA to fully cure before I cut them down to the right length.  I've also started top coating the gondolas.


Thanks for watching

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  • 4 weeks later...

Despite having had over two weeks leave over Christmas and New Year, only managed about two hours at the bench.  And that time was spent adding the control surfaces.






These are simply cut from strips of prepainted 80 gsm printer paper and secured using PVA glue.  Need to add some control lines attaching the surfaces together top and bottom for which I'm using stretched sprue.  


Thanks for watching

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  • 4 weeks later...

Apologies for the lack of updates.  Been trying to help my daughter and future son-in-law move house.


The base is now made and drying awaiting paint.  It's the simple 10 mm block of polystyrene covered in tissue paper soaked in thinned down PVA glue technique that works well for smooth seas with a slight ripple.  No photos taken - it's a bit boring!


I have fitted out the gondolas with their 3D printed propellers (which were incredibly fragile - how I managed to get 3 off their supports I do not know) and support struts (20 thou styrene rod) plus glazed the gondola windows with PVA glue.  They have then been attached to the model.  It is just a straight face to face contact held with CA glue which I am hoping will be strong enough to support the weight of Mayfly when I turn her up the right way on the base.  If you're super critical you'll note that they support struts are at slightly the wrong angle to connect to the airship but it was getting all too difficult to get them exactly lined up.  I suspect it was simply down to the lack of plans that this has become a representation rather than super-accurate.  I work on the principle that most people have never even heard of Mayfly let alone know exactly how her gondolas attached to the frame!






It got really confusing.  This photo of Mayfly shows her as having two propellers on the forward gondola and one on the aft.




Yet this photo, taken just 4 months later just before she broke her back, clearly shows two propellers on the aft gondola and one on the forward.




My assumption is that as part of the lightening process when the keel was removed, they swapped the engines around as well in order to maintain the Centre of Gravity.


Anyway, since my version of Mayfly includes the keel, I've gone with two at the front and one at the back configuration.


I've also drawn and printed the floating mast, a 27 ft Montague whaler and  50 ft steam pinnace plus some figures to give an idea of scale.  They're currently all being painted and will be fitted to the base once the airship is in place.


Thanks for watching


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  • 2 weeks later...

Mayfly is now secured to her base.  I was somewhat concerned that with all of the weight of the gas chamber resting on just two small footprints of the gondolas that there would be insufficient lateral stability and that any slight sideways movement when moving the model/base would se her fall over, so I drilled a couple of pilot holes in the base of the gondolas and pinned both with some brass wire when I could then press into the polystyrene base.  Seemed to work as she stood up without any adhesive.  Unfortunately I realised that I didn't quite get the gondolas at exactly 90 deg to the plane of the airship so I could either have the gondolas flat on the water, or I could have the cruciform control surfaces at the correct angle.  I opted for the latter as it is more noticeable.  Here you see her with Tamiya tape holding her in position while the PVA sets.




You can also see some of the ancillaries that I 3D printed to go with her to show the size.  If you look carefully you can see some 1/600 figures in there  Mooring tower:






And 50 ft steam pinnace:




Just need to matt coat the whole thing then finish off the sea base with a couple of gloss coats and the wake from the steam pinnace.  Thanks for watching.

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