Saturday, 26 January 2019


"Of a singularly quiet disposition, he achieved what he wanted from those above or below him by sheer quiet charm and determined constancy of purpose.

He was a remarkably steady experimenter and observer in flight, a quality rather rare in those of such active imagination.

His inventions contributed greatly to the success of the ship. He could define the requirements exactly and grasped the mechanical principles of design so clearly that almost all his designs, even those of startling novelty, were right the first time or required only correction in detail.

Beyond his refusal to claim credit for what he had done, one found it difficult to get him to admit credit.

His one test for a thing—technically or morally—was whether it was right. 

Of all the good airship men who have been lost, he leaves a gap which will be most difficult to fill."

Squadron Leader Frederick Michael Rope was born in 1888 and educated at Shrewsbury School and Birmingham University. Until 1912 he was an engineer to the British Electric Plant Company, Alloa. In 1913 he was employed on locomotive engineering on the Brighton Railway.

In 1915 he joined the Royal Naval Air Service. He served at the Capel and Kingsnorth Air Stations and later as staff officer in the Department of the Director of Research, where he became Lead Designer on the SS Zero airship project.

After the war, he transferred into the newly formed RAF and spent much of his early service in the Far East. It was while stationed at Martlesham Heath in Suffolk, however, that he met and fell in love with local girl Doreen Jolly from Grange Farm in Kesgrave.

He continued to work on airship design and construction, eventually joining the team responsible for producing the revolutionary new R101 at the Royal Airship Works based at Cardington. His contribution to the project was significant. Among his innovative developments were a "parachute" wiring system for securing the gas bags which gave the airship its lift, a new autogas valve and a variable-pitch, wind-driven propeller to power the onboard electric generator.

At the height of construction, Michael Rope married Doreen Jolly.

Lieutenant-Colonel Richmond commented that it was "almost bigamy" because he was "married to the R101 already."

In the fatal crash of the R101 forty-six people, including  Michael Rope perished in the wreck.

In the months following the disaster, permission was given by Bishop Cary-Elwes for a chapel to be built in Kesgrave, on land donated by William Jolly, as a memorial to Michael Rope.

Work began in June 1931, with a private ceremony during which the foundation stone was laid on behalf of Michael Rope's eight month old son Crispin.

A Charitable Trust Fund was established by the family and is administered to this day by Crispin Rope.

In January 2019, he and his fellow Trustees agreed to pledge a grant of £10,000 to fund the building of the replica Zero control car.

Project Zero is thankful for the opportunity to continue his legacy with our replica and could not have wished for a more poignant and appropriate supporter for our project.

Thanks also go to Dr Giles Camplin and the Airship Heritage Trust for their continued support and encouragement and for enabling us to bring our funding request to the attention of Crispin Rope. The  Airship Heritage Trust has been generous to also offer to support us with a grant of the final amount to meet our funding target.

Build updates will be posted from the Spring of 2019.

Friday, 21 December 2018

SSZ 100 Can you help us build the replica?

A project to replicate a full-sized Zero class airship control car, the first to be built in 100 years.

with the encouragement and support of the Airship Heritage Trust, we have launched a final appeal to raise the funds to complete program 4 of Project Zero.

What is Project Zero?

Project Zero has been researching the role and development of airships during the First World War as a centenary commemoration of the conflict around the coasts of Wales. Its aim is to tell the remarkable story of the men and women who designed, built and served with the little-known fleet of airships, known as Blimps or Dirigibles to combat the U-boat threat to our shipping from 1914-1918.

It has been initiated and led by 'History Matters' a not for profit community heritage organisation and the research funded by a grant from HLF Wales. A part-time project officer (Gary Ball) has been leading a small group of volunteers from across the globe in this task. 
The story of the Zero airship first presented itself with the discovery of this photograph of SSZ 31 flying under the Menai bridge near Anglesey on November 14th 1918 to celebrate the Armistice. By 2014 it had become the initiator for our WW1 centenary project, partnered with the Imperial War Museum and the Living Legacies engagement centres.  

Our research began in November 2016 to determine if there was surviving evidence and details to build a faithful full sized and detailed replica of a Submarine Scout Zero class airship control car. Not just a museum exhibit but a  prop for a hands-on and interactive display, to engage the old and young alike and create a unique living history experience to initiate the discovery and learning of this remarkable yet forgotten chapter in the history of conflict and technology. 
The resources for this replica have been drawn from the few remaining plans and drawings, preserved in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington at the National Aerospace museum, supplied to the project by the RAF Museum, Cosford, Staffordshire; alongside a number of photographs of the only surviving example held in the reserve collection of the French aerospace museum, again kindly supplied by RAF Cosford. 

How much do we need to raise?

We are asking for pledges to meet the target of £14,000

All of the funds will be used to pay for the cost of the replica and the rewards we have offered. 

How do I pledge my support?

We are asking that you comment with the amount below and send the same via email to

You will be asked to honour your pledge once the target has been reached at the end of the appeal on January 19th 2019. Payments will be made directly to the account held by our organisation 'History Matters'.

What will your contribution fund?

You will be contributing to the existing budget we have been granted by the Heritage Lottery Fund (40% of the project costs) to make this happen. 
The crowdfunding will allow our team of heritage specialists and volunteers to build a full-sized Zero class control car that is as accurate as possible and will be the centrepiece of our national tour of the pop-up museum. This display will feature the airship gondola were visitors can climb aboard and experience first hand the sights and sounds of a bygone age of aerial warfare, alongside a crew of Living History interpreters wearing authentic RNAS flying uniforms, with the equipment that will include working wireless to teach the history of signalling and radio.
Some of the funding will pay for the specialist elements of the build from heritage craftspeople we have engaged, such as the 3 cane aircraft seats to be commissioned from Tim Palmer ( and the (inert) Lewis machine gun from a specialist prop maker. A specialist heritage smith and engineer Rowan Taylor will oversee the fabrication of the metal components. 

Workshop costs, transport and storage have all been included in our budget for the recreation of a unique display to enable us to educate and enthral visitors of all ages. 

Why Crowdfunding?

During the Great War the British government issues war bonds to help raise the cost of building the new technology required in the first mechanised war, such as aircraft and the newly developed tanks. 

Airships were employed in this task, dropping thousands                          of circulars onto central London to                                          encourage the public to support the cost of the war.

Rewards for your support

We appreciate your support and the fact that many backers will be airship heritage and vintage aviation enthusiasts, so have created some unique rewards such as limited edition 'sweetheart' badges of a Zero airship and also replica RNAS cloth badges,(observer, engineer, pilot) perfect gifts! You can even have a full sized print of the 1917 plans, these 1/8th scale blueprints will have your name added to it as a unique reward for helping us to make this happen.

£10 or more

£10 Reward

Your name will appear online in the list of supporters and will also appear in the publication 'Airships Over Wales' that details the results of our project and documents the building of the replica.

£20 or more

£20 Reward

A unique full colour clothe badge of a Zero class airship, as seen in the project's logo, specially commissioned and designed and only available as a reward from our project. Your name will also appear on the list of supporters in the book.

£75 or more

£75 Reward

Choose one of three available reproduction cloth badge as issued to the crew of airships serving with the RNAS during the Great War. All rewards from previous tiers will also be gifted to supporters at this level. See the video for samples of these unique reproductions of the Pilot, Wireless Operator and Flight Engineers insignia.

£100 or more

£100 Reward

A unique, handcrafted and hand cast white metal badge, specially designed for the project, showing a Zero blimp over the Welsh coast. Designed to imitate the 'sweat heart' badges of the period, and sent regular personal updates via videos and photographs of the progress plus all of the previous tiers rewards.

£200 or more

£200 Reward

Alongside all of the previous rewards, you will receive a unique print of the original 1917 plans for the control car, with your own name inserted into the 'issued to' box. These 1/8 scale blueprints were found in the Smithsonian museum as part of our research.

£250 or more

£250 Reward

All of the above and a personal invitation to attend the launch event where the finished control car will be presented to other supporters, our project partners and the media. Be one of the first to sit in this unique replica, the first chance to do so for nearly 100 years!

£500 or more

£500 Reward

Your name will appear on a plaque inside the replica control car and you have the option to feature in a supporters interview to appear in the book, explaining your interest and why you supported this project. You will also receive all previous tiers of rewards for your pledge.

£1,000 or more

£1000 Reward

As well as being invited to the launch event, having your name inscribed on a plaque inside the replica and the other gifts you will be invited to exclusive previews of the build and sent regular personal updates via videos and photographs of the progress as it happens on a weekly basis. Be one of the very first to see and experience this unique replica before it leaves the workshop.

Supporters will be updated on the build progress, broadcast direct from the workshop via Facebook Live to a 'secret supporters group' as the replica progresses. There will also be a professional video documenting the build, to be exclusively premiered to our backers and a written and photographic account in the project's forthcoming publication 'Project Zero 100: Experimental airship archaeology' (to be published Spring 2019), with copies available for our higher tier backers. 

Please help us tell this story, lest we forget. 

There is a final opportunity to create a lasting legacy that is visual and has an impact to create new knowledge through experiences, a 'pop-up museum' exhibit manned by costumed interpreters, to tell the story first hand and continue to offer learning opportunities to the next generation, to ensure the story is never forgotten.

Stretch goals

Design and build a touring exhibition space for the car that includes a section of the envelope, rigging and a covered shelter to enable the display to be set up outside in the open air This would give an impression of how large the dirigible's envelope actually was (143 feet in real life!)
We would also replicate a working WW1 wireless set for transmitting Morse code to and from the control car for youngsters to learn about the history of 'wireless' and early communications.
A replica of the envelope control fin would also be built, to give another impression of the scale of the airship, along with a silhouette of the blimp's envelope that can be unrolled on the ground, again at full size. 


The replica, SSZ100 will tour the UK and feature as a living history display at Heritage events, museums and airfields for visitors to explore and learn about 'Airships over Wales'. Supporters will be notified of opportunities to see the replica for themselves. 
The workshop will be used by History Matters volunteers for maintenance of the replica and it will enable us to pursue other early aviation projects in the future. 

A blog with the background of such a project can be found at The workshop will allow us to build a 1/3 rd scale version of Cody's man carrying glider kite from 1905. But that's another story!


Thursday, 15 November 2018

RNAS/RAF Airship Station Pembroke 1918 - then and now

RNAS/RAF Airship Station Pembroke 1918 - then and now photos, maps and 3d CGI video 

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Rather a foolhardy stunt, but the Armistice spirit was on us

There was only one occasion when an Airship was flown under a bridge, that happened a century ago in North Wales. This was, of course, a Zero based on Anglesey, the photograph (below) of which was the instigator of this project.

The RAF station at Anglesey at the end of WW1 was a base for SSZ  blimps - three-seat submarine scouts, tiny compared to a Zeppelin but still 143 feet long and 47 feet from the keel of the car to the top of the envelope.

At the armistice night party, the senior Naval Officer, Captain Gordon Campbell VC challenged the RAF CO, Major Tommy Elmhirst to fly a blimp under the Menai Bridge. Elmhirst said he would if Campbell came along as the observer. The next day he measured the height of the bridge above the water at low tide by letting down a rope from the parapet and found that an SSZ would have four feet of clearance. On the next day that the weather and tides permitted, November 14th Elmhirst, the pilot, set out in SSZ 31 carrying Campbell as a passenger and the South African Captain BJ Beeton as the engineer, and on approaching the bridge let down a rope exactly two feet under the car with a sandbag on the end. When the sandbag bounced along the surface he knew that he had two feet of clearance above the airship - of course, he couldn't see the bridge above as the envelope was in the way. In this way, they passed through successfully. Travelling slowly was not an option; he needed at least 40 mph to have enough airflow over the elevator to control the craft.

There are a few accounts of this remarkable flight published, all of them refer to the Zero flown as being SSZ 73 (1) and some offer other names as to those involved. (2). However, Campbell makes an account in his memoirs 'Life of a Q-ship Captain'(3)

During the War, I had been up with Major Elmhurst in one of his blimps. I had finished up by flying under the Menai Bridge. He was boasting about this feat after dinner and pulling Elmhurst's leg that he couldn't fly under the Menai Bridge in one of his rotten airships.

Elmhurst accepted the challenge, and the following day came to me for special permission to fly under the Menai Bridge. He showed me the plan, and how he would have four feet spare, two above the ship and two below. It struck me as rather a foolhardy stunt, but the Armistice spirit was on us, and I agreed, provisionally on my being one of the crew, as I thought it too risky a stunt to approve without going myself.

So three of us started off in the blimp. We had a lead line carefully measured, and as long as the lead was just touching the water, we knew we were clear above. Elmhurst made a dummy run approach to try out the lead line, and then we made the final attack; and much to the consternation of hundreds of witnesses, we flew clean under the Menai Bridge. I think I was as much surprised as anyone when we got through-but it was undoubtedly a very fine feat on the part of Elmhurst, though possibly a stupid one, for which I was responsible.

He was so excited at having got through, that he put his helm hard over and nearly hit the people who were standing on the bridge. An account of this incident appeared in the Press the following day, and I quite expected a rap over the knuckles, but at that time the Air Force and Navy were somewhat mixed up, and perhaps no one knew who was responsible.

Elmhirst (above) and Campell (centre), with Beeton's medals (4) as sold at a recent auction (below)

Which Zero?

As to which Zero was involved, reference to the Flight Logs(5), (which is information is taken from the Dailey Reports issued by RNAS airship stations at 6 pm and sent to the Admiralty) lists SSZ73 :

On 14th November, a flight of 6 hrs 10 min. (0940 – 1550)
2nd Lt W W Ruddock with:
AMs Hughes (Engineer) and Lescombe (W/T)
No flight details

searching the Logs of the 8 Zeros deployed to the Anglesey airship station lists SSZ31:

On 14th November, a flight of 55 minutes (1605 -1700)
Major T W Elmhirst with:
Capt B J Beeton (Engineer) Capt G Campbell RN, VC, DSO (Passenger)
Local flight.
Flown under Menai Bridge by Major T W Elmhirst, Commanding Officer of RNAS Station,
Anglesey. (6) 

 According to Mowethorpe (1), no photo of SSZ31 can be traced, unless of course, you consider the image of the blimp flying under the Menai Bridge. 

The idea may well have been inspired by the cover of the July 1918's edition of the station magazine 'The Blimp' which shows the Menai Bridge to the left of the illustration. (7)

Centenary Commemoration 14.11.18 

To commemorate the centenary of this event there will be a link available from November 14th at 16.05 hours to a 3d CGI of the Menai Bridge 'foolhardy stunt' live via our Crowdfunding page

The short video, using the latest  Unity game engine technology was gifted to the project by Vivid VR Ltd who used the original photograph, archive photos and drawings researched via the Colfein website, hosted by the RCAHMW  

The digital Zero model was built and textured by volunteer Peter Paterson. 

1.Mowethorpe,, Ces, (1995). Battlebags British Airships of the First World War. Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Phoenix Mill, Far Trupp, Stroud, Gloucestershire
2.Wales and the Air War 1914-1918, Alan Phillips, Amberley Publishing Limited, 15 Sep 2015
3.The Life of a Q-ship Captain, Campbell Rear Admiral Gordon VC Dso, Periscope Publishing Ltd., 2002
4 Auction details of medal collection and service record BJ Beeton
5. Dailey Reports (initially Form 1519, established in March 1915, later
replaced by Form S1575 in June 1917) issued by RNAS airship stations at 6 pm and sent to the Admiralty
Airship Department.All research by Brian J Turpin MRAeS
7. 'The Blimp' Magazine Image reproduced with kind permission of B.Parker 

Monday, 5 November 2018

First World War memorials comissioned by Welsh communities which commemorate those who served at sea. And above it!

 The project was recently represented at a conference commemorating Wales and the Sea during the First World War. Jointly organised by Morol, the Institute of Welsh Maritime Historical Studies, and the U-Boat Project of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales the theme was the forgotten war and the Welsh experience of the war at sea.

One of the papers, presented by Dr Gethin Matthews looked at the memorials across Wales which commemorate those killed at sea. His study also included, alongside the civic memorials, those created by specific communities which are diverse in their message and design.

These include a number of naval images and whilst listening to his talk I couldn't help notice the few slides that included airships alongside the more numerous images of steaming battleships.

Although Dr Matthews made no reference to the airships in his talk, it seemed another case of seeing them if you were looking for them! 

Gethin kindly reviewed his slides and shared the following images that show airships. 

There is an airship on the Rhiwderin image, Tabernacle, St Paul’s stained glass window and the Morriston memorial also has an outline of an airship.

 Also featured is a wireless operator, to commemorate the son whos Mother advised him to enlist as a such, being a less dangerous service than the Western Front and was drowned when his ship was torpedoed.


The talk showed a variety of WW1 memorials from across Wales and illustrated the variety of responses to the need for communities to commemorate the war, and which gave an idea of how the 'Great War' was understood in the intermediate post-war period. 

Notes: Dr Gethin Matthews is a lecturer in History at Swansea University in a post funded by Coleg Cymraeg Cenedlaethol. His new book 'having a Go at the Kaiser' is to be published in November.  

SSZ 100

SSZ100- please pledge your support for this unique centenary project – have you helped build an airship?
The Crowd funder to support the building of a replica Zero control car is live on:
Please pledge your support early to encourage others to do so and secure the limited edition rewards!
We are planning our main media campaign around the 11th to the 14th of November, to coincide with the Armistice centenary and the flight by Major Elmhirst under the Menai bridge. Flown in SSZ31 we shall be commemorating this with a 3d CGI video of the flight kindly gifted to the project by Vivid VR, and exclusive preview link to backers will be available via the Crowdfunding page.
A preview image of the Menai bridge 3d CGI model, completed today is below. Thanks again to Peter Paterson for creating the Zero model for SSZ31.

Copyright History Matters and Vivid VR Ltd 2018

Friday, 30 March 2018

March 1918- the final month of the RNAS and the birth of the RAF.

The  month of March 1918 was a significant time in the story of the Royal Naval Air Service and the increasing deployment of the Zero airships to the 2 stations in Wales. By the first of April 1918 the Royal Naval Air Service was combined with the Royal Flying Corpse into the newly formed Royal Air Force and the Zeros became RAF airships.

At RNAS/RAF Llangefni on Anglesey SSZ 50 and SSZ 51 where deployed on the 13th March ,their first patrols taking place on the 14th,  followed by SSZ34 arriving on March 23rd .

In the South at RNAS/RAF Milton in Pembrokeshire SSZ16 and SSZ 17 had been in operation over the Welsh coasts since August 1917. They where followed by SSZ37, SSZ52 and SSZ 53 in March 1918, with SSZ52 beginning her first patrol on March 19th 1918.

This period of change and important moment in the history of British military aviation is best described by Bill Williams in his book 'Airship Pilot No 28' ,Chapter 8. 'The Royal Air Force is Born'

Notably Bill Williams states:

 'At first it made little difference to us. We still wore our old naval monkey jackets and comfortable peaked caps, usually much battered.'

and goes on to recollect that:

 'There was a tendency for ex-naval officers to refer to the adjutants deprecatingly as "those bloody soldiers" but this soon passed when they found that the soldiers , who took some pains to establish themselves and took care not to interfere with flying operation's, were quite likeable men...although navy blue and khaki uniforms were mixed, ultimately merging into the pale Royal Air Force blue, which later became darker.''

The above photo from RAF Llangefni shows the mix of the old Naval and new Air Force uniforms still being worn in August 1918. (image credit and copyright Mr G.Owen) 

Some early teething problems existed with this new organisation ,again Bill Williams had a few issues with :

'the appointment of a khaki-clad executive officer to look after office work and maintenance...the inevitable clash came when I had to accuse him of taking men to wash windows when I needed them for a landing party.'

The commander of the airship station on Anglesey, Thomas Elmhirst , recollecting his service in 1977 for the Imperial War Museum gives a personal account of this time and the change in uniform.


Airships Over Anglesey Part Three : Thomas Elmhirst April 1918