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RAF Cardington

Ensign of the Royal Air Force

Cardington Shed BW.jpg
One of the two Cardington Sheds, with people in the foreground for scale
IATA: none – ICAO: none
Airport type Disused RAF Airfield, Royal Aircraft Establishment
Owner Private
Location Shortstown near Bedford
Elevation AMSL 98 ft / 30 m
Coordinates 52°06′32″N 0°25′21″W / 52.108922°N 0.422499°W / 52.108922; -0.422499Coordinates: 52°06′32″N 0°25′21″W / 52.108922°N 0.422499°W / 52.108922; -0.422499
Bedfordshire UK location map
Airplane silhouette.svg
RAF Cardington
Location in Bedfordshire

RAF Cardington started life as a private venture when Short Brothers bought land there to build airships for the Admiralty. They constructed a 700-foot-long (210 m) Airship hangar (the No. 1 Shed) in 1915 to enable them to build two rigid airships, the R-31 and the R-32. Shorts also built a housing estate, opposite the site, which they named Shortstown. Most of the former RAF station is actually in the parish of Eastcotts, as is the settlement of Shortstown.[1] 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 hangars housed the balloons from which trainees made their first drops. In 1954 RAF Maintenance Command used Shed No.1 for their rehearsals for the Royal Tournament.

Royal Airship WorksEdit

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.[2]

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 responsible for the storage and training of balloon operators and drivers. In 1943 until 1967 it was home to the RAF Meteorological research balloons-training unit, undertaking development and storage[2] (after 1967 this was undertaken by the Royal Aircraft Establishment).

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.

RAE Cardington and other usersEdit

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.

Driving Standards Agency (DSA)Edit

The northern part of the site has for many years been used by the UK Government Driving Standards Agency Training and Development Centre to train Driving Examiners.[3]

Building Research EstablishmentEdit

In 1971 Hangar 2 became the Fire Research Station (part of the Home Office) which conducted gas explosion experiments and for investigating fires, a 20 lease being given by the MoD. Full scale testing and Fire research was undertaken from 1989.[2] In 1990 the facility was transferred to Building Research Establishment as a whole building test facility for the Cardington tests. Here, multi-storey steel, concrete and wooden buildings were constructed and then destructively tested within the huge space available. This shed was repainted and looked after in comparison with the Shed 1.

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.[4]

Meteorological Research UnitEdit

The Met Office association with site continues by maintaining a Meteorological Research Unit (MRU), this is responsible for conducting research into part of the atmosphere called the boundary layer by using a tethered balloon which is kept in a small portable hangar.[5]

134 (Bedford) Squadron, Air Training CorpsEdit

Ensign of the Air Training Corps

The Ensign of the Air Training Corps

134 Sqn of the Air Training Corps has been based since 1953[6] within the former RAF Cardington site. As part of the redevelopment, a new Squadron headquarters has been built.[7]

Airships return to CardingtonEdit

A company called Airship Industries tried to revive the fortunes of the airship industry in the Shed 1 (on closure of the RAE operation) in the 1980s,[8] 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.[9]

Cardington With Shed

Cardington Airship Sheds (Shed 1)

Film and TelevisionEdit

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 [1].

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,[11] and Inception[12] were filmed in Shed 2. Christopher Nolan returned to this location during the summer of 2011 to film scenes for his third and final Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises.[13][14]

The film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was filmed at Cardington in 2004.[11]

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

New Cardington DevelopmentEdit

Construction company Bellway Homes has bought most of the RAF Cardington site and is building 1000 new homes on the site.[15]

Hangar 1 at riskEdit

According to English Heritage, Hangar Number 1 at RAF Cardington is at risk, needing complete repair and refurbishment.[16]

Roofing work on Cardington Airship Shed 1 in October 2012

In October 2012 refurbishment work started on Hangar Number 1, with large sections of the roof being replaced. The small dots beneath the balloon are men working on the roof, who give some impression of the scale of the task.

See alsoEdit



  1. Parish map "Eastcotts Parish Boundaries". Parish map. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "134 Sqn Air Training Corps – History of Cardington Airship Sheds (website accessed: 28/07/10)". 5 October 1930. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  3. "DSA Training and Development Centre (website accessed: 28/07/10)". Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  4. "BBC Conspiracy Files". BBC News. 10 January 2010. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  5. MET Office Boundary layer (website accessed: 08/01/13)
  6. "134 Sqn Air Training Corps – 134 Sqn History (website accessed: 28/07/10)". Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  7. "134 Sqn Air Training Corps – New Sqn Headquarters – Build Progress (website accessed: 28/07/10)". Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  8. "(website accessessed 28/07/10) "These delays lead to Airship Industries falling into receivership in September 1990"". Airships Online. 5 June 1987. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  9. Little, Reg (11 October 2007). "Airship could serve Oxford-Cambridge". Oxford Times. Retrieved 5 March 2008. 
  10. "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (PDF).,%20Camera,%20Action!.pdf. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Film Locations". 
  12. "Inception to Film at the Airship Shed in Bedfordshire". 
  13. Blass, Teddy (5 December 2010). "'The Dark Knight' Returns to the Cardington Airship Sheds". Retrieved 21 May 2011. 
  14. Blass, Teddy (10 May 2011). "Production Update #1: Forts, and Wells, and IMAX! Oh My!". Retrieved 21 May 2011. 
  15. Bedfordshires Libraries – Shortstown Timeline (website accessed: 28/07/10)[dead link]
  16. "English Heritage – Heritage at risk register (website accessed: 28/07/10)". Retrieved 16 May 2012. 

External linksEdit

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