Unit History: RAF Cardington
Cardington became one of the major British sites involved in the development of airships when Short Brothers bought land there to build airships for the Admiralty. They constructed a 700 ft long airship hangar (the No. 1 Shed) in 1915 to enable them to build two rigid airships, the R-31 and the R-32. Some 800 people worked there in 1917, most of them travelled daily from Bedford. Shorts also built a housing estate, opposite the site, which they named Shortstown.
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 Pulham, Norfolk, was dismantled in 1928 and re-erected at Cardington.
After the crash of the R101, in October 1930, all work stopped in Britain on airships. Cardington then became a storage base.
In 1936 / 1937 Cardington started building barrage balloons; and it became the No. 1 RAF Balloon Training Unit.
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.
The two airship hangars 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.