Tuesday, March 1, 2011

World's oldest aircraft carrier discovered rusting by the River Thames

The restoration of Naval History is important....It's a shame what was done to many of the historical ships that made history - scrapped, neglected and left to the decay of time....

Well in Britain, it looks like they were able to save one of the more significant crafts of UK Naval History...Brilliant.

World's oldest aircraft carrier discovered rusting by the River Thames
By Daily Mail Reporter
1st March 2011

The worlds' oldest aircraft carrier which was a precursor to today's giant Navy vessels has been discovered - rusting by a river bank.

Looking like another just another rusting hull poking out of the water, for years the large dirt covered rusting wreck in the Thames was ignored.

But a maritime journalist spotted the vessel was a 1918 Thorneycroft Seaplane Lighter.

Although at just 58 feet long it looks nothing like the modern HMS Ark Royal - which is more than ten times as long - the damaged vessel was the first of the kind.

The tiny craft, discarded in the river like a shopping trolley or piece of litter, would have seen action during the First World War as aircraft carriers were introduced for the first time.

Now it is being restored by experts at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset after being recovered from the water.

Originally it would have carried one plane that was launched by being towed into the wind - and then recovered after it was ditched into the sea on landing.

Jon Jefferies, from the museum, said the small vessel was a significant find.
'It's only tiny but it's this ship that led to the development of the massive modern aircraft carriers,' he said.

'It's the world's first aircraft carrier and at the time the Ark Royal is decommissioned it's fitting it's being restored to its original state.'

Museum director Graham Mottram said he had given up hope of ever finding one of the early 20th century boats intact.

'I was well aware of the story of these seaplane lighters, but was astonished to find that one had survived intact,' he said.

'My short walk along the deck was some of the most exciting steps I have ever taken!'
After seeing the aircraft carrier for himself, he arranged for it to be lifted from the water and transported to the museum's restoration hanger.

Several of the craft's original features have been discovered by experts as they work restore it.

The 1918 Thorneycroft Seaplane Lighter - which looked similar to this - was discovered in the River Thames by a maritime journalist who saw a rusting hull sticking out the water

The original boat number H21 has been unmasked along with the spot where the Ministry of Defence recorded the craft length - LVIII or 58feet - and the War Department's broad-arrow symbol.
The crew quarters in the bow have also been re-discovered.

These would have been used by the deck crew to shelter from the weather and sea conditions whilst under tow, and to store ropes, oil, tools and other small items required to service the lighter and its transported aircraft.

The 1918 Thorneycroft Seaplane Lighter was built so that aircraft could extend their range prior to take off and be covertly moved.

Restoration: Vessel will eventually go on display at the Fleet Air Arm Museum
Four prototypes were made and it proved so successful that a further 46 lighters were then made.

There is only one other example of these early aircraft carriers.
It is largely submerged and has corroded to almost nothing.

The remains are entombed in thick black mud on the banks of the River Hamble in Hampshire however at low tide it is proving to be an invaluable source of reference and donor parts.

The Fleet Air Arm Museum hopes to display a WWI Sopwith Camel on board once the dirty weathered vessel is fully restored next year.

Ultimately the Fleet Air Arm Museum hope to complete the restoration and display the world's oldest aircraft carrier with a World War I Sopwith Camel on board as if ready for take off.

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