Airlander 10, world's largest aircraft, ready to take to the skies

21 March 2016
By Jack Loughran
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The Airlander's helium filled balloon allows it to fly for up to five days before needing to land back on earth

The Airlander's helium filled balloon allows it to fly for up to five days before needing to land back on earth

The Airlander's flight module can be used to carry passengers and cargo

The Airlander's flight module can be used to carry passengers and cargo

The Airlander is capable of landing in various terrain types

The Airlander is capable of landing in various terrain types

The 92m-long Airlander 10, a hybrid aircraft using elements of both planes and airships, has been completed and shown for the first time since being fully assembled in the UK.

The huge airborne vehicle boasts a number of distinct advantages over other forms of air transport.

It is able to stay floating for around five days during manned flights before needing to touch down for refuelling. This allows it to fulfil a wide range of communication and survey roles, as well as cargo carrying and tourist passenger flights.

The Airlander 10 is also more eco-friendly than traditional planes due to the lift granted by its helium filled body which is lighter than air. However, with a top speed of 148km an hour it is considerably slower than other airborne vehicles.

Its landing abilities are also superior to planes as it can touchdown in a comparatively small space due to the fact that it has no need for a runway. The vehicle’s creators, the British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), said it can take off and land in a short distance from unprepared sites in desert, ice, water, or open field environments.

At 92m in length, it is around 15m longer than the biggest passenger jets and was first developed for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft before falling foul of defence cutbacks.

HAV first demonstrated the Airlander’s flying capabilities last October when it was floated inside the world war one hangar in which it resides.

Ground testing is now set to be carried out before 200 hours of test flights begin later this year. Following this, additional Airlander’s will be made depending on the interest levels from third parties.

Airlander’s chief test pilot, David Burns, who last flew the aircraft in 2012, said: "It's very pleasant to fly. From the flight deck you have a lovely view. It allows you to have a good look around because generally the flying is fairly low so there's plenty to see.

"For the people on board and the people down below it's going to look quite a sight. You're talking about 300 feet long. There's nothing that size at the moment."

Professor Chris Atkin, who will become president of the Royal Aeronautical Society in May, described the project as "absolutely fantastic".

"It's a new slant on a well-established idea with very clever use of technology," he said.

After sitting in the cockpit of a flight simulator developed for Airlander 10, Mr Atkin predicted that the aircraft could be used by passengers on pleasure flights and to get to locations that are hard to reach.

"I can imagine this competing with cruise ships over really interesting environments," he said.

"The view is quite extraordinary. It's a very relaxed experience. It will be a very quiet and stable vehicle to travel in."

Development on the Airlander 50 is also planned for the future, which would be able to transport 50 tonnes of freight.

Although helium is a non-renewable resource there are apparently many untapped sources of the gas around the world.

"It's never going to be on a huge mass market so for the scale you would expect to see this there is plenty of helium to support it," said Catherine Dewar of industrial gas supplier BOC.

A drone-blimp hybrid was demonstrated last week that is safe to fly at close proximity to crowds and has a much longer flight time than other drone aircraft.

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