Cause of Airlander 10 crash isolated, new landing system implemented

Airlander 10, the world’s largest aircraft, crashed last year after climbing to an excessive height because its mooring line snagged power cables, accident investigators said.

Airlander 10, which is part plane, part airship and the length of a football pitch, was damaged after nosediving at the end of a test flight at Cardington Airfield, Bedfordshire, on 24 August last year. 

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) stated that the £25m aircraft’s mooring line was hanging free after an initial failed landing.

Ground crew told the pilot that the line was around 15 metres long when it was actually over three-times this length at 47 metres.

As the aircraft approached its second landing the rope became entangled in power lines near the boundary of the airfield.

The AAIB report said although the aircraft escaped the wires, “the encounter contributed to a high final approach”.

Airlander 10 arrived over the landing site at around 180 feet and was “reluctant to descend naturally”.

The pilot manoeuvred the aircraft to a nose-down position at an angle of around 10 degrees in a bid to bring its mooring line within reach of the ground crew.

But the aircraft “suddenly pitched further down to about 18 degrees and started to descend,” the report stated.

“There was insufficient height in which to affect a full recovery and the aircraft struck the ground.”

Airlander 10’s cockpit took the brunt of the impact but no-one was injured.

View from the Airlander's new cockpit

Following the crash, UK Power Networks (UKPN), the firm responsible for maintaining power lines in the area, said five of its residential and commercial customers lost power for around an hour when the aircraft came into contact with the high voltage cables.

Manufacturer Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) said earlier this week that the aircraft is fit to return to the skies now its damage has been repaired.

A new landing system, which will allow it to return to ground from a greater range of angles, and a redesign to allow easier recovery of the mooring line, are among a host of changes.

First developed for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft, HAV launched a campaign to return it to the sky after it fell foul of defence cutbacks.

The Airlander 10, so named because it can carry 10 tonnes, is 92 metres long, 44 metres wide, 26 metres high and can travel at 148kph.

It is about 15 metres longer than the biggest passenger jets and uses helium to become airborne.

The manufacturer claims it could be used for a variety of functions, such as surveillance, communications, delivering aid and even passenger travel.

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