BAE Systems signs agreement to use Airlander blimp for defence operations
Image credit: Andscape Kirkwall
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) has signed an agreement with defence firm BAE Systems to use its helium-filled aircraft for surveillance and for transporting equipment.
The Airlander 10 is a 44m-wide, 26m-high airship originally developed for the US government as a long-endurance surveillance aircraft. However, the US scrapped the programme as part of defence funding cuts, prompting HAV to redesign the aircraft for civilian purposes.
HAV said Airlander could be used for “long-endurance airborne communications and surveillance” with the ability to carry up to 10 tonnes of logistics payload.
Filled with helium, the blimp creates lower emissions than other aircraft and has the potential to stay airborne for up to five days while fitted with computing, communications, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment.
Its ability to operate from any reasonably flat surface, including water, with minimal infrastructure, also offers significant mobility for defence operations.
Dave Holmes, managing director at BAE Systems Air, said: “The changing character of conflict is driving new and novel approaches across the defence sector, including using new sources of synthetic and sustainable power, new materials and new processes that allow us to harness sustainable tech right from the outset.
“We’re excited to work closely with the HAV team to jointly explore and advance Airlander’s potential defence and security capabilities.”
The Airlander is currently set for commercial production by 2026 and has been positioned as a low-carbon form of air transport. However, with a maximum speed of 130km/h, it will not replace standard airliners.
Development on the project hit a major snag in 2016 when an Airlander crashed at the Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire after becoming snagged on power cables. While the cockpit took the brunt of the impact, no one was injured in the incident.
Tom Grundy, CEO of HAV, said: “Airlander can be thought of as the world’s most efficient large aircraft. This has provided new opportunities for the civil regional transport market and also represents a new path forward to deliver net zero air power capabilities.
“This announcement demonstrates the significant momentum that we have built behind the Airlander project, and we are looking forward to carrying that with us into the next, crucial stage of starting production of Airlander 10.”
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.