17Aug.2016,Bedfordshire,UK—The world’s largest and futuristic aircraft, as tall as a nine-story building and almost the length and breadth of a football field, rose slowly but majestically over the Cardington airfield in central England at 7:40 p.m.
Filled with the safe and non-flammable gas helium, the impressive blimp-shaped airship, flew within a six-mile area, climbed to a height of 500 feet, and reached maximum speed of 35 knots. Due to a delayed take-off, the flight had to be cut short to 19 minutes to enable landing at 8 p.m. just before dark, as test flight is not permitted at night.
“It’s a great British innovation,” said Chief Executive Stephen McGlennan of Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). “It’s a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed-wing aircraft, it’s got helicopter, it’s got airship.” For local onlookers who had parked around the field, the floating, shiny, and curvy airship was quite a spectacle.
Test Pilots David Burns and Simon Davies were ecstatic too, about flying the 302-foot long, 143-foot wide, and 85-foot high hybrid vehicle. “It was a privilege to fly the Airlander for the first time and it flew wonderfully. I’m really excited about getting it airborne. It flew like a dream,” said Chief Test Pilot David Burns.
For its first aerial outing, pre-flight tests began at 9:00 a.m. and clearance for the flight was given when Technical Director Mike Durham, Chief Test Pilot David Burns and Ground Operations Chief Alex Travell, reached a unanimous decision.
All test objectives were met during the flight, including safe launch, flight, and landing and gentle turns at increasing speed. Tests were also taken to check its hull pressure.
Its developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) says the airship “will have a hugely positive impact on the world by providing low carbon aviation and brand new capabilities in the sky.” Those capabilities are lifting 10 tons of payload over longer distances, less fuel consumption than an airplane, ability to rise to 16,000 feet, staying aloft for five days, and reaching speeds up to 90 miles an hour. With a price tag of $33 million dollars, (£25m), less than one-tenth of the cost of jetliners, the airship could be used for surveillance, communications, and transportation of passengers and cargo. Moreover, the mission and operations could be achieved from door-to-door, even in remote areas with no runway or infrastructure.
The aircraft was built in 1990s for the US government, to carry out constant long-range surveillance for the US Army. After one flight in New Jersey in 2012, cutbacks in defense, returned the airship to the British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), who bought back the rights to the project. It was totally overhauled and developed for nine years and is a culmination of decades of research into lighter-than-air (LTA) technology, led by the late Roger Munk.
Having accomplished the maiden milestone flight, the aircraft will begin a series of trials and demonstrations with prospective customers. According to HAV officials, the Airlander has attracted interest from the defense and security sectors.