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'Flying Bum' Takes Flight Again

Friday, May 26, 2017

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The world’s largest aircraft currently in operation—a massive, blimp-like craft known as Airlander 10—took off again this month for its first flight since taking a crash-landing on a test flight in August.

Airlander taking off
Photos: Hybrid Air Vehicles

Airlander, the flagship of U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, is a hybrid airship/airplane that’s as long as an American football field and 143 feet wide, buoyed by helium and powered by four V8 diesel engines.

Airlander, the flagship of U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles, is a hybrid airship/airplane that’s as long as an American football field and 143 feet wide, buoyed by helium and powered by four V8 diesel engines. While not built to get you there quickly—it has a cruising speed of about 92 mph, as opposed to a commercial jet’s 550 mph—it’s made for tasks requiring long-term, stable flights.

Cheekily nicknamed “the flying bum” by some because of its odd appearance, Airlander isn’t a sleek machine, but its creators say it has important potential uses. Crowd monitoring, search and rescue, filming and even cargo transport to remote areas are applications HAV sees for Airlander when it’s ready for prime time. The company also predicts that the craft will provide “the ultimate flying experience” to passengers, presumably ones who aren’t concerned about going faster than a car.

What It's Made Of

There is no internal structure to the Airlander, HAV explains; its shape is held by the pressure of the helium inside. The shell is made from Vectran, a liquid crystal polymer material that’s found uses in everything from rope to NASA’s Mars Pathfinder. There are also layers of Mylar (as a gas barrier) and Tedlar, a polyvinyl fluoride film that acts as an external protective coating. The company says carbon composites are also used throughout the craft.

Airlander

Cheekily nicknamed “the flying bum” by some because of its odd appearance, Airlander isn’t a sleek machine, but its creators say it has important potential uses.

First developed by HAV for the U.S. Army as part of its Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle program, Airlander took one flight in New Jersey in 2012. The program was canceled the next year, and HAV reacquired the ship for itself, putting it back in the sky last year.

But testing was relatively short-lived: While HAV says the test flights in August completed all of its planned tasks, the second test run ended in what the company called a “hard landing”—a sort of slow-motion nosedive—near Cardington airfield.

After repairs, HAV made two improvements: an auxiliary landing system, “which allows the aircraft to land safely at a greater range of landing angles,” and a “mobile mooring mast,” to help make it easier to maneuver.

Airlander’s “big brother,” Airlander 50, is currently under development at HAV; the company says that model will be capable of delivering more than 50 tons of cargo in a 500-cubic-meter (17,600-cubic-foot) cargo hold.

   

Tagged categories: Aerospace; Asia Pacific; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Latin America; Military; North America; Program/Project Management

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