Huge helium-filled Airlander 10 airship makes maiden flight
The massive blimp-shaped Airlander 10 airship made its maiden flight in the U.K. Wednesday.
Engines roaring, the 302-foot helium-filled vehicle rose slowly into the air from Cardington airfield, 45 miles north of London.
Developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles, the Airlander is a hybrid of blimp, helicopter and airplane. Nicknamed the "flying bum" because of its bulbous front end, the vehicle can stay aloft for days at a time.
The stately aircraft performed a circuit of the area — watched by hundreds of local people who had parked their cars around the perimeter of the airfield.
The airship reached a maximum speed of 35 knots and climbed to 500 feet during its 19-minute flight.
Two test pilots were involved in the maiden flight. “It was privilege to fly the Airlander for the first time and it flew wonderfully,” said Chief Test Pilot Dave Burns, in a statement. “I’m really excited about getting it airborne. It flew like a dream.”
“Medal winning performance? First flight of world's largest aircraft today created by British company,” tweeted Hybrid Air Vehicles Wednesday, in a reference to the Rio Olympics.
The flight marked the start of Airlander 10’s Flight Test Programme, which is expected to last for a number of months. The maiden flight was originally planned for Sunday, but was postponed as a result of an unspecified technical issue.
All test objectives were met during the flight, which included safe launch, flight, landing and a series of gentle turns at increasing speed, according to Hybrid Air Vehicles.
Touted as a way to provide low-carbon aviation, the Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships Its developer says it can reach 16,000 feet, travel at up to 90 mph and stay aloft for up to two weeks.
The aircraft was initially developed for the U.S. military, which planned to use it for surveillance in Afghanistan. The U.S. blimp program was scrapped in 2013 and since then Hybrid Air Vehicles, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.
Hybrid Air Vehicles says that customer interest in the blimp is increasing, particularly in the defense and security sectors.
The vast aircraft is based at Cardington, where the first British airships were built during and after World War I. That program was abandoned after a 1930 crash that killed almost 50 people, including Britain's air minister.
That accident and others — including the fiery 1937 crash in New Jersey of the Hindenburg, which killed 35 — dashed the dream of the airship as a mode of transportation for decades.
Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg, helium is not flammable.