The world's largest hybrid aircraft launched
The HAV304 or 'Airlander' is 300ft (91m) long, 113ft (34m) wide and
85ft (26m) high
The largest aircraft ever seen was launched yesterday, as its British
creators promised they could deliver up to 1,000 more and transform how
the world responds to international disasters.
The Airlander, which was originally developed for the US
military before the project was cancelled due to budget cuts, is
the world's longest aircraft.
Sitting in the only "shed" in the country big enough to accommodate
it - one of the two Cardington Hangers that dominate the Bedfordshire
landscape - the 302ft (92m) Airlander is part plane, airship and
helicopter. It can stay in the air for up to three weeks unmanned and is
capable of touching down on land or sea.
Cranfield-based Hybrid Air Vehicles showed off their creation they
said could also set a new benchmark for greener aircraft. Iron Maiden
lead singer Bruce Dickinson, who is also a professional airline pilot
and co-funded the Airlander, compared the £30m aircraft to Thunderbird 2
and declared it a momentous day in aviation history.
He said: "This is a beautiful thing - the sheer imagination and scale
of it - British-designed and built. Rarely do you get the chance to be
involved in something really at the cutting edge of aviation. We have
created the world's largest aircraft from a shed in Bedford. It is
something to be incredibly proud of."
The US Army was initially going to be the owners of the first HAV
Airlander, to use primarily for surveillance missions in Afghanistan.
But defence budget cuts meant the project was cancelled and HAV stepped
in to bring the Airlander home and bring it to life.
The Airlander is about 60ft longer than the biggest airliners, the
Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8. It is also almost 30ft longer than the
cargo-carrying Antonov An-225, which until now was the longest aircraft
Although resembling an airship with its giant helium-filled balloon
on top of a 150ft long flight deck, the Airlander's unique aerodynamic
shape means it can generate lift like an aeroplane wing - and it's going
to get bigger.
The prototype on display in Cardington is the forerunner of the
Airlander 50, a 50-tonne heavy lift hybrid vehicle that should be in the
air this time next year.
Dave Burns, the Airlander's chief test pilot, gave The Independent a
guided tour of the machine which from the rear looks like three giant
cigars stitched together. "One of the problems with airships in the past
has always been the ground handling with the number of people you need
to manhandle it to keep it steady - the Airlander is the solution to
that problem with its air cushioned landing system.
"The sheer mass of it makes it different to an airship, which are
usually seven to eight tonnes. The Airlander is a 38-tonne machine so
the inertia is incredible. Airships are like piloting an aircraft
carrier in rough seas but this is very steady. It's a majestic machine."
HAV's chief executive Stephen McGlennan said the plans to build up to
1,000 Airlanders in the coming decades could bring around 1,800 jobs to
The company has already had interest from governments and agencies
all around the world.
"We want to building one Airlander a month in a few years' time,"
said Mr McGlennan. "Once they're built, they will get to work in places
like Canada where they will be pivotal in operating remote mines for
example or in the Middle East because of the large deserts they can
operate in and master oil and gas pipelines." The Airlander project has
just received a £2.5 million Government grant to fund research into
energy efficient and quieter planes. Business Secretary Vince Cable said
HAV is "a British SME that has the potential to lead the world in its
Mr Dickinson said a chance meeting at a fundraiser for a movie
project he was working on at the time with HAV's founder Roger Munk, who
died suddenly at the age of 62 in 2010, led him to become a key part of
the project and put up the investment needed.
"I came here to a shed in about 2005 to see Roger and talk about the
hybrid project," said Mr Dickinson. "I had no idea I was ever going to
see my money again but everyone has busted a gut and it's brilliant to
show it off to people. In about five years' time we could have a
sustainable form of aviation - much cleaner and greener. You never know,
someone like Amazon could be using one of these in the future as a
one-stop shop in its supply chain."
- The Independent