302ft-long Airlander 10 is part plane, part helicopter, part airship, and has been refurbished in the UK
Today, plane spotters gathered to watch its maiden voyage at the Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire
Bulbous exterior has earned the famous aircraft the nickname of ‘the flying bum’ among enthusiasts
August 18, 2016: The world’s largest aircraft branded ‘the flying bum’ has taken to the skies in a successful maiden voyage – the first since a revamp in Britain.
The 302ft-long Airlander 10 – part plane, part helicopter, part airship – loomed overhead at Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire as the sun started to set on this evening.
Photographers and plane spotters baked in the sun as they waited to see the aircraft, whose bulbous exterior has earned it the less-than-glamorous nickname ‘the flying bum’, take off.
The developers called the ship a ‘great British innovation’ after the flight, which was a modern milestone in airships, which was all but abandoned after the famous Hindenburg disaster in 1937.
Stephen McGlennan, chief executive of Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), added: ‘It’s a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed-wing aircraft, it’s got helicopter, it’s got airship.’
The Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships.
HAV say 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.
But the US blimp program was scrapped in 2013 and since then, HAV, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.
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 â€” including the fiery 1937 crash in New Jersey of the Hindenburg, which killed 35 â€” 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.
The flight on Wednesday came days after a test flight planned for Sunday was scrapped at the last minute because of an unspecified technical issue.
MrÂ McGlennan said the team had been waiting for low winds for the launch on Wednesday but added the airship could ‘operate very happily’ in 80 knots of wind.
He said: ‘Think of a big helicopter, a really giant helicopter. This can do the same thing that a helicopter can do – that’s to say, provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway – but this thing can take more over longer distances, it’s cheaper and it’s greener.
McGlennan is confident there will be plenty of customers for Airlander â€” both civilian and military â€” because of its potential to gather data and conduct surveillance for days on end.
It can also carry up to 10 metric tons (22,050 pounds) of passengers or cargo. The company hopes to have an even bigger aircraft, capable of carrying 50 metric tons (110,000 pounds), in service by the early 2020s.
McGlennan said Airlander has many of the assets of a helicopter.
It can ‘provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway. But this thing can take more over longer distances, it’s cheaper and it’s greener,’ he said.
Chris Pocock, defense editor of aviation magazine AIN, said the jury is still out on whether the craft is commercially viable.
‘Airships and hybrids have still got a credibility gap to cover,’ he said. ‘Technically I think they are there now, but economically I’m not so sure.’
Crowds clapped and cheered as the craft soared above them during its first outing from the First World War hangar where it was revealed in March after undergoing ‘hundreds’ of changes by HAV over two years.
The Airlander took off at approximately 7.40pm andÂ performed one lap of the airfield before landing about half an hour later, with light fast fading and the moon visible in the sky.
It is about 50ft longer than the biggest passenger jets but its four engines appeared noticeably quieter than a plane or helicopter as it took to the skies.
Mr McGlennan, who is not a pilot but has practised flying the craft on a simulator, said it was ‘very simple’ to manoeuvre.
He said: ‘It’s a very stable, benign aircraft that responds very gently in flight, we expect it to be an unusually calm flight experience.’
People have been practising to fly it for at least five years, he added.
ByÂ James Dunn