Much is made of the size of this craft at 91m long, bigger than the largest jumbo jets, but it is nowhere near as large as rigid airships in the twentieth century. Still, she is big, and she does fly.
Airlander is a “hybrid” (a la the Deltoid Pumpkin Seed (circa 1971), with a bit of aerodynamic lift for take off from the airfoil shaped hull, and capability to hover as a blimp. The idea is to carry a large payload with minimal fuel and long flight durations, operating from small, simple ground bases. The trade offs include speed and ground space.
LAVs are, of course, the most romantic aircraft of all. But they have never really succeeded commercially, however cool they are.
The Airlander 10 has a history that is so typical of the LAV world. It was originally created as a US military project, aiming to provide airborne surveillance. I’m imagining that it might compete with older systems like AWACs, which must suck fuel like mad as they keep station, and also need long, fixed runways.
A prototype was built before project was cancelled in 2013. In keeping with the glorious romance of LAVs, the “Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle” (LEMV) as it was originally called, flew its test flight a Lakehurst New Jersey. With cost constraints, and perhaps second thoughts about the vulnerability of a giant gas bag in a combat zone, the DOD cancelled the project.
But this is Planet Helium, we cherish our airships and will not take no for an answer. The British contractor HAV bought the aircraft, and now has the rechristened “Airlander 10” up and flying.
Naturally, the test flight was at Cardington Sheds, the century old home of British airships!
So, so cool!
Now, I admit that I have no clue whether this baby is useful for anything. It’s too big for personal use, too small for bulk cargo, too slow for passenger service, and way, way, too loud to operate in inhabited areas.
But it’s a real HAV, for goodness sakes! And those are real, historical Zeppelin hangars! The romantic coolness multiplier is huge.