UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd this week conducted the successful first flight of its Airlander 10 hybrid aircraft.
A video of that flight is below, but first, a bit of technical information. Hybrid Air Vehicles describes the Airlander as an aircraft that combines “the characteristics of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters with lighter-than-air technology to create a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft, with a significantly lower carbon footprint and operating cost than other forms of air transport.”
Obviously, only time will tell us about commercial success of the Airlander, but, as we have said before, the need for an airborne cargo vehicle not dependent on airstrips or other ground infrastructure has long been obvious. Outsize and heavyweight cargo regularly has to be moved to remote locations to support the oil and gas industry, for example. To be able to maneuver into tight spaces, and land on any flat surface (water, ice, snow, sand, a jungle clearing) has been the grail of the project cargo industry for some time. But it has taken just as much time to refine the lighter-than-air concept into a hybrid aircraft that can actually work in the real world.
The Airlander 10 is a relatively small vehicle, with a 10-tonne cargo payload, but Hybrid Air Vehicles is also developing a larger variant, the Airlander 50, with a planned payload of up to 60 tonnes. As might be expected, cruise speeds are not particularly high — 80 nautical miles per hour for the Airlander 10 and 105 nmph for the Airlander 50 — but given that both models will be able to stay aloft for several days, they will have considerable range (up to 2,000 nm for the Airlander 50).
But enough technical talk. First flights are always special — enjoy this one.