The world’s largest aircraft has finally taken off – to the surprise of many onlookers.
The gigantic Airlander 10 Flying Bum is an engineering mash-up of an airship, helicopter and aircraft.
Built at Cardington, Bedford, the home of British airships for a century, the Flying Bum carries on the tradition started by the Short Brothers in 1915 to construct airships for the Royal Air Force.
Everything about the Airlander 10 is superlative.
The airship is 302 feet long and 85 feet tall – 27 feet longer the next largest air transport, the Antonov An-225 Mriya designed to airlift space craft and their components.
The Airlander weighs in at 20 tons and can carry a payload of 10 tons.
The winning mix, according to the designers Hybrid Air Vehicles, is that the Airlander can stay aloft unmanned for up to two weeks with a maximum ceiling of 16,000 feet.
Manned flights allow the Airlander to remain in the sky for five or six days.
Airspeed is up to 90 mph.
“The first idea was for the Airlander to provide a steady platform for telephone and satellite communications in remote areas and then to move large quantities of goods to regions with poor roads,” said a spokesman for the company.
“The innovation is achieving these objectives without the need to invest in expensive airport infrastructure.”
The Airlander 10 prototype was wheeled out of the hangar some weeks ago to await the right weather conditions for a test flight.
This has now taken place, with the aircraft reaching 500 feet and around 40mph.
Pilots ecstatic over first flight
The pilots put the Airlander through low level and low speed paces negotiating a six-mile circuit around the airfield that incorporated several turns.
Hybrid Air Vehicles explained the engineering design of the Airlander gains lift from helium while controlling thrust with rotatable engines.
The company aims to build on the predicted success of the Airlander 10 with the even larger Airlander 50.
The design principles and concept for the two air vehicles are almost the same – except the Airlander 50 is much bigger and will carry a payload of up to 44.5 tons.
“The maiden flight was a great success, meeting all test objectives,” said a spokesman. “Although the flight only lasted 19 minutes, the pilots were ecstatic about the handling.”