Visiting Airlander

27.03.17 Peter Dias

Meeting Airlander at Hybrid Air Vehicles

The Master and 10 Coachmakers were fortunate to visit one of the most exciting and innovative aviation projects in progress in March, facilitated by Liveryman Neil Sheath.
Following a great pub lunch at the Kings Arms, organised by Julian Leach, we assembled at Cardington Airfield – the site of two enormous hangers, one of which houses Airlander 10. Security is tight and we were escorted to the hanger and had our first look at this amazing aircraft.

CEO Stephen McGlennan told us how the project started with the innovation of using air lifting gas in an aircraft, the difficulties with funding and the present and future use of the technology.

Airlander 10 is currently the largest aircraft flying using lighter than air technology to combine the characteristics of fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. It is in the same market place as helicopters but can carry far heavier payloads, up to nine tons of cargo and one ton of fuel. It can stay airborne for five days at a time and reaches speeds of up to 100mph.

The size of the aircraft was huge – 92m long, 44m wingspan and 26m high. It is filled with helium, which, unlike hydrogen, is not flammable. There is no internal structure in the Airlander – it is made of a strong Vectran fabric, which maintains its shape due to the pressure stabilisation of the helium inside the hull.

While the military would seem to be the best use of the aircraft for reconnaissance, it has many other potential uses such as commercial and luxury travel.

The next milestone is for a longer flight and on the day we visited the aircraft was being made ready for engine testing later that day. The engines at the front can rotate 180 degrees to provide lift on take-off.

The visit was a great opportunity to visit a fantastic innovation, which demonstrates British engineering excellence at its best.