Crowds gather for the first flight of the aircraft – originally developed as a long-endurance spying blimp for the US government. The world’s largest aircraft has taken to the skies over the UK for its successful maiden voyage. Photographers and plane spotters waited patiently for the first flight of the 302ft-long (92m) Airlander 10 – Flying Bum – since it was revamped by a British company.
Crowds cheered as the airship – nicknamed “the flying bum” (at Ikon towers we call it the ‘Beyonce’) because of its bulbous exterior – loomed overhead at Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire on Wednesday evening.
It performed one lap of the airfield – using engines that seemed much quieter than a plane or helicopter – before landing about half an hour later.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAC) has made hundreds of changes since taking over development of the aircraft, which was conceived to be used in long-endurance surveillance for the US government before it fell foul of defence cuts. HAV chief executive officer Stephen McGlennan said the team had been waiting for low winds for the launch but added the airship could “operate very happily” in 80 knots of wind.
Mr McGlennan said the aircraft was “very simple” to manoeuvre and people had been practising to fly it on simulators for at least five years.
It uses helium to become airborne and can travel at a speed of 92mph.
He said: “Think of a big helicopter, a really giant helicopter. This can do the same thing that a helicopter can do (but much slower) – that’s to say, provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway (helicopters don’t need runways) – but this thing can take more over longer distances, it’s cheaper (don’t think so) and it’s greener.
Wednesday’s flight marked the beginning of 200 hours of test flights for the 143ft-wide (44m) and 85ft-high (26m) craft, which will be able to stay airborne for about five days during manned flights. But already during its second test, the aircraft has come down to the earth with a bump.
HAV claims it could be used for a variety of functions such as surveillance, communications, delivering aid and even passenger travel.
It is also hoped the Airlander 50 will eventually be developed, which would be able to transport 50 tonnes of freight.