The Airlander 10 is the largest aircraft in the world, originally designed in 2010 to be used for surveillance and reconnaissance by the US Army. But budget cutbacks and delays grounded the project in 2012, and in 2013 it was bought back from the US by the original design firm, the UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). Now, a new £3.4 million grant from the UK government could help it off the ground next year, according to HAV.
The Airlander can fly for up to five days at a time
The UK government's investment in the Airlander appears to less about military surveillance and more about the airship's practicality. For one, it's an extremely green vehicle — it's estimated that it will cost just 10 to 20 percent of what it costs to operate a helicopter. The ship is also capable of carrying around 20,000 pounds of cargo for up to five days at a time without landing (though it was originally supposed to stay aloft for closer to three weeks with smaller cargo loads). Add in the potential for commercial flights, and the overall project could create over 1,800 jobs in the UK.
Beyond the investment, the government's innovation agency (Innovate UK) has also helped HAV start a full engine test program. That agency, and specifically its LOCATE (Low Carbon Aircraft Technology Experimentation) program, has not only provided technological support but has helped HAV double its staff in 2014.
The 300-foot-long airship is made of carbon fiber, kevlar, and mylar, and its massive frame is able to get off the ground thanks to the lift generated by its shape and the helium inside. Pressurized air pockets help regulate the release of that helium, though it still loses 10 percent of the gas each year. The airship uses diesel fuel to power propellers for steering, taking off, and landing, and each propeller is powered by a 325 hp V8 engine.
While there's a wait before the aircraft takes flight once more, HAV has set up a supporters club where fans of the ship can follow its progress and even have their names emblazoned on the hull.