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Back to the future: The world’s longest aircraft is revealed

The public got its first glimpse of the world’s longest aircraft, the Airlander 10 plane-airship hybrid, when it was taken out of its hangar in England over the weekend for the first time.
The public got its first glimpse of the world’s longest aircraft, the Airlander 10 plane-airship hybrid, when it was taken out of its hangar in England over the weekend for the first time. Hybrid Air Vehicles

What revolutionary flying machine is longer than the biggest passenger jet and looks like an enormous flying fanny?

(Or “flying bum,” as British media call it.)

That would be the Airlander 10, the world’s longest aircraft. Over the weekend the enormous marvel of engineering — a hybrid of a plane and airship — was moved gently into public view for the first time.

Folks scrambled to photograph and film it.

It emerged in the wee hours of Saturday from its hangar at Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England, according to Yahoo News.

Tests on the prototype’s engines and systems were finished last week, and the giant airship was towed to a “primary mast site.”

Originally created to stay in the air for up to three weeks while carrying tons of equipment, the Airlander was first designed for surveillance and reconnaissance for the U.S. Army. But budget cuts and project delays killed the project, and its original designers, Hybrid Air Vehicles, bought back the prototype in 2013, reported The Verge.

Officially, the airship’s name is Martha Gwyn, named after the wife of HAV chairman Philip Gwyn.

Unofficially, as the butt of a few jokes, it’s been called Kim Kardashian.

HAV will market the Airlander for commercial uses and, at some point, even passenger travel.

Two years ago The Verge called the Airlander “a 300-foot-long throwback to a bygone era when it was believed that airships and dirigibles would fill the skies and become the dominant means by which we moved goods and people around.

“Jet-fueled planes ended up fulfilling that ambition more adroitly, but the Airlander is the product of a team passionately convinced that airships still have a role to play in the modern world.”

It’s a monster craft — 302 feet long, said to be 50 feet longer than the largest Boeing 747. It’s 85 feet tall and 143 feet wide but still smaller than English and German blimps of old that were more than twice as big.

Filled with 1.3 million cubic feet of helium, the Airlander was designed to reach altitudes of 20,000 feet and fly up to five days at a speed of 90 miles an hour.

The company filled it with helium for the first time last fall, setting it to float for the first time ever inside its massive hangar.

Four forklift trucks “walked” the aircraft the entire length of the 800-foot hangar to new moorings in front of the doors, The Associated Press reported.

“Combining aspects of a fixed wing aircraft, a helicopter, and super-light technology, this HAV may look like a blimp, but it does so much more,” Digital Trends noted earlier this year.

“If size alone doesn’t make the Airlander 10 a scientific and technological marvel, the fact that it’s capable of hauling tons (yes, plural) of cargo and can stay in the air for up to three weeks at a time should certainly catch your attention.

“But really, that’s not the most impressive aspect of the HAV — the gentle giant is actually capable of staying afloat for all that time completely without a human crew. All it needs is some helium, and we become obsolete.”

The company envisions building a fleet of Airlanders by 2018, but it has no takers yet. The price tag: $35 million.

The date for the first test flight has not yet been announced.

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