The World's Largest Aircraft Is Almost Ready to Take Flight
There are airplanes—and then there’s the Airlander.
The new hybrid airship that looks like a cross between the Goodyear blimp and a balloon at the Macy’s day parade is almost ready to take to the skies.
The Airlander 10, which takes elements from blimps, zeppelins, and airplanes has been under construction for months at the Cardington Airfield, which is the UK's biggest hangar and one of the few hangars big enough to house the massive Airlander. The unique airship was towed out of the hangar this weekend for a series of ground tests.
The Airlander has been officially christened the “Martha Gwyn,” but its...voluptuous shape has earned the ship a cheeky nickname from the British press: the Flying Bum.
As reported by Popular Science, the Airlander was originally developed by the U.S. Army as a surveillance tool for use during the war in Afghanistan. The Airlander is lightweight and uses a combination of aerodynamic design, lift, and buoyant gasses to stay afloat. (So the shape is appropriate.)
While the Army eventually cancelled the program, the Airlander didn’t sink—instead it was taken over by Hybrid Air Vehicles who turned to crowd funding to keep the project afloat. Private investors and some support from the British government—to the tune of about $3,360,000—put the Airlander back in action to potentially debut a whole new mode of air travel.
The Airlander is 302 feet long, making it the world’s longest aircraft. It can carry up to 80 tons of cargo, which is about half of a 747, but at least twice as much as a semi-truck.
When loaded up and with a human flight crew at the helm, the Airlander can theoretically stay airborne for five days. Unmanned it can stay up in the air for three weeks, making it ideal to carry cargo to remote locations and for communication and surveying missions.
The Airlander is not quite ready for its first full flight yet, but it is closer than ever to bringing back blimp travel.