A prototype airship designed to meet heavy lift requirements has crashed on its second test flight in the UK, damaging its flight deck but leaving crew unscathed.
At 92 metres, Airlander 10 is currently the world’s longest aircraft, and while puny compared with the 250-metre Hindenburg from the 1930s, its cross-section has been likened to Kim Kardashian’s gargantuan posterior.
Airlander 10’s manufacturer, Hybrid Air Vehicles, said: “The Airlander experienced a heavy landing and the front of the flight deck has sustained some damage which is currently being assessed. Both pilots and the ground crew are safe and well and the aircraft is secured and stable at its normal mooring location.”
Presuming any faults are easily rectified, the company hopes to roll out 10 Airlanders per year by 2021.
The aircraft can fly for five days and carry a cargo of 10 tonnes, generating 60 per cent of lift from helium and the remaining 40 per cent from its aerodynamic shape.
Thrust of up to 80kts is produced by vector-able fans that also provide vertical take-off capabilities.
They will also allow significantly lower costs per freight-tonne kilometre than traditional cargo aircraft, yet it’s unlikely that Airlanders will fill anything but a small niche in the air freight market for some time to come.
For a start, the Airlander 10’s maximum cargo weight is less than a tenth of a 747-400ERF’s, and it travels at a fraction of the speed. There are plans to produce a 50-tonne version in the 2020s – the Airlander 50 – but this will still not match a 747’s capacity.
What the airships will be useful for is remote operations such as oil and gas drilling in regions where runways are limited or non-existent.
Ultimately, Hybrid Air Vehicles wants to produce a 1000-tonne-capacity airship, which would far outstrip the haulage capability of any cargo jet.
Still, limited speed means that it would be destined to compete more with shipping than cargo airlines.