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article imageAirlander 10: World's largest aircraft almost ready to take off

By Karen Graham     Mar 10, 2015 in World
Not too far from London resides the world's largest airship, Airlander 10. Looking like a giant zeppelin from a bygone era, the gargantuan 302-foot-long airship, filled with helium will soon take to the skies with test flights planned later this year.
After the Hindenburg disaster in 1937, when the hydrogen-filled airship burst into flames killing 35 people while trying to tether to its moorings in New Jersey, the popularity of airships took a plunge. Today, blimps filled with helium are only used for advertising, tourism, aerial observation or camera platforms. The public is rarely allowed to take a ride.
Since the early 1970s, aviation experts have been working on developing commercially viable airships, including the U.S. Army. In 2010, the U.S. Army awarded a $517 million contract to Northrop Grumman and partner Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV). The companies were to develop a Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) system, in the form of three HAV 304's. But the project was canceled in 2012 because it was over-budget.
Comparison of Airlander 10 to an airplane.
Comparison of Airlander 10 to an airplane.
The Verge
Hybrid Air Vehicles, founded in 2007, was reborn from the failed attempts of the U.S. Army's interest in airships, but HAV was more interested in the commercial aspects of airships rather than their use as military surveillance vehicles. HAV brought their designs back to the U.K. after paying $301,000 for the prototype, and there the LEMV stagnated until the company received a £3.4 million ($5.1 million) grant from the UK government.
The original LEMV was intended to remain aloft for 21 days, carrying 2,500 pounds of communications and sensor equipment as a surveillance vehicle. Now, back in its homeland, the very same Airlander that flew two years ago is being readied to fly again. It will have a reduced flight time of five days but will have a payload of up to 20,000 pounds. The designers plan to substitute Airlander for short-haul flights and specific purposes, like police surveillance and sports broadcasts. The aircraft's new name, Airlander 10 reflects its ability to carry 10 tons.
Airlander taking off. (screen grab)
Airlander taking off. (screen grab)
The Verge
Airlander 10 is a hybrid aircraft, a mix between a wing and an airship
Fully inflated, the airship is enormous, much bigger than one can imagine, actually. Almost 40 percent of the airship's lift comes from its unusual shape. The other 60 percent comes from the helium gas. Diesel powered propellers are utilized for steering, taking off, and landing, There are an additional four pressurized air pockets inside the primary helium compartment that can be regulated during takeoff and landing.
When discussing the use of helium, an expensive inert gas, the designers say they feel the price of the gas will stabilize, proving the efficiency of the Airlander. The cost of operation between the Airlander is 10 to 20 percent less than using a helicopter, and there is a less than 10 percent loss of helium per year.
Filling Airlander with helium.
Filling Airlander with helium.
The Verge
The skin of Airlander 10 is made up of a paper-thin weave of carbon fiber, Mylar, and Kevlar to give the airship strength and endurance. This high-strength material used for the helium compartment was originally developed for sails used in the Americas Cup yachting race. HAV claims the airship can withstand multiple lightning strikes and any holes can be repaired in flight.
Tim Robinson, the editor-in-chief of AEROSPACE Magazine, was quoted by CNN News as saying: "The Airlander does have one big benefit over UAVs. It can lift a heavier payload than most drones so allows for radars, better cameras, multiple sensors, etc. Payload weight is one of biggest limiters of UAVs -- so that would be extremely attractive to militaries looking to put larger or heavier sensors on board. It is also manned (piloted) which gives it more flexibility in being able to deploy to where it is needed."
Robinson also pointed out the commercial and humanitarian uses the airship. "The ability of the airship not to need runways or airports would be very attractive for disaster relief. While helicopters can also land anywhere, they are limited in payload and range -- plus the Airlander is much more efficient thanks to its hybrid 'lifting body' design," he said. HAV expects test flights to begin later this year.
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