The Airlander 10 in flight at Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire in 2016.
UK firm behind plane-airship hybrid says it will ‘rethink the skies’ to build new model.
A prototype of the world’s longest aircraft, the Airlander 10, will not be rebuilt but engineers are set to “rethink the skies” with a production-ready model.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), the Bedford-based company that created Airlander 10, has already received Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval, and it is hoped the new airship model will take to the skies by the early 2020s.
“Our focus is now entirely on bringing the first batch of production-standard, type-certified Airlander 10 aircraft into service with customers,” said Stephen McGlennan, the company’s chief executive.
“The prototype served its purpose as the world’s first full-sized hybrid aircraft, providing us with the data we needed to move forward from prototype to production-standard. As a result, we do not plan to fly the prototype aircraft again.”
The Airlander 10 prototype undertook six test flights, some of which ended in chaos, but the company stressed it was their decision not to rebuild the aircraft, saying it had done its job, successfully completed final testing and gathered an immense amount of data in the process.
The Airlander 10 crashed in 2016 on its second test flight after a successful 30-minute maiden voyage. The company tweeted at the time: “Airlander sustained damage on landing during today’s flight. No damage was sustained mid-air or as a result of a telegraph pole as reported.
“We’re debriefing following the second test flight this morning. All crew are safe and well and there are no injuries”.
Another mishap befell the 92-metre-long (302ft), 44-metre-wide craft in 2017 when a woman was taken to hospital after its hull automatically deflated when the vessel came loose from its moorings.
“While this incident and its effect are disappointing they do not take away from the fact that the company is now better positioned than ever to deliver production standard aircraft to its global markets,” a statement on Companies House said.
The event prompted HAV to abandon plans to use the prototype as a “test article and sales demonstrator”. The company subsequently made a £32m insurance claim, which it told shareholders was the “maximum insured value”. The insurers agreed to pay £20m to the company after the prototype aircraft suffered “very significant damage”.
“In the new circumstance in which the company finds itself the board determined that it was in the best interests of shareholders for the insurance proceeds to be directed at moving the company and Airlander towards production,” the statement continued.
“Instead we move ahead with a big job – eight years after the initial build of the prototype, we are now identifying our critical supplier partners, getting ready to design all the details that make the difference between a prototype and a product, and finalising the product certification plans,” McGlennan said in a statement on Sunday.
“Many people ask me this question – when will Airlander be flying again? My answer is this – look for many, many Airlanders flying again, ready to be delivered to customers and used around the world.”
The company, founded in 2007, added it was in a “strong position to launch production” of the new aircraft, with the design already approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency.
It said that it usually takes more than a year to prepare a facility for a CAA production organisation approval audit, but the Airlander Technology Centre was audit-ready within six months.
The aircraft, which can take off and land from almost any flat surface, reached heights of 7,000ft and speeds of up to 50 knots during its final tests. It could be used for a variety of functions, including surveillance, communications, transporting freight, delivering aid and passenger travel, according to HAV.
The original £25m model was developed as a surveillance aircraft for the US army, and its first flight took place in 2012 before the programme was cancelled in 2013.
HAV then reacquired it, reassembling the part-plane, part-airship and its four diesel engine-driven propellers at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, where it was modified for civilian use.
Via The Guardian