Ablimp-shaped, helium-filled airship considered the world’s largest aircraft flew for the first time on Wednesday with a short but historic jaunt over an airfield in central England.
Engines roaring, the 302-foot Airlander 10 rose slowly into the air from Cardington airfield, 45 miles north of London.
A hybrid of blimp, helicopter and plane, it can stay aloft for days at a time and has been nicknamed the ‘flying bum’ because of its bulbous front end.
The stately aircraft performed a circuit of the area – watched by hundreds of local people who had parked their cars around the perimeter of the airfield – before touching down about half an hour later as dusk fell.
The Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships.
Its developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles, says it can reach 16,000 feet, travel at up to 90 miles-per-hour and stay aloft for up to two weeks.
Chief executive Stephen McGlennan said he thinks there will be plenty of customers for the vehicle – both civilian and military – because of its potential to gather data and conduct surveillance for days on end.
“What it does now, and will do, is fly, point to point, a bit like a giant helicopter, taking bigger loads, longer distances, cheaper, safer and crucially, without the same damage to the environment,” he said.
The aircraft was initially developed for the US military, which planned to use it for surveillance in Afghanistan.
The US blimp programme was scrapped in 2013 and since then Hybrid Air Vehicles, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.
The vast aircraft is based at Cardington, where the first British airships were built during and after World War I.