The world’s longest aircraft originally developed, as a high-flying, state-of-the-art spy drone for the U.S. Army has just been unveiled in Britain’s biggest aircraft hangar. The giant aircraft is being displayed at Cardington in Bedfordshire, central England, in the only hangar big enough to accommodate the 113ft (34m) wide and 85ft (26m) high beast.
The 300ft (91m) ship is part plane, airship and helicopter, and there are plans to eventually use it to transport hundreds of tonnes of freight across difficult terrain throughout the world as well as deliver aid to risky areas.
It is also almost 30ft (8m) longer than the airlift cargo aircraft Antonov An-225, which was until now the longest aircraft ever built. HAV304 costs about $100m (£60m) and the designers are planning an even bigger version that will eventually be able to carry 50 tonnes at a time.
According to the manufacturer, Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd., of Cranfield, Airlander could be used for delivering humanitarian aid to disaster zones where there won’t be runways or airports.
“Not only can Airlander stay in the air for days, it offers incredible fuel efficiency, minimal noise pollution,” the company boasts. The hybrid aircraft offers a revolutionary alternative for distribution of aid, heavy cargo lift, luxury travel, all with minimal impact on the environment, HAV said.
However Chris Daniels, head of partnerships and communications at (HAV), said he can’t see the ships replacing railways traditionally used to transport freight, but instead said the hybrid machines would be suitable for transporting very heavy loads in hard to reach areas like Canada and Africa.
He added: “The climate change issue around ice roads in Canada mean another solution is needed, whereas with the security issue in Africa, this could solve part of the problem.”
Mr. Daniels said several companies had expressed interest in hybrids so far, and they had also had a handful of enquiries from people who “just want one.”
He went on saying: “Maybe one day it will be the case that people get the Orient Express one way and a hybrid aircraft on the way back. The only limit is people’s imagination.”
The company developing it has now received £2.5m of government funding to develop the technology and engineering for the project.
“We are jointly funding £2bn of research and development into the next generation of quieter, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly planes,” says Business Secretary Vince Cable.
“That includes backing projects like Hybrid Air Vehicles’ innovative low carbon aircraft which can keep us at the cutting edge of new technology. Here is a British SME that has the potential to lead the world in its field.”
In June 2010, HAV partnered with Northrup Grumman to develop the Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle for the U.S. Army. Though the aircraft made a successful test flight SaveFrom.net in August 2012 at Lakehurst, N.J., it was weighed down by problems, which a Government Accountability Office review said included being too heavy to stay at high altitudes for more than a few days instead of three weeks, reports USA Today.