Airlander 10, the helium-filled plane/airship hybrid that is considered to be the largest aircraft in the world, has completed its maiden flight. It took off from Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, UK, at around 19:40 BST yesterday and flew for about 20 minutes at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour.
The Airlander 10 is 302 feet long - about 50 feet longer than the world’s biggest passenger planes. Its carbon fiber hull is filled with 38,000 cubic meters of pressurized helium, and its four V8 turbo-diesel engines drive the four propellers. It can theoretically carry 10 tons of cargo, hence the name.
Its developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), says it can reach 16,000 feet, travel at up to 90 mph and stay aloft for five days. When unmanned, it can stay in the air for up to two weeks.
The aircraft was originally developed for the US army. There were plans for three Airlander 10s to be used as surveillance and communications platforms in Afganistan. There was even a test flight in New Jersey back in 2012, but defense spending cuts saw HAV purchased the craft back from the military in 2013 for $293,000.
The Airlander 10 returned to the skies thanks to two crowdfunding campaigns that raised over $2 million, a $5 million grant from the UK government, and another $2 million from the EU. The flight was initially supposed to take place on Sunday, but was scrapped due to an unspecified technical issue.
As it doesn’t require a runway to take off and land, HAV said the aircraft could be used in a number of areas, such as delivering goods in hard to reach locations, communications, and even passenger travel.
As big as the Airlander 10 is, HAV chief executive Stephen McGlennan siad the company hopes to have an even bigger aircraft -the Airlander 50 - that’s capable of carrying 50 tons of cargo in the skies by 2020.
Check out some of the Airlander 10's UK flight in the video below. Be aware that the noise is coming from a helicopter, not the aircraft.