The Airlander 10 – the world’s largest aircraft – has left the ground for the first time. The aircraft, which is a hybrid of a plane, blimp and helicopter, floated several feet off the ground while at its hangar in Bedfordshire, U.K.
The aircraft, designed by British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), was originally named the HAV304 and was part of the U.S. military’s Long Endurance Multi-intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) project. However, following defense cuts and a failed first flight in 2012, the project was put on hold. The company began a campaign in May 2015 to revitalize the HAV304 aircraft and renamed it the Airlander 10.
As Composites Manufacturing reported in its November/December 2015 issue, the Airlander 10 will incorporate lighter-than-air technology to create what the company calls “a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft.” According to HAV, the aircraft is 302 feet long, weighs over 44,000 pounds, and can carry a 22,000 pound payload.
The Airlander 10 gets 60 percent of its lift from internal helium gas and 40 percent from its aerodynamic form. The aircraft also gets a major boost from advanced composite materials. HAV estimates that using advanced composites instead of traditional metals for the rigid structures helped save between 50 and 60 percent total weight on the aircraft.
The skin of Airlander 10’s hull is a combination of five tons of multilayered Vectran weave, Tedlar® and Mylar™ surrounding a helium bubble. This provides strength and endurance that past hybrid aircraft prototypes lacked. Vectran, which consists of a high-performance multifilament yarn spun from liquid crystal polymer, is five times stronger than steel and 10 times stronger than aluminum. Tedlar is a polyvinyl fluoride film that provides an outer coat and protects the hull from wearing away. Mylar, a form of polyester resin used to make heat-resistant plastic films, creates a gas barrier to minimize helium loss. This composite construction allows it to withstand multiple lightning strikes.
The aircraft is currently on schedule to take its first official flight in a few weeks. The specific test date has not been announced, but the HAV has disclosed the craft will be restricted to a 70-mile (112km) radius. If successful, an aircraft based on this prototype will go into production.