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Airlander 10 makes successful exit and takes to the skies

08 August 2016

Airlander 10, the world’s largest aircraft, successfully exited the hangar for the first time at 4 o'clock on 8 August and has now completed its first flight.

Image courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles

Being the largest aircraft in the world, exiting the hangar was a very delicate operation as there was only a 6m clearance from the fin tip to the sides of the hangar doors. It took around fives minutes for the Airlander to clear the hangar and then a further 30 minutes for her be towed to rest at the primary mast site - one of the two that have been specially prepared for her on the airfield. The exit only commenced when Alex Travell, HAV’s Ground Operations Chief, was given clearance to proceed by both Chief Test Pilot David Burns and Technical Director Mike Durham. All three of them had to be happy that a large number of safety, equipment and weather requirements were ticked off on the hangar exit checklist. 

The total team involved in exiting the hangar comprised of less than ten personnel, but was watched by 50 employees who gathered outside this airfield in the middle of the night to watch this unique occasion. "It was a very smooth first journey for Airlander and she behaved beautifully. We're delighted to have reached this significant milestone," says Technical Director Mike Durham.

Now it is at its masting site, the aircraft is free to ‘weathervane’ nose into wind as a result of being attached to the Towable Moving Mast (TMM) and resting on the Castering Ground Cradle (CGC), which supports the fuel tank and has its own set of wheels. To minimise wear and environmental impact during this time, the landing skids have been fitted with special ‘shoes’. 

The Airlander will be able to withstand wind speeds of up to 85 knots whilst on the mast, making her very resilient to most weather systems that pass through. Whilst on the mast, there will be a strong 24hr security presence as well as staff constantly monitoring the status of the Airlander.

Whilst the Airlander is out on the mast, the last few tests (including full power engine runs, electromagnetic interference checks and a final overall vehicle systems checkout) will be conducted. At the end of these tests the team will assess the need for either a brief return to the hangar for final inspections or, subject to weather, those inspections may be carried out on the mast. Then it will be time for pilots David Burns and Simon Davies to take command of the Airlander 10, christened the Martha Gwyn in April, and start the flight test program of this unique and game-changing aircraft. 

Now, Airlander 10 has successfully completed its first flight. All objectives of the planned flight were accomplished and the aircraft is now safely back at its masting site. 

Image courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles

Airlander 10 took off from the historic Cardington Airfield in Bedfordshire, England at approximately 19:45 on Wednesday 17 of August, after a short flight it landed at 20:00, before dark. The two Test Pilots were ecstatic about the flight and the flight performance of Airlander during its time in the air. 

Chief Test Pilot Dave Burns said, “it was privilege to fly the Airlander for the first time and it flew wonderfully. I’m really excited about getting it airborne. It flew like a dream.” A confirmatory Pre-flight test began and once Technical Director Mike Durham, Chief Test Pilot David Burns and Ground Operations Chief Alex Travell were all in agreement, clearance was granted for First Flight to commence. These three have been working together for almost thirty years, which illustrates the depth of experience and knowhow within Hybrid Air Vehicles.

The four massive but quiet engines were started approximately 30 minutes before takeoff. Once airborne, Chief Test Pilot David Burns, accompanied by Test Pilot Simon Davies, flew the majestic Airlander within a six mile (five nautical mile) area around Cardington Airfield, just to the south of Bedford, in England. Airlander climbed to a height of 500ft and reached a maximum speed of 35 knots. Due to a later than anticipated take-off time the Airlander was limited to a 19 minute flight so we could land safely before darkness fell.

All test objectives were met during the flight. These included the safe launch, flight and landing of the Airlander 10 and a series of gentle turns at increasing speed. Some technical tests on its hull pressure were also undertaken. Please note that drones and other aircraft are not permitted to fly within one nautical mile of Cardington Airfield most of the time due to restrictions associated with the Met Office Station there.

The Airlander is expected to be a showcase of UK innovation and is already being used in the UK Government’s “GREAT Britain” campaign to highlight the strength of the aerospace sector and the innovation in engineering this country is capable of creating. As the Airlander approaches first flight, customer interest has increased, particularly in the defence and security sector, and this, together with UK Government support should secure 400 new aerospace jobs as well as valuable export opportunities for the UK economy. 

The next step is to ensure the UK Government runs a trial in order to demonstrate the potential of this aircraft to the world and secure the lucrative exports, and grow further jobs in Bedfordshire and in the supply chain across the UK (80 percent of Airlander’s supply chain is British). This will help ensure the £6m of UK Government grants received thus far lead to orders. Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd is also looking to raise equity through High Net Worth individuals and Institutional Investors to fund some aspects of the Flight Test Program.

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