Tuesday 6 December 2016

WATCH: World's largest aircraft leaves hangar for first time ahead of maiden flight

Published 08/08/2016 | 07:31

The Airlander 10, billed as the world's largest aircraft - a cross between a plane, an airship and a helicopter is the length of a football pitch and the height of six double-decker buses Credit: John Nguyen/JNVisuals
The Airlander 10, billed as the world's largest aircraft - a cross between a plane, an airship and a helicopter is the length of a football pitch and the height of six double-decker buses Credit: John Nguyen/JNVisuals

As compliments go, being compared with a giant, gas-filled 300ft long, 143ft-wide ‘flying bum’ cannot rank highly on most women’s wish lists.

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But as the airship Martha Gwyn inched its way out of an enormous green hangar for the first time, the soubriquet seemed anything but blimpish.

Named after the wife of businessman Philip Gwyn, yesterday’s (Saturday) public unveiling represented a milestone in a £350million project that had once appeared doomed to remain grounded.

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Four years after the US Army deemed it too expensive, the hybrid airship – a carbon-composite cross between a zeppelin, a helicopter and an aeroplane - was gently piloted into the open in a delicate five-minute operation.

It was towed 30 minutes to its resting point at a primary mast site, one of two specially prepared on the same airfield at Cardington, Bedfordshire, where in 1919 British engineers embarked on their own failed attempts to challenge Germany’s fated Zeppelin programme.

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It came after tests on bulbous dirigible’s engines, generators and systems were completed last week, ahead of some 200 hours of test flights, with engineers keen to avoid disaster.

Thirty-six people lost their lives on May 6, 1937, when the hydrogen filled Hindenburg airship, which was three times longer than the Martha Gwyn, burst into flames at Manchester Township, New Jersey.

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Once airborne, the huge aircraft, which is filled with 1.3 million cubic feet of helium, can stay airborne for around five days during manned flights, cruising at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour 20,000ft above the earth.

Some 50ft (15m) longer than the largest Airbus A380 passenger jets, the behemoth was developed by British firm Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), after it launched a campaign to return the Airlander 10 to the skies in May 2015.

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It derives 60pc of its lift aerostatically (by being lighter-than-air), and 40pc aerodynamically (by being wing-shaped), and was helped into being by a £250,000 donation from Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson.

HAV claims vehicle, which is capable of carrying loads of up to 10 tonnes, could be used for a variety of functions such as surveillance, communications, delivering aid and even passenger travel.

Further ground assessments will now be carried out before the craft, formerly known as the Airlander 10, takes to the skies for the first time at a date yet to be announced.

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