When Emma sent the email out asking if anyone would be interested in a visit to the Hybrid Air Vehicles hangar, I jumped at the chance. Although I didn’t know a lot about the Airlander 10, I had seen footage of it and read small articles about it in aviation magazines, and so what better way to learn about something than go and see it in person? Fast forward a few weeks and the day soon arrived when I drove from Kent to the hangar at Cardington. I hoped I wouldn’t get lost but, you really can’t, it is huge! Two large hangers sit side by side and in one of them the Airlander resides. As I arrived everyone was already there and so the tour began – firstly we walked the whole way round it, everyone from the Air League and Leading Edge was just absorbed by its scale. You really do have to tilt your head right back to take it all in, the group photo made me laugh because to get most of the Airlander in the picture our guide had to walk back really far, and looking back at the pictures we are just specks in the forefront! The Airlander 10 is around 300ft long (making it longer than a Boeing 747) and can comfortably cruise at 80 knots. What I love especially is its ability to land pretty much anywhere, including on snow and water. We learned about how it was built, what materials it was made from (hard wearing composite materials that have been specially developed by the Hybrid Air Vehicles team) and how long they last (that depends on the geographic location that the Airlander will reside mostly, with the life expectancy being longer in colder climates than in hot, dry, sun exposed places. Inside there are several different compartments full of either helium or air. When there is a tiny puncture, somebody has to climb in through a hole underneath into the pitch black so they can see where the punctures are by finding light shining in through the holes. It is possible to walk up to 1/3rd of the side of the aircraft from inside before the incline becomes too steep. The Airlander 10 has a very long range, being able to remain airborne for some weeks if it is flown without humans on board, humans being the real limiting factor here (shortening the airborne time to around 5 days max) Compared to the sheer size of the aircraft, the cabin that sits tucked beneath the helium balloon seems cosy and small, but after the tour we were informed about the plans for the even larger Airlander 50, aimed at mass transportation of goods and people (only for leisure or sightseeing though as they are too slow to compete with airlines for global transportation). A lovely example they used was the transportation of fresh flowers from South America to the USA for the market. They can be transported in their ideal temperatures and arrive within a few days, which is still plenty of time for them to have a long shelf life, and the transportation costs would be significantly lower as less fuel would be used in their transport. Another use the Airlander has been considered for is surveillance in areas of conflict as it can climb to an altitude where it would be safe from harm and look like a tiny speck/ cloud from below (20,000ft) and be able to monitor an extensive area of land below.
I felt very privileged to have been selected to visit the HAV hangar, and I left with a much better understanding of how this lovely aircraft works. We were told that the Airlander is a hybrid, a cross between an airship, blimp, hovercraft, aeroplane, and a helicopter! Hence the name Hybrid Air Vehicles. Thank you Air League and Hybrid Air Vehicles!