The so-called “Flying Bum” didn’t quite land on its ass, but it was definitely a dangerously heavy return to terra firma for the aircraft officially known as the Airlander 10.
The world’s largest flying machine, which, incidentally, picked up its unflattering nickname for its butt-shaped leading end, was enjoying its second-ever outing just days after completing a successful maiden test flight about 40 miles north of London, U.K.
The $33-million blimp-shaped flying machine was coming in to land at the same location following a hitch-free 100-minute flight around the airfield. Initial reports suggested the giant contraption started to get into difficulty a couple of hundred meters from the landing site when lines hanging down from the Airlander snagged on a telephone pole, though the company that operates it – Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) – later denied this. It’s yet to offer an explanation as to why the machine crashed.
Video footage shows the Airlander nosediving before hitting the ground, albeit at a relatively gentle speed. But the impact was enough to crush the cockpit, which clearly took the brunt of the smash. In a statement, HAV confirmed that both pilots, as well as the nearby ground crew, were safe and well following the impact.
Describing the crash as a “heavy landing,” the company confirmed the machine’s flight deck “sustained some damage which is currently being assessed.”
It added, “Hybrid Air Vehicles runs a robust set of procedures for flight test activities and investigation of issues. We will be running through these in the days ahead as we continue the development of the Airlander aircraft.”
The enormous machine is 92 meters (302 feet) long, making it 15 meters (50 feet) longer than a jumbo jet. Lifted by helium and powered by four turbocharged diesel engines for a top speed of 90 mph, the Airlander can reach heights of 4,900 meters (16,000 feet) and stay airborne for as long as two weeks.
Assuming the team irons out the creases and works out exactly what went wrong on Wednesday, it’s hoped the Airlander could one day perform a number of roles, including surveillance work, cargo transportation, aid delivery, pleasure trips, and even passenger travel.