The Airlander 10 prototype is being retired as the company behind it moves toward building a production model of what was the largest flying machine in the world.
The 92-meter-long (302 feet) machine, which was also known as “the Flying Bum” for its butt-shaped leading end, took six test flights in its time — some more successful than others.
Now, U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV) says it’s ready to “rethink the skies” with a similarly designed production model that it wants to have ready within six years.
HAV boss Stephen McGlennan told the Guardian the prototype had now “served its purpose as the world’s first full-sized hybrid aircraft,” confirming at the same time that there are no plans to fly the prototype again.
He said the focus is now on “bringing the first batch of production-standard, type-certified Airlander 10 aircraft into service” for customers that could include companies involved in pleasure trips, passenger travel, surveillance work, cargo transportation, and aid delivery.
There’s no news yet on the specifics of the production model’s design, but the prototype offers obvious clues about what to expect. The retired machine was part-airplane and part-airship, and used helium for lift, while four turbocharged diesel engines gave it a top speed of 90 mph. It could fly at an altitude of almost 5,000 meters (about 16,000 feet) and stay airborne for as long as two weeks.
In all, the Airlander 10 prototype took six test flights in its time, though there were a several mishaps along the way. Just days after completing a successful maiden test flight in August 2016, a video of the blimp-shaped machine showed it slowly nose-diving as it came in to land at the end of a subsequent outing. Both pilots emerged safely from what HAV described as “a heavy landing.” In another incident in November 2017, the Airlander slipped free from its mooring mast before tearing itself apart. Two people sustained minor injuries.
“We are testing a brand new type of aircraft and incidents of this nature can occur during this phase of development,” HAV said at the time. Indeed, McGlennan said his company is now ready to make the most of everything it’s learned as it sets about designing “a new breed of hyper-efficient aircraft.” There’s no word yet on whether it will retain the look of its distinctive leading end.
One thing’s for sure, though. Aviation fans everywhere will be looking forward to seeing what it comes up with.
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