The world’s largest aircraft, the Airlander 10, has been retired from service following an ill-fated development process, with engineers to “rethink the skies” in a new model.
Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), the Bedford-based firm which built Airlander 10, has already received Civil Aviation Authority backing for the development, and it is hoped the airship will take to the skies by the early 2020s.
“Our focus is now entirely on bringing the first batch of production-standard, type-certified Airlander 10 aircraft into service with customers,” said Stephen McGlennan, the firm’s CEO.
“The prototype served its purpose as the world’s first full-sized hybrid aircraft, providing us with the data we needed to move forward from prototype to production-standard. As a result, we do not plan to fly the prototype aircraft again.”
The Airlander 10 undertook six test flights, some of which ended in chaos, but the company stressed it was their decision not to rebuild the prototype aircraft, saying it had done its job and gathered an immense amount of data in the process.
The Airlander 10 prototype crashed in 2016 on its second test flight after a successful 30-minute maiden voyage. Another mishap befell the 92-metre-long (302ft), 44-metre-wide aircraft in 2017 when a woman was taken to hospital after its hull automatically deflated when the vessel came loose from its moorings.
HAV subsequently made a £32m insurance claim, which it told shareholders was the “maximum insured value”. However, it said that its focus now was on producing Airlander 10s for customers around the world, rather than continuing to develop prototypes.
McGlennan said: “Instead we move ahead with a big job – eight years after the initial build of the prototype, we are now identifying our critical supplier partners, getting ready to design all the details that make the difference between a prototype and a product, and finalising the product certification plans.
“Many people ask me this question – when will Airlander be flying again? My answer is this – look for many, many Airlanders flying again, ready to be delivered to customers and used around the world.”
The original £25m model was first developed as a surveillance aircraft for the US army, and its first flight took place in 2012 before the programme was cancelled in 2013.
HAV then reacquired it, reassembling the part-plane, part-airship and its four diesel engine-driven propellers at RAF Cardington, Bedfordshire, where it was being modified for civilian use.
The company said it was in a “strong position to launch production” of the new aircraft, with the design already approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency.