Giant helium-filled airship Airlander takes off for first time

August 17, 2016 by Jill Lawless
The Airlander 10 in flight, after taking off from Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire, England, Wednesday Aug. 17, 2016. A blimp-shaped airship billed as the world's largest aircraft has taken off for the first time, days after an earlier attempt was scuttled by a last-minute technical hitch. The 302-foot (92-meter) Airlander 10—nicknamed the "flying bum" because of its bulbous front end—rose slowly into the air Wednesday from an airfield 45 miles (73 kilometers) north of London. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

A blimp-shaped, helium-filled airship considered the world's largest aircraft flew for the first time Wednesday with a short but historic jaunt over an airfield in central England.

Engines roaring, the 302-foot (92-meter) Airlander 10 rose slowly into the air from Cardington airfield, 45 miles (73 kilometers) north of London.

A hybrid of blimp, helicopter and airplane, it can stay aloft for days at a time and has been nicknamed the "flying bum" because of its bulbous front end.

The stately aircraft performed a circuit of the area—watched by hundreds of local people who had parked their cars around the perimeter of the airfield—before touching down about half an hour later as dusk fell.

The Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships. Its developer, Hybrid Air Vehicles, says it can reach 16,000 feet (4,900 meters), travel at up to 90 mph (148 kph) and stay aloft for up to two weeks.

"It's a great British innovation," said chief executive Stephen McGlennan. "It's a combination of an aircraft that has parts of normal fixed-wing aircraft, it's got helicopter, it's got airship."

The aircraft was initially developed for the U.S. military, which planned to use it for surveillance in Afghanistan. The U.S. blimp program was scrapped in 2013 and since then Hybrid Air Vehicles, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.

The vast aircraft is based at Cardington, where the first British airships were built during and after World War I. That program was abandoned after a 1930 crash that killed almost 50 people, including Britain's air minister.

The Airlander 10 after taking flight, from Cardington airfield in Bedfordshire, England, Wednesday Aug. 17, 2016. A blimp-shaped airship billed as the world's largest aircraft has taken off for the first time, days after an earlier attempt was scuttled by a last-minute technical hitch. The 302-foot (92-meter) Airlander 10—nicknamed the "flying bum" because of its bulbous front end—rose slowly into the air Wednesday from an airfield 45 miles (73 kilometers) north of London. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

That accident and others—including the fiery 1937 crash in New Jersey of the Hindenburg, which killed 35—dashed the dream of the airship as a mode of transportation for decades.

Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg, helium is not flammable.

Wednesday's flight came days after a test flight planned for Sunday was scrapped at the last minute because of an unspecified technical issue.

The successful journey was a milestone in the development of a vehicle that remains untested as a commercial proposition.

McGlennan is confident there will be plenty of customers for Airlander—both civilian and military—because of its potential to gather data and conduct surveillance for days on end.

It can also carry up to 10 metric tons (22,050 pounds) of passengers or cargo. The company hopes to have an even bigger , capable of carrying 50 metric tons (110,000 pounds), in service by the early 2020s.

McGlennan said Airlander has many of the assets of a helicopter. It can "provide air transportation for people and goods without the need for a runway. But this thing can take more over longer distances, it's cheaper and it's greener."

Chris Pocock, defense editor of aviation magazine AIN, said the jury is still out on whether the craft is commercially viable.

"Airships and hybrids have still got a credibility gap to cover," he said. "Technically I think they are there now, but economically I'm not so sure."

Explore further: Maiden flight of giant helium-filled airship postponed

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Thorium Boy
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 18, 2016
Stop wasting helium on this nonsense. Airships of this kind have never proved economical.
obloodyhell
1.7 / 5 (11) Aug 18, 2016
}}} Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg, helium is not flammable.

Unlike hydrogen, helium is of limited availability, hard to obtain, and difficult to confine.

This idiocy is like Solar and Wind Power -- a boondoggle that appeals to fools and idiots too clueless to investigate the issues with them before investing.
tinitus
Aug 18, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
italba
3.5 / 5 (4) Aug 18, 2016
Maybe helium it's not so scarce... http://www.thever...l-supply

China believe in this kind of airship too, solar powered! http://www.scienc...t-a-time
Phys1
3.7 / 5 (6) Aug 18, 2016
there will be plenty of customers for Airlander—both civilian and military
No idea is sufficiently nonsensical today, once it can draw some money, the money of tax payers the more.

That is what you are betting on when you push shady investment schemes on physorg.
Phys1
5 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2016
Here is the story of the 1930 disaster:
https://en.wikipe...iki/R101
krundoloss
4 / 5 (3) Aug 18, 2016
If they can be made safe, blimps or airships seem like a nice way to travel. The ability to hold so many people or large cargo, it could be useful in different scenarios. I like that a properly designed blimp *should* be very safe, since you are relying only on buoyancy and not force-induced lift. Just imagine if one was built, similar to a cruise ship, that floated around in scenic places and was meant more for the person that wanted to enjoy the views, not just reach a destination. It has its charms for sure.
Maggnus
4.8 / 5 (5) Aug 18, 2016
}}} Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg, helium is not flammable.

Unlike hydrogen, helium is of limited availability, hard to obtain, and difficult to confine.

This idiocy is like Solar and Wind Power -- a boondoggle that appeals to fools and idiots too clueless to investigate the issues with them before investing.

Nice non-sequitur there. Not to mention that investment is solar and wind power has been enormously profitable for those who have the resources to invest in them.
rrrander
2 / 5 (1) Aug 18, 2016
Hydrogen could be used today for airships if the things even prove to be viable. The Hindenburg disaster was like any regular airplane disaster, probably unavoidable, it'll happen. But at least it wouldn't be using up helium which is a vital component of many scientific applications. If the use of fossil fuels wanes (like the enviros want) then even less helium will be available in future.
KBK
4 / 5 (2) Aug 18, 2016
As you can see from the rear view, the nickname 'the flying bum' has good reason to exist.

Oh, that's the front view.

"Why didn't anyone tell me my ass was this big?" - Mel Brooks, in 'Spaceballs'.
tinitus
Aug 19, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
RichTheEngineer
3 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2016
Well, once you boffins figure out how to get fusion working, there should be plenty of helium, right? So stop bloviating and get to work!
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
not rated yet Aug 19, 2016
It is interesting to note that the fundamental problem with airship isn't their lighter-than-air gas requirement but their fabulously lousy efficiency. If you tried to invent a transportation from scratch, you would likely never come up with something that would waste resources like an airship.

It is really easyt to estimate the specific resistance, an energy use density if you will. Here it is explained and diagrammed for modern transportation: http://www.ingeni...rial.pdf . One can note that they all approach the theoretical optimum.

Here is the history of, and diagram comparing, airships: http://blogs.scie...ructure/ . One can note that they *move away* from an already distant optimum.

[tbctd]
torbjorn_b_g_larsson
not rated yet Aug 19, 2016
Quotes:

"During my lifetime I've seen, "up close and personal," roughly five billion in today's dollars spent chasing airships for transportation. Five billion dollars can build a lot of road and lay a lot of track; meanwhile, the only tangible evidence of these airship projects is a vast mountain of useless paperwork—most of which ended up in local landfills, only to be recycled in the figurative sense of the word.

The "airship renaissance" has always been just around the corner ever since the end of World War II." [About when Karman derived the optimum measure.]

"At the circus, the best acts get the center ring. Those who are in the know understand that airships as part of our transportation infrastructure are an old act, relegated to the side show for very good reasons.

Therefore I feel sorry for investors and shareholders that are enticed away from the center ring, spending it all on the hucksters; but only as sorry as one feel for one who's been duped and swindled."
Gigel
not rated yet Aug 20, 2016
I wonder what helium and hydrogen reserves lie underneath our feet... Maybe looking for helium will lead us to a hydrogen economy, burning hydrogen instead of hydrocarbons. Such reserves may lie quite deeply though. The Kola drill hole made by the Russians is said to have given rise to mud full of hydrogen.
EnricM
not rated yet Aug 22, 2016

This idiocy is like Solar and Wind Power -- a boondoggle that appeals to fools and idiots too clueless to investigate the issues with them before investing.


Nice! Tell it to Miss Angela Merkel and her staff, or maybe all the Germans are stupid. Why don't you directly apply for Kanzler ?
EnricM
5 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2016
I wonder what helium and hydrogen reserves lie underneath our feet... Maybe looking for helium will lead us to a hydrogen economy, burning hydrogen instead of hydrocarbons. Such reserves may lie quite deeply though. The Kola drill hole made by the Russians is said to have given rise to mud full of hydrogen.


I heard that there is a mysterious material called "Dihydrogen Monoxide" which some claim is made of Hydrogen. They even say it's pretty abundant.. but who knows, until now this mysterious material has proven very difficult to obtain.

It's hot here in the office, gonna get a glass of water.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 22, 2016
If you tried to invent a transportation from scratch, you would likely never come up with something that would waste resources like an airship.

Speed is not an issue for an airship. There are many goods where time of delivery isn't important. (And the fact that you can offload basically anywhere - land or sea or ice - is a huge advantage)

But just for fun I googled around a bit for the efficiency of passenger transport. I found the specs for the Hindenburg and also for a typical 747.
Turns out that the numbers come out to:

Hindenburg: 0.01 liters of fuel (diesel) per km per person transported*
747: 0.02 liters of fuel per km per person transported

* Though to be fair: A 747 has a far better crew/passenger ratio at 15/500 than the Hindenburg at 50/72

Information for calcs taken from these sites:
http://science.ho...n192.htm
http://www.airshi...ze-speed
krundoloss
5 / 5 (1) Aug 22, 2016
Despite its efficiency, If people like it, Then someone should make it. I could see it being fun to have a large modern Airship with excellent views, a transparent Deck, or even tours around scenic mountain ranges, even if it was expensive. This is not something that is going to eclipse standard air travel, but it would be more comfortable and safer than a Hot Air Balloon Ride, and people still ride those.
Gigel
not rated yet Aug 22, 2016

I heard that there is a mysterious material called "Dihydrogen Monoxide" which some claim is made of Hydrogen. They even say it's pretty abundant.. but who knows, until now this mysterious material has proven very difficult to obtain.

It's hot here in the office, gonna get a glass of water.

Yep, I heard it's pretty toxic. It may kill by entering the airways. Very dangerous stuff probably. Plus it's said to be explosive in the presence of metallic sodium. Come to think we have plenty of salt in our blood, which is 40% sodium...
krundoloss
not rated yet Aug 22, 2016
You guys are hilarious, Dihydrogen Monoxide is Water Aka (Di)2 hydrogen + (mono)1 oxygen. However, hydrogen oxide, oxidane, hydroxic acid, and hydroxyl acid is in all of our groundwater, causing serious concern worldwide.
SURFIN85
not rated yet Aug 23, 2016
It is interesting. In a blizzard of boring conventions, the blimp is a winner.

Tomorrow I will step onto a 737 and it will be boring. I will be treated like a terrorist. I will be cattle. Nothing will surprise me. Nothing will be interesting.

Seen from afar through a long telescope, Earth's dominant primates with a few exceptions are completely conventional. And boring. Which is why no one is coming to visit.
Phys1
not rated yet Aug 23, 2016

* Though to be fair: A 747 has a far better crew/passenger ratio at 15/500 than the Hindenburg at 50/72

That is probably because the Hindenburg was a flying restaurant, bar, concert hall catering to the ultrarich.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Aug 23, 2016
That is probably because the Hindenburg was a flying restaurant, bar, concert hall catering to the ultrarich.

Partially. The stewards/cooks were only 10-12 of the 50 man complement. The flight crew was the largest part because for long flight times they needed three watches of officers (as well as electricians, mechanics, ruddermen, riggers and radio operators)

Point is that the Hindenburg was extremely fuel efficient (not very hydrogen efficient, but hydrogen wasn't fuel). If we posit even modest improvements in fuel efficiency since then and remove crew that might be unneccesary today (down to 3 shifts of pilot/copilot as well as adjust the steward complement to 3 per 50 passengers*) then the numbers look a lot better.

For such flight times (three days for an Atlantic crossing then. Today probably two.) you need a bit of relaxation/dining area - even today.

*on today's planes its 1 per 50. But for the long flight times you would also need 3 shifts.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 23, 2016
If you do a search you find that many are considering H2 for use in airships.
http://www.buoyan...gen-gas/

-It has the added advantage of being a source of fuel.

One of the main problems was that the world was busy developing the vast petroleum-fueled technoculture we have lived in for the last century.

There were vital geopolitical reasons to force this development, and alternative fuel and energy sources were suppressed. We're only now beginning to realize how easily and cheaply these alternatives could have been developed.

One might even speculate that the airship disasters weren't accidental. Or that the development of airplanes was so important strategically that the sinking of the titanic and the lusitania were necessary to show that ocean travel by ship wasn't as safe as people believed.

And people like aa might keep in mind before they cry conspiracy that they sincerely believe that the great Satan fights oil wars.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Aug 23, 2016
So what's the big deal about sinking a few cruise ships and burning a few zeppelins? The battle of the Atlantic was a telling indicator of how strategically necessary airplanes were.

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