The Flight and Plight of the World’s Largest Aircraft

Imagining something that resembles a “gigantic bum” hovering above our heads in our sacred airspace might be a bit much to swallow. Nevertheless, the debut of the world’s largest aircraft, the Airlander 10, which has been said to resemble buttocks, was relatively successful, taking its maiden flight in August of 2016. While it could not do a full long-range test, including night flight, the test went off without a hitch.

Airlander 10 measures 302 feet long and could be purposed for surveillance or even passenger travel. What’s most remarkable about the colossal airship is that it can remain in the air up to 5 days. Certainly a tempting option for the U.S. Defence Department, yes? No. With spending cuts hitting even U.S. Defence, Airlander 10 alas never made the cut. So its hopes of taking on long-range surveillance and satellite missions for the U.S. government were ultimately shelved.

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Airlander 10 is built from lighter than air technology that allows it to stay in flight for up to 5 days. Photo courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles

Airlander 10 is built from lighter than air technology that allows it to stay in flight for up to 5 days. Photo courtesy of Hybrid Air Vehicles.

What then transpired were numerous bids by a British firm to get Airlander 10 into the air. Hybrid Air Vehicles was key behind getting Airlander 10, also known as the Martha Gwyn, into the friendly skies. The British manufacturer’s efforts go all the way back to May of 2015.

Airlander 10 crash lands at an air base. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Airlander 10 crash lands at an air base. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

Airlander 10 generates a significantly lower carbon footprint than its standard plane counterparts, the biggest of which are 50 feet smaller. It also can land anywhere (land, water, ice or rough terrain) and equally take off from anywhere, whether transporting people, freight or patrolling the friendly skies. It has a 10-ton payload, with the possibility of future incarnations having up to a 1,000-ton payload.

While the interest in seeing the huge airship take flight has grown wings, HAV experienced a recent setback with the second test flight. The ship crash landed not long after setting off to begin a 200-hour test flight. HAV reported that no one was injured and the crew was safe. What’s more intriguing is that the crash itself had to be one of the slowest crash landings we’ve ever stumbled upon. It nosedived into a field at an airbase in Bedfordshire after spending an hour and a half in the air. Needless to say, the front deck of the ship took on some damage in the crash landing.

“The Airlander experienced a heavy landing and the front of the flight deck has sustained some damage which is currently being assessed,” HAV said in a statement.