It's called the Airlander 10: over 90m long, it's a floating airship that's 25 per cent bigger than a Boeing 747. It's 37,945 cubic metres in volume, and can soar up to 6000m and move at 145km/h cruising speeds. It's made by Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), a British company that wants to make quiet aircraft that also don't pollute.
Like a blimp, the Airlander lacks internal structure but keeps its shape with a helium-filled hull made out of Vectran, a tough fibre spun from liquid crystal polymer that resists cuts and moisture. It can take off and land anywhere like a helicopter — no ground crew or additional infrastructure is needed.
So, besides size and speed, how's this different from your run-of-the-mill Goodyear? Why go through all the effort to build something with a record-breaking size but is considered an antiquated vehicle? Because of its cargo-carrying potential.
The company says it can lug up to nine tonnes for 2400km. You could even argue that the Airlander 10 is really just a giant drone, because it can fly without a pilot. With humans aboard, the company says it stays afloat for five days, and if unmanned — over two weeks without any need to refuel. Those are features that could also open up possibilities of military surveillance.
Despite its lighter-than-air construction, the aircraft is still laded with useful tech, like a weather radar that helps the UAV dodge storms. According to CNN, the monster drifter could also be powered by solar panels in the future, and the company also says it burns 20 per cent less fuel than standard aeroplanes.
Incidentally, HAV originally planned to build it for the US Army (hence the UNITED STATES ARMY plastered on the vehicle in the vid below), but budget cuts kept it in the UK. The company later scored a $US5 million grant from the British government, and now the first flight tests are on deck for later this year.
I don't think anyone's arguing that airships could ever rival aeroplanes (hopefully we'll have high-speed rail that will do that), but airships have also had other near-comebacks in the past too. Maybe it's be to enlist some healthy scepticism, but we hope this inflatable fortress goes nowhere but up.