Back to the future as giant new generation, low-carbon British airship is built in Bedford

Computer-generated image of the Airlander-10 airship in flight
Computer-generated image of the Airlander-10 airship in flight

Hybrid Air Vehicles has completed the final assembly of the Airlander, the giant (non-flammable) helium-filled twin-hull airship which could potentially revolutionise both the passenger and cargo aviation industries and also offer ultra-endurance in-situ surveillance and monitoring services.

The Airlander-10 model – earlier versions of which were tested and rejected by the US Defence Dept – now enters into a ground testing phase before roll-out from its hangar in Bedfordshire and first flight

No date has been set for this, but its first flight will it be from and to Cardington Air Field, near Bedford.

The British-built first airships – including the doomed R 101 – were housed in these same Cardington hangars more than 85 years ago.

In May 2015, Hybrid Air Vehicles concluded a record-breaking £2.1 million crowdfunding, together with a UK Government grant and an EU Horizon 2020 grant for highly innovative SMEs.

Since then, the company has recruited almost 100 employees, secured many supply chain deals, spending over £6 million with suppliers, securing additional UK jobs and growth and has been assembling -and documenting the build of – the Airlander, in conjunction with the European Aviation regulators.

The super-strength fabric of its hull holds four engines, fins and the flight deck and promises low-carbon mass-market aviation.

The 300ft-long Airlander’s shape gives it lift like a plane when propelled, and it can land and take off on most terrain or on water, on its pneumatic skids. The makers say the Airlander-10 will be able to stay aloft continuously for five days.

Airship R101 It first flew in 1929 and crashed in 1930
Airship R101 It first flew in 1929 and crashed in 1930

The R101 was one of a pair of highly-flammable hydrogen-filled British rigid airships completed in 1929 as part of a British government programme to develop civil airships capable of service on long-distance routes to Canada and India within the then British Empire to replace lengthy sea voyages. It was designed and built by an Air Ministry-appointed team and was effectively in competition with the government-funded but privately designed and built R100. When built it was the world’s largest flying craft at 731-feet in length.

After some trial flights, it crashed on 5 October 1930 in France during its maiden overseas voyage, killing 48 of the 54 people on board. Among the deceased passengers were Lord Thomson, the Air Minister who had initiated the programme, senior government officials, and almost all the dirigible’s designers from the Royal Airship Works.

The crash of R101 effectively ended British airship development, and was one of the worst airship accidents of the 1930s.

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