The world's biggest aircraft, the Airlander, is a helicopter-plane-blimp hybrid

  • 21/07/2018

It's a blimp-shaped, helium-filled airship that's claimed to be the world's longest aircraft.

Airlander is a hybrid of blimp, helicopter and plane, that can stay aloft for days at a time. It's been nicknamed the "flying bum" because of its bulbous front end.

It was designed to use less fuel than a plane but carry heavier loads than conventional airships.

The Airlander aircraft was initially developed for the US military for use in surveillance in Afghanistan. Its maker, UK-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), claims it can reach up to 6000 metres and travel at up to 148km/h.

It's 92m long, 43m wide and 26m tall.

At the Farnborough International Airshow, HAV announced plans to offer luxury expeditions once fully functioning.

"Airlander has got markets across many different segments of aerospace," said executive director Tom Grundy.

"This is a really clear market for the aircraft, because it's got that space, because he's got those beautiful flying qualities, because it's such a wonderful environment to walk around in and enjoy the views from floor-to-ceiling windows. It makes that luxury experience incredibly special."

The Airlander.
The Airlander. Photo credit: Getty

HAV teamed up with UK-based design studio Design Q to create a luxurious passenger cabin. It's intended for three-day expeditions with up to 19 passengers, plus crew.

It features private en-suite bedrooms, floor-to-ceiling windows and a so-called Altitude Bar, where guests can unwind with a drink while enjoying the scenic views.

The idea is to take advantage of Airlander's unique characteristics, particularly its 46-metre long cabin. But so far a virtual reality experience is the closest interested parties can get.

"Think about a cruise ship or a luxury yacht in the skies, think about being able to walk around have a drink at the Altitude Bar, sip a cocktail in the Infiniti Lounge looking at horizon to horizon views, listening to the sounds of the world outside and watching the world go by underneath," said Mr Grundy.

"And while you're doing that, knowing that you're not damaging that environment because you're in a very green, low carbon aircraft."

Airlander 10 conducted its first test flight in August 2016. Just days later, the blimp-shaped airship "sustained damage" after it made a bumpy landing on its second test flight.

Mr Grundy says he's sure future passengers will have confidence in the safety of the aircraft.

"We are flight testing, we're taking this brand new revolutionary and unique concept through its development and into the market," he says.

"So, as we've now moved from our first prototype into production, people can have absolute confidence they'll be flying in safety in style around the world."

But interested passengers shouldn't pack their bags just yet, Mr Grundy says the company is now moving from its prototype to a full production aircraft.

HAV says it hopes to be in service with customers by the early 2020s.

"What we're looking to do here is create a really special, incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience for adventure, luxury travel for people who want to go places other people haven't gone to and want to do it in the right way," says Grundy.

"So, I hope one day I'll be one of those passengers doing that."

Farnborough International Airshow opens to the public 21-22 July.

The biannual extravaganza is playing host to over 1,500 exhibitors, and up to 100,000 visitors over the trade days alone.